If there is any certainty in life—it is death. Even knowing it’s inevitability, the topic of death and grief is often taboo in Western society.
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 52, I had just over six months to say goodbye to my mom. The news was sudden and unexpected. We didn’t know how much time she had with us, the doctors said anywhere between a couple days to a couple months. With such uncertainty, life as I knew it was completely flipped on its head—she was the closest and most influential person in my life. Even in her last days, she was selfless to her core—she comforted the living in the face of her own mortality. During those last six months we had together, my mom still managed (and continues) to teach me her life wisdoms.
I had experienced loss before with my grandparents, but never like this. After my mom passed away, my sister, father and I had to prepare for the service and everything else that was expected to follow. I found myself conflicted between traditions and pleasing others with what my mom would have valued. I was in a state of numbness, getting everything sorted and organized, all while trying to process what just happened. When the news broke out about my mom's death, our home was flooded with flowers and sympathy cards—every surface was covered with an assortment of colourful arrangements and poignant condolences. We were overwhelmed and so grateful by the outpouring of support, but, eventually, that all went away. Within a matter of months, everyone reverted back to their daily routines, and as a result, the cards stopped coming, the flowers wilted, and my mom was rarely brought up in conversation anymore. It was clear that although I may not have been ready to move on, life already had. While everyone had settled back into "normalcy," I was furthest from it—my grief had finally hit me with all of its overwhelming force.
The support I had became increasingly hard to reach just when I needed it the most. I felt like there was no place to put my grief without causing discomfort—support groups and counselling had to be scheduled in advance, and I had no control over when my grief would be triggered next. And it’s not to say it was or is anyones fault; it is a result of Western society’s limited understanding of the process—grief simply outlasts sympathy. All I ever wanted was for someone to understand me at a time when I couldn’t understand myself.
Death, however, has allowed me to connect on a deeper and more empathetic level with others who have, or are currently experiencing loss. It is a connection where you never have to ask or answer the question of “what’s wrong?” because it is implied—it is understood. This unspoken understanding among grievers is what Of Loss & Grief aims to cultivate; a place of empathy, expression and shared understanding. Inspired by the unstructured and unpredictable qualities of grief, Of Loss & Grief is a safe space, accessible at all points of the grieving process. It is not about finding answers or solutions to grief, instead it is about creating the space for dialogue around this inevitable part of life. Beyond the flowers and sympathy cards is a complicated and emotional process where everyone’s experience is completely unique and individual. In acknowledging that not everyone expresses, grieves, and is comforted in the same way, Of Loss & Grief is a space for various forms of expression, access and support—meeting the needs of the griever throughout their process. Here, grief is put on the table (rather through the Of Loss & Grief exhibition, publication and website) for the griever to access when and how they need. As a result, the collections Of Loss & Grief showcases the diversity of the grieving process. Of Loss & Grief aims to encourage expressive and reflective practices that can contribute to fostering a space of understanding, support and validation—not only for oneself, but for others as well.
While there is no way to escape the inevitability of death and the pain that follows, there is a lot that can be learned through experiencing the loss of someone close and its confronting ability to put life into perspective. Through expressive and contemplative practices we can find a deeper appreciation for life—honouring what we have lost, but also acknowledging what still remains.