The solace art offers


“Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:

Then have I reason to be fond of grief?”

Shakespeare (also known as my personal Jesus)

My heart! How can you not be moved?

I’ve been thinking about losses lately, and how we find comfort for them. There are a lot of reasons this topic has been jangling about in my head: I facilitate groups where people often talk about their big life losses; I had a breakup; a dear friend’s brother died on Halloween, and I always think about her this time of year; and some other friends of mine have been going through losses in various forms. Then today I had a couple of experiences that really got me thinking about loss’ palpable shadow: grief.

First, I had some time before I had to go to a writing group, and so I dropped by the Joslyn Art Museum There is this painting there that always moves me, called The Grief of the Pasha. I don’t know why it pulls my heart’s muscle fibers, but it does. Is it the slumped, broken-looking pasha? The big, strong tiger looking so vulnerable with its little tongue sticking out? The way the tiger is so lovingly placed on flower petals? The giant hall with its emptiness that is like a third character in the scene? I just don’t know.

At any rate, that painting was freshly in my mind when I got to the writing group. During the session, this nice man with whom I get to work sometimes shared about a tremendous loss he experienced several years ago. The anniversary of his loss happens to fall on the same date as my beloved brother’s death, May 29th, which brought up that piece of grief for me. He then shared a stunning poem and song about grieving, Nocturne, and spoke about the solace music and poetry gave him. It was incredibly touching and impressive that he shared this personal loss with the group. I also felt a deep resonance with his experience of art as a source of comfort.

I know some people find respite from loss, from grief, in prayer, in faith. That has never been the case for me. I know a lot of other people, too, who just cannot get the relief they need from a religion or the concept of a god. Yet, we all need something that offers us shelter from the overwhelming storm that is grief when it hits. For some of us, it’s art in its many wonderful forms. The Grief of the Pasha is one example of art that comforts me, but there are so many others. A friend let me read her upcoming book where she wrote about her very painful divorce, and it brought me some much-needed understanding and hope. I’ve been reading Waiting by Marya Hornbacher, and it gave insight I craved. I discovered this wonderful poem, What the Living Do, and it soothed my soul, I tell you. Reading, writing, movies, creating art…all the products and acts of creation are what get me through those times when absence kicks me in the teeth. It was cool to hear somebody else articulate that function of art today. I hope if you are reading this and going through any kind of grief, or even just have one in your past and it bubbles up, that you find whatever that grief-healer is for you, whether it’s art, god or a favorite blanket.

Also, if you need more bad-ass recommendations of paintings, poems, books or songs, let me know. We who are converts to art-as-religion always have suggestions. It’s what gets us through.

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