*ALERT this is a personal post. If personal posts make you squirm, go no further. While this post digresses at points, from its subject, this is what losing a person does to another. Loss causes people to evaluate and re-evaluate mostly everything. Grief acknowledges in everyone, their humanity, both as it applies to the person who has died and as it does to the people left behind.
Since my brother died, this is what my family room work station looks like.
The Milk-Bone box contains treasures for a very special friend who was enduring invasive surgery at the same time as John was settling in at home, for as long as he could remain, as was his wish. In tandem with these two life-jolting experiences, a dear friend of mine died, leaving me absolutely crushed. Wendy was a huge strength for her circle of friends and for me and we were left, devastated. I continue to hold her husband and daughter in my quiet prayers. I still have not posted that parcel. It has, however, left the upstairs dining table, moved to the coffee table and then found its way here.
The photographs…well, I am meticulous about archiving and these are all that remain of the former stacks and stacks of loose photographs, a project in documentation that I began in 2007. Apart from these, all photographs are sorted and stuck into over twenty albums containing archival paper. All photographs, apart from those my readers see here, are documented. Something about losing my oldest brother, set this chaos in motion.
Something clicked inside of me. I don’t know if it was a click-on situation or a click-off situation, but, I’m just accepting what it has become. A positive example is the switch that was turned on and found me back in my studio, painting. And for this, I am very grateful.
Now, about losing Isabelle. (I am still ill-prepared to write a tribute for my brother, but one day, I will). This is not a tribute to Isabelle as such, but a heartfelt response to the news that my first born has lost her Granny and I have lost a friend.
With the news about Isabelle’s death early on Thursday morning, I pulled the albums dated ‘late 1970s’ off of the shelf and I noticed an obvious absence of bric a brac or photographs. This caused me an immediate sadness. I am left, in my mind, at least, experiencing loss (again) and want to reflect upon my time with Isabelle. I find visual images really help me with that when I can not conjure up pictures in my head. In this case, I have nothing to look at.
Through the loss of marriage and the pain of divorce, in anger and fear and incredible loss, it appears that I cut a chunk of my life away. It looks very much like I did not have a camera, but I’m pretty certain I did. If we look back at our lives, some of us selectively edit them, don’t we? I think that is what is so interesting about memory. We might, even to others, exaggerate a story of a memory that is particularly sharp within us. Or, we might interpret the events in a slightly different way, forgetting related sadness or retelling in a way that might be more complimentary of our own behaviours. Don’t we always, as characters in our own lives, wish to be viewed in best light? Historical fiction is, by far, my favourite genre for just this reason.
One day I’ll write down the story about how I arrived at the place where I fell in love with and married Isabelle’s son. Certainly, it is a story that even my dearest may not know. But for this moment, and for the purpose of this reflection, I want to aim this ship toward the subject of Isabelle.
I have, in my belongings, only two photographs of Isabelle as I remember her in 1979. I am sharing one of them here.
This photo is not, nor will it ever be framed and sitting on a mantel. But, it represents a moment of complete and utter happiness, a wintry night in 1979. And Isabelle was there.
She held concern for me and did her best to take care of me. In those years, we had very little and with her first grandchild on the way, Isabelle would appear at the door to our basement suite and pad pad pad down the stairs, arms filled with bags of groceries. She welcomed us to many beautiful meals and shared in her traditions of Christmas baking.
It was Isabelle who showed me how to buy vegetables in bulk and who canned with me at my small gas-burning stove.
Once we welcomed my daughter into our family, Isabelle was a remarkable Granny and their bond remained incredibly close right up until the late hours of June 5th. I find myself writing and deleting/writing and deleting so many acts of love that Isabelle demonstrated along my journey. I suppose I want to keep them close to my heart and alive in my own memory.
I am grateful that my daughter has always put her family first and equally treasures her husband’s family. This is a quality to be deeply admired in today’s world. Bonding with family creates a fabric of love that is strong and endures pain and hardship.
With the loss of my marriage, Isabelle continued to embrace me. We were able to continue to visit and to share laughs. I will always be grateful for that. We were two women who loved my daughter with an insatiable love and that will never go away.
I am very sad for Isabelle’s loss. I pray for her family at this time and for her dear friends who enjoyed her company over all of these years. Isabelle will have lessons to teach me through the coming days. I will watch for them.
The first of these lessons is to, even in your pain, keep those photographs. Put them in the albums. It is too late to write characters out of the script of your life. Shut the covers of the album and tuck them away, but know that one day, these will matter to you. And you will be filled with a wisdom that carries you beyond resentment.
The river’s high this time of year.