An Art Review of a Different Kind

©Vanessa Wells, 2014 All rights reserved.

I spent the day deliberating about posting a personal commentary here, which I rarely do. And maybe that's part of my problem.
I've been feeling depleted lately (physically, spiritually, emotionally) and this has been complicated by feelings of grief for which I still haven't attained "closure." The best info I have seen on this topic is that it's not linear, it's very individual in its course, and it doesn't make any damn sense. I have come to accept that. But there are moments—and they tend to hit me in the early morning—when I am hit by grief like a Mack truck. This is both unexpected and really annoying. I tend to be a morning person (that is, I don't want to actually talk to anyone in the morning; I just have all my energy and optimistic outlook for the day then), and then wham, I'm crying.
Backtrack: I'm a child without a real sibling [skip that story]. My dad died ten years ago. He was a private pilot in his retirement, and every time I see a small plane above (which is frequently, fortunately), I say a thank you and turn into a puddle. It's dumb, but it makes me feel he is there. 
After he died of brain cancer, life decided that would be a great time for my mum to develop Alzheimer's. She moved back to Toronto and I spent the next four plus years dealing daily and in person with her not-self. I'm sorry to say I was not always patient (anger=fear), but I did all that one daughter could do and kept her reasonably happy, despite the cra-cra of that miserable disease. She threw out and lost expensive things (including an engagement ring) and she was difficult with me and everyone trying to help her navigate what she would not admit was happening to her. Long to short, she swore up and down she would "just go" {snapping of fingers} when she wanted to and would not linger on [this, from a woman who did not have an answer about what to do if the fire alarm in her building went off; 9-1-1 was unknowable to her by that point]. Social workers and I tried to explain that the drop-dead-on-demand-scenario was really unlikely, but didn't she do just that on a Thursday morning in October of 2013: a massive stroke cut her down and she was dead within a day. Fran:1 Vanessa:0
Anyway, as I said, I get hit with whammies about my ten-year-gone dad and almost-three-year-gone mum a lot. A LOT. It sucks. I burst into tears at certain pieces of music, yet I can't bring myself to turn off the recordings or broadcasts. It's like I have to will myself through the grief a-bloody-gain. 
So I'd been feeling like crap and decided to do my best cure-all: a re-organization and purge. This from someone whose total belongings fit in one room. I'd recently purged 20 years of teaching resources (except the Latin) but my 20 years of photography were crowding me in and I needed to dump stuff. I was going to chuck some art stuff I had deemed unworthy but retrieved them. Some good, some purely emotional creations, but I decided to keep them to honour myself. Maybe my kids, in their own future mid-life crises, would be interested? 
That was yesterday. This morning, when I felt like crap, I felt drawn to review a more difficult portfolio. So I was flipping aimlessly through the pages, when I noticed some hand-written notes by visitors to an art show I'd exhibited photographs at a decade ago.
I remembered a few, mostly complimentary. I even remembered one that said "A little cold. I didn't feel the tenderness." Which was then and is still funny because I've never been about portraying tenderness and almost always include some aspect of "coldness" or at least a definite starkness. So I'd never been offended, only bemused, by that comment. Another praised my photo cropping on my best image—the one that was good because I hadn't needed to crop it. I kept flipping through. Saw a note from my then-15-year-old daughter (her signature initial and heart hasn't really changed) and then my heart stopped. There was one that said, "I'm so very proud of you. M." (M. was my mother's signature for "Mum" on notes.) I'd forgotten that she had been there during a visit from her home in B.C., let alone left me a note. Of course she would have written that, even though she never did understand my photos (and God knows she said that often enough!). I was on a huge purge and hadn't checked every single one of the hundreds of papers. But I had almost thrown those notes out. I had been looking for continued connection with my mum for almost three years and here was an unexpected gift.
Last year, I had read through all of her remaining, redacted diaries (the ones she would have known to us: she was ridiculously private). So I could know about her partying too much and boys and hitchhiking in Europe in 1952, but she had cut out other stuff that was important to me. It had been a good way of getting to know her again and about stuff she had alluded to but hadn't further spilled on. 
I have letters and cards from her and my dad, of course, and lots of family records and memorabilia from the past 100 years. But I was not expecting that note. I thought I had reviewed everything tangible several times over during the last three years.
But it was exactly what I needed. I'd been reading—I swear—five minutes before about spiritual development, and then that jumped out at me. 
Even though she didn't get "modern art," my mum was validating me. And that's what parents do. They may not "get" their kids, but they never stop loving and supporting them. No matter what. 
So I felt less lame about reinstating my art stuff in my room {look at my self-critiquing editorializing!} and again I felt reinforced to go on without her and my dad.
I'm not sure what this may have to offer you. But I wanted to share my small story of grace. Because grace is an undeserved and unexpected gift. And if this isn't a time when we all need gifts, I don't know when is.



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