A little over 10 months ago, just 3 days before Christmas in fact, my brother-in-law was killed in a tragic road traffic accident. It was a tragedy whose catastrophic effects were augmented by the life-changing effect on his three little boys – 2 year old twins and a 4 year old – who in that sudden cataclysmic moment of disaster lost a father, and by the deep heartbreak of his wife, my sister, who lost her husband after only 8 years of marriage. They say that time is a healer – although there are some things which time can never truly mend. It’s as though time acts as a sticking plaster or band aid, only for its thin protection to be unceremoniously ripped away at certain instances of remembrance, one such being the inquest into his death, which we, as his closest family, attended two weeks ago.
I don’t intend to talk about the inquest – it’s details are too sad for sharing; too grave for the lighter side of the blogosphere in which I like to roam. Yet what I did want to share with you is a painting I made, in immediate response to the hearing, a work which for me sums up the sadness of this death. There may be some who believe that to paint a vision of tragedy somehow lessens or trivialises its impact, but I, like many others, would disagree. For just as some of the world’s most famous paintings have been created in a direct response to, and as catharsis for some of history’s worst obscenities (take for example Picasso’s Guernica, or Goya’s 3rd May 1808), so the process of painting has helped me to respond to the horrors of this family loss, in the same way that painting also enabled me to work through the after-effects of my very serious accident 5 years ago.
The painting I am sharing today, Return Journey, is a simple but poignant image, and one which I could not get out of my head once it had formed in response to the testimony of one of the witnesses at my brother-in-law’s inquest. She described how she and the passengers in her car had seen my brother-in-law out on the roadside, alive, but in great peril and, worried for his safety, had taken the first turning round a roundabout, driven back up the opposite carriageway, and then retraced the route where they had first seen him alive. But on their return journey, they could see him no longer – all that visibly remained of my brother-in-law was a single shoe lying in the middle of the carriageway. He was no longer to be found. What we now know is that in the short time between seeing him alive and returning to the scene, he had been struck by a car, and killed.
It’s for that reason that I could not get the image of that lone shoe out of my head, and in creating this work, I felt some sense of catharsis in reaction to that dreadful, but necessary inquest. It’s an image imbued with the heavy shadow of tragedy, but a painting of which I am proud as an artist, and as a family member, in dedication to my brother-in-law’s memory.
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Unfortunately, that band-aid is going to get ripped off again and again through out the different milestone you and your family encounter the rest of your lives. Based on my experience, I believe time does not heal, it teaches you how to manage the grief monster.
I believe that is true. Every Christmas that band-aid will be ripped off, every birthday and anniversary. But I suppose for my sister especially, it is something to which she will harden – the scar that will cover the continuous hurt underneath. Thanks for reading and best wishes to you.
Art is a way of expressing differet things, as an artist you use it to show and share experiences as diverse as life itself. You have delighted me with the enjoyement of your discoveries, in photos or paintings, this one does move me. Beautifully simple, deeply sad, it is a fine tribute.
Your words mean so much Maru, all the more with this painting. Thank you. I am so glad you consider it to be the tribute it was intended to be.
My heart hurts for you. How extremely tragic it must have been and still is i’m sure. Love you tons XO
Love you too Millie, thanks so much xxx
January 12, 2011 is the date I can never forget. My husband died suddenly but in a hospital. He left me with a 4 year old and a heartache so deep I never thought it would heal. I feel your family’s pain but please know that a scar does cover the heartache a new “normal” is found. I write letters to my husband, much like your painting, it helps me get through the roughest times. Much love to you and your family.
Your comment has touched me so very much and I will ensure your love is passed onto my family, as ours is to yours. I really hope that your new “normal” is at least become bearable for you now, and that your beautiful child is getting through it ok. All the best.
Thank you, it has been nearly 3 years and we still have our moments of great sadness. Last Christmas we began a new tradition that makes the holidays less sad and allows to remember with more smiles and fewer tears. We make ornaments that represent some part of Justin. This lets our family share memories while doing something fun and creative. Perhaps when your family is ready you can start a new tradition that will celebrate the life your brother in law lived. Everyone is different, but this how we honor him and still continue with our lives. I hope you don’t feel I have intruded and that what I have said gives some comfort. Again love to you and your family.