Abiding: At the edge of mystery.

First Words

These paintings, these writings are bleeding. They pour out of the disillusionment of hope, out of sorrow and despair. Loneliness. An ache that defies description.

There are no five steps, or clear cut guidelines for understanding or living with grief. There is only the deeply human commonality of our experience. Everyone will experience the death of someone they love, whether it be person, animal, tree, dream, identity. And yet, we don’t speak of these times. We don’t speak of grief, from the depths of grief. It would seem that in the last couple of years, perhaps brought on by the Covid pandemic, grief is more in our national conversation. But I fear we are in danger of a cultural semantic satiation. The overuse of the word bleaches it of all meaning.

What we need are stories. Grieving does not have a happy ending, there are no loose ends tied up into a Hollywood finish. Not a popular read. A story no one would choose to live. Yet it is a story of the deepest love, and the courage to face into devastation, of shattered hearts, an unfathomable depth of longing and loneliness. We can learn from those who sorrow so.

Though all of life is bound to the Wheel of Change, the implacable and scouring change of death carries the inexorable fact of absence forever. The Beloved’s body and flesh are gone, leaving a searing and prolonged pain that the grieving are most often doomed to live in isolation. In North America’s over culture, the full expressive rites of death and grieving are given little space, time or heart. Lamentation is embarrassing.

Years ago I promised myself and the child I had been that when and if, loss was visited on me again, I would meet the Spirit of death and grief with all the compassion and acceptance I could call up.

When I was six years old, three beloveds died, my dear Aunt Elsie Bean, my elegant maternal Grandmother Arline Prior Carson and my father, Ralph Wellington Jamieson. My father’s death was the most devastating to the family. We did not speak of my father, or his death, or his absence. Being six, I hadn’t yet learned the rules of the stoicism of grief, and so I cried and called for him, splitting the silence. I soon learned. Do not grieve openly, do not be dramatic, do not “carry on”. These rules cost my family a life-long intimacy, we each fractured inside ourselves and from each other. Floating off on our individual ice floes into the river of our lives.
I began grieving when I was twenty-eight.

Twenty-two years of stuffing sorrow with food, then starving it, trying to numb a pain and terror I didn’t know was buried inside me. I was frozen and empty, which put me in potentially dangerous situations trying to feed needs whose language I didn’t know.

I desired love. I desired my own Soul. Someone was watching out for me, somehow. It took many years to find that love – after the therapy, after acknowledging what frozen grief does to the way of soul, leaking out through all the fissures emerging as a distorted expression of its desire. Its desire to live fully and open heartedly as a human being. I would not harden my heart ever again, nor stop loving. I studied death and dying, learning that grief is inseparable from love, that we don’t grieve what we don’t love.

Death did come. In 2017, my Beloved Allan died with me by his side. Our son Paul and I tenderly washed and anointed Allan’s body. We dressed him and laid a beautiful blanket over him. Allan was with us for three days. We sat with him, spoke to him, and gazed on his beautiful face I peppered with kisses. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yes death came, and after the burial and the visits, and phone calls, one day my body shuddered to a stop.

The enormity of the truth brought me to my knees, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In body, he is dead. I will never see him again in this life. While I lived, part of me traveled with him. Where Thou Goest, I will go.

No one chooses this descent, life pushes us over into a kind of hell, falling and spiraling, moving around the red hot center of a broken heart, falling into an underworld gone surreal again and again. In a very real sense I died, am dying still to an old life that was the shape of two.

I began painting ten months after Allan died. Shaky, anxious, gutted, I came to Elisabeth Moss’s painting group. I needed to express without words. I was met with a tenderness and forbearance both from Elisabeth, Bev and the painting itself. In some inchoate way, painting every week helped to save my life. The words came later, written within the tender reception of Chivas Sandage’s writing group, Write Like a River. They are raw on the page, unedited. Unvarnished.

I offer these words and images to the Spirit of love and grief, on behalf of shattering the silence around this Sacred and terrible path. My promise. I offer them to you out of love for our humanity, our soul, our full heartedness. If these words companion you in any way, dear ones, mores the better.

And for my Allan.

Blessings on your path,
Nora