I want to talk about death. I want to talk about death all the time. I want to talk about the fact that the only way I ever knew my Dad was through the lens that one day, he would eventually die. I want to talk about the fact that when he died, it was so much different to what I thought it would be. I want to talk about the fact that I am 25 and I didn’t want this to happen to me. I want to talk about the fact that I don’t know how to talk about it. I want to talk about the fact that losing a parent is losing who you think you thought you were and retracing back through everything you ever knew. I want to talk about how much it has taught me. I want to talk about the guilt I feel for not being there. I want to talk about how I’m scared my Mum will die. I’m scared everyone will die. I’m scared I will die. 

I want to talk about the fact that other people find it hard for me to talk about it. I want to talk about how I feel guilty for how people feel around me. I want to talk about people’s sympathy for me. Their pity. Their worry. Their ‘oh, she’ll get over it one day’. Their ‘oh, it’s sad.’ 

I want to talk about the fact that I don’t know if I’m grieving. Or if this is who I am now. 

Most of all, I want to talk about the fact that, ten months on, now more than ever, I don’t know how and when to talk about the fact that my Dad died. 

When I look and talk to other people around me who have experienced death, this seems to be the consensus. On the whole, there just isn’t a space to talk about death, in a way that isn’t received 90% of the time, with an ‘oh’, or a ‘sorry’ or an ‘I don’t know what to say’, before they look away solemnly. Or that isn’t deemed as ‘inappropriate’ or a ‘bit much for dinner time’. As a society, we just don’t know what to say, and we’d rather run away from that which we fear, rather than confront and understand it. 

We put death away in a box. But it is the most sure fire thing that will ever happen to us. We will die. Those around us will die. We will all encounter it at some point in our lives, yet noone wants to talk about it at any great length. Perhaps it's obvious, but death forces us to face the mortality we consistently deny and I wish we could walk hand in hand, just that little bit more. 

Over time, death’s knock quietens and grief convalesces in a nuanced, private undertaking. It becomes unnoticeable and folk muddle on. In fits and bursts. Because they have to. But it's because it becomes more unnoticeable that I worry. Grief isn’t just crying in the immediate aftermath or falling apart in the months that follow. There isn’t a forward moving, linear trajectory. It sits in the getting it back together, the birthdays and anniversaries, remembered songs, nostalgic smells and flashbacks of the funeral when you’re crossing the Kingston Bridge. 

I wonder if not being able to talk about it and by cutting a grieving process short; stuffing it into corners to be hidden away is going to do me more harm than good. I don’t want to just get on with it. 

I find solace in another who is in the ‘club’. The ‘club’ or community of others who are trying to lessen the struggle, and provide a space to talk about death which provides the most comfort. The ‘club’ of art, film, literature and podcasts which speaks into the truth of the quiet struggle and lets me and others know, that grief is unknown, surprising, many and all things; it bubbles away and trickles through everything. It is an acute aching loneliness that breathes and sucks life into and from everything. 

That’s how I felt when I watched Tom Lock Griffiths' Waterfall and Ingrid Kamerling’s Vivian, Vivian, programmed at the Scottish Mental Health Festival. The sense that both films are a working out, a processing where the personal becomes the collective. Both offer a way through. As Griffiths notes: 'It’s a discussion with my self as much as anyone else and an excuse to talk about these things.’ In this case, art becomes therapy and the camera an instrument for which to navigate the unfathomable and unseen depths which lurk beneath the surface of those that are grieving. Griffiths plunges the underwater landscapes to give shape and form to the interconnecting sites between memory, time and space: ‘the vast psychological landscapes.’ The waterfall where his Dad scattered his mother’s ashes is entangled with childhood memories and past relationships and become rewritten over the course of time. 

It strikes me that grief is tidal. Grief comes in waves. At the beginning they knocked me over, and sometimes they swallowed me whole. In between the waves, I am trying to breathe, to function and to find joy in the beauty of life. I am deep in the throes of my understanding of what grief is and what it will become, and I don’t have all the words to describe it yet, but here is a list of things which I have seen, listened to and read which have bought a lightness to the darkest of times and have helped describe it for me and will perhaps help others too. Whilst it can be bleak, it is also a process that necessitates a lightness, humour and hope, and I have found that in the art which surrounds me. I don’t think there is a solution or a resolution to living in the face of death, but to find ways to endure and find joy, again in what it is to still be alive. 

by Jassy Earl

Jassy Earl is a photographer, videographer and performance maker. At the core of her practice is an emphasis on people, stories and the human experience, working with people, children and communities. Most recently she is interested in grief, loss and the dialogues we have around death, particularly with young people. To find out more about her work, visit her website

 

Podcasts

The Griefcast 

Terrible, Thanks for Asking 

The Kaddish Podcast 

Playdead Podcast 

In Sickness and In Health 

What’s Your Grief? 

Grief works 

Stuff You Should Know: How Grief Works 

Good Grief 

“Griefcast and Grief Memoir’ by Jane Howard 

 

Articles

“Griefcast and Grief Memoir’ by Jane Howard 

“I’m Terrible, Thanks for Asking’ by Nora McInerny Purmort

‘Theatre is a matter of life and death’ by Lyn Gardner 

“A Grief Counselor on Talking to Young Children About Death”

“How to let grief work for you” by Julia Samuels

www.modernloss.com

www.thedinnerparty.org

 

Books 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

Blue Nights by Joan Didion 

What Comes Next and How To Like It by Abigail Thomas 

Grief is a Thing With Feathers by Max Porter 

On The Shortness of Life by Seneca 

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 

Grief Works by Julia Samuel 

A Grief Observed by C.S Lewis 

Death by Julian Barnes

Breaking chains and building bridges through art

Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, Art Building Bridges and Moving  Forward are three art collections displayed as part of Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a collaborative exhibition spread across Edinburgh. Drawing inspiration from within themselves, professional and self-taught artists with past or current experience of mental ill health reveal the power of art to raise awareness, fight preconceptions and move forward.

Walking along the corridors and talking to the volunteers, you start realising that no matter whether or not you have experienced mental health problems, we all share the same struggles, whether it is fear of dentists or social anxiety. Once fully immersed with the art, it is not difficult to see the beauty and the emotions caught in each painting, drawing and installation. The idea of art as a way of representing feelings and fighting stigma finds expression in Oto Kano’s work displayed in Summerhall.

It shows us that depression can also be beautiful if only we could overcome what feels like an inborn urge to simultaneously look at or run away from sadness. Exploring her ‘semi-blind’ drawings of faces and dark paintings of tsunamis and stormy waters, one really starts getting a feel of how excruciating living with alternating depressive and manic episodes must be. At the same time, a closer look makes the edgy black contours of the faces milder, the eyes warmer and the golden splashes sitting on the top of the black, turbulent waves more prominent.

Two bright and spacious rooms at the end of a corridor, hidden in the basement of Summerhall, host Moving Forward and Art Building Bridges. These are two collections of work created by members of Contact Point Art Group and TollX Art Group, respectively, that show how art groups can have a positive impact on mental health by creating social circles in which everybody can find a safe space to relax, focus and express themselves. Sketching electric circuits with open ends, drawing boxes, interlaced with spheres and matryoshki, cracked by heavy labels around their necks becomes a way of exploring the conscious and subconscious, of identifying the real struggles, accepting the imperfections and moving forward.

Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art! – an exhibition held in Argyle House, displays paintings by Margaret Ramsay. Walking into the room, a massive painting catches the eye – an eagle in the sky symbolising the broken chains and achieved freedom and empowerment. Margaret’s works tell a personal story of how art could be part of a healing process, acting as a vent for accumulated feelings, freeing the imagination.

Composed of paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures from modelling clay, these three exhibitions show us how art can help every one of us acknowledge their struggles, identify the roots, accept the imperfections and in this way release themselves from the chains that hold them, achieving tranquillity and gaining confidence. But it could also build bridges through creating a safe space for expressing emotions, sharing experiences and stories of recovery.

by Katerina Gospodinova

Katerina is a final year PhD student in molecular psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. She believes that art and science can work hand in hand to raise awareness and fight the preconceptions surrounding mental illness. Follow her on Twitter at @ KaterinaGospodi [https://twitter.com/KaterinaGospodi]