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I was watching Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words a few days ago. It consists of the home movies Ingrid made and her diaries, as well as interviews with her children and friends. At one point, her son, Roberto Rossellini, talks about how, when Ingrid and his father divorced, he had to move from Italy to an island in Sweden and he talked about how important a home is. He said so many things are always changing in life, but it's profoundly important to have a place that is stable and that doesn't change, a place that's rooted and he said that's what the island was to him.








I thought about how I once had a house of my own, a steady place where I could collect my books and keep my journals and live my life. I was embedded. I was connected. Now, I've lost that. It was unthinkable to lose my home. But it was unthinkable to lose my father too and that happened. I don't know how to cope with all of this. My home was very important to me. It was the place where I grew up, where I lived with my father, where I spent 26 years. It was the one constant through all the years of tragedy and suffering. At least I had that, even though I had no father and no family and no friends. It was there. What do I have now?

The Shadow of Grief

In my previous post, I wrote about how my mom and I are watching Broadchurch, which is a British detective show that focuses on the murder of an eleven-year-old boy named Danny and how his death impacts both his family and the community of Broadchurch. In episode six, Danny's mother, Beth, wants to meet another woman who has experienced a similar loss. The woman's name is Cate and her child was also murdered. It's understandable that Beth would want to connect with someone who knows what it's like to lose a child to violent crime. During their meeting, Cate talks about grief and compares it to a shadow.

























I think it's helpful to re-conceptualize grief as Cate does. People have this idea that grief is something one can overcome, something that is temporary and impermanent, but what Cate is saying--and what my blog is dedicated to promoting--is the truth that, for many people, grief becomes part of life and can never be separated from it. Grief exists in a million ordinary moments. Just today, ten years after my father's death, I broke down because I was listening to a band and wondered if he liked it. I'll never know. I can't ask him. He isn't here anymore. He will never be here again, and how am I supposed to live with that? No one can live with it but me. I have to face it every day. I have to face those ordinary moments of grief. I have to live with the shadow that Cate describes. We all do once we experience a traumatic, life-shattering loss.

As we watched the first season of Broadchurch, I told my mom that I like the way the show delves into the family's grief and reminds us that the crime victims in the newspapers and on television are real people suffering real loss. Many crime dramas focus solely on the detectives who are solving the case but Broadchurch expands its focus and makes room for the grieving family. In one scene, Beth asks if she can hold one of Danny's friends because she misses hugging her son. In another scene, Danny's sister sees boys his age playing and has to leave school. Anything and everything can be a reminder of the dead. I've been in schools, grocery stores, movie theaters, and other public places and been overwhelmed by memories of my father. I've seen men that remind me of him, smelled cologne similar to his, and it took me days to recover. It never ends. The grief is endless. At one point, Beth asks Cate how she copes and Cate confesses that she sleeps a lot, takes sleeping pills, and even drinks. She can't cope. Some of us can't heal or come back. Some of us will always struggle to survive once the shadow of grief has touched our lives.

Scenes of Grief: Broadchurch (Season 1, Episode 1)

Lately, my mom and I have become addicted to crime dramas set in the UK. We watch them on Netflix. So far, we've seen Marcella, The Fall, River, and now we're watching Broadchurch. These shows help us get through the day, help us survive a life marked by multiple traumas and tragedies. My happiest moments are when I'm with my mom, watching our shows, our "stories," as we call them.

Broadchurch is a show set in a small town on the English coast. In the first season, an eleven-year-old boy named Danny is murdered and detectives try to find who killed him. What's so compelling about the show for me is its focus on the grief experienced by Danny's family and the larger community of Broadchurch.

Growing up, I watched shows about murder. But since experiencing my own traumatic loss, I watch them for a very different reason now. I watch them because they are one of the few spaces where grief is openly expressed, where people can be upset, shattered, and wounded. I have not lost a loved one to violent crime, but I've lost my father and I feel his death every day. I search for people who share their grief because I find connection with them. I tend to watch more true crime shows, like Dateline and 48 Hours, but the detective shows in the UK are becoming an obsession of mine due to their sensitivity to victims' grief and their depth of emotion and humanity.

Broadchurch is certainly a murder mystery, but it's so much more than that. It's about a family gutted by grief. Probably more than any other television genre, crime dramas show the moment at which people are told of their loved one's death. This moment is crucial to the narrative, as it demarcates the victims' lives. One minute, life is normal and the next moment their world is completely upended. That is a profoundly resonant thing for me. 

As I watched the scene in Broadchurch's premiere when the detectives inform Danny's family that he is dead, I thought about how we can wake up with one life and go to sleep with another. Your whole life can change in a second, and I know that's cliche to say. When I write it, I'm ashamed of how unimaginative my language is, but it's true. Someone speaks the words "He's dead" and you can't feel your own body anymore, you don't understand where you are or what you are or how to breathe or function. It's so sudden, so mercilessly instantaneous, a catastrophe in your brain, a fracturing of sense and normalcy. Nothing is ever the same. Nothing will ever be right again.




























Later in the episode, one of the detectives is talking to the mother on the beach near the site where her son's dead body was found. She says something interesting:




















I've felt that way--so far away from myself, from life, from other people. A distance, a chasm, opens up between yourself and the world. For me, that distance has never gone away, and I haven't been able to bridge the divide. I live so wounded and shattered by my grief, so lonely, so damaged. I find what connection I can, but it isn't enough. I want my father back and I can't have him. I want myself back and I can't have her either.


A Man Searches the Sea for His Lost Wife

At The New York Times, Jennifer Percy tells the story of Yasuo Takamatsu, who five years after the tsunami in Japan, still searches the sea for the body of his missing wife, Yuko. He is not alone. He is also joined by Masaaki Narita, who lost his daughter, Emi, to the tsunami and diligently searches the water for her body.
By this January, Takamatsu had been on 110 dives, each lasting 40 to 50 minutes. He was not just looking for the body; he was also searching for a wallet, clothes or jewelry — anything that might identify his wife after five years in the ocean. 
“I expected it to be difficult,” Takamatsu said, “and I’ve found it quite difficult, but it is the only thing I can do. I have no choice but to keep looking for her. I feel closest to her in the ocean.” 
I thought of the song that a French composer named Sylvain Guinet composed for Takamatsu after he learned of his loss. The title is “Yuko Takamatsu.” Takamatsu listened to the song, a piano solo, when he shopped online, ironed his clothes, drove his car and as he fell asleep. I asked him if the song brought back memories of Yuko. “It does not bring back memories,” he said. “Because it is not something that I forget.” 
We often think of searching as a kind of movement, a forward motion through time, but maybe it can also be the opposite, a suspension of time and memory. Heidegger wrote of a metaphoric pain, calling it the “joining of the rift.” It’s this rift, he said, that holds together things that have been torn apart, to perhaps create a new space where joy and sadness can find communion. This is the space I believed Takamatsu found beneath the sea, where he could feel close to his wife, in the rift between “missing” and “deceased.”
Read the full essay at The New York Times

Listen to Sylvain Guinet's "Yuko Takamatsu"

Fragments

All my dead lined up to greet me in the night.

Grief is my muse.

I don't want to die without him.

Writers in my blood: Duras, Plath, Pizarnik.

Grief is a bottomless trauma.

To see his face again, to touch it. Oh how I burn.

All my writing is a reckoning with trauma and a search for my father.

The superpower I want most: to be able to bring the dead back to life.

With his death, a life of fear began.

grief-stained

I've lost everything. I begin as I was born--barren, pure.

My home is in books.

The words give me another life, which helps me survive my "real" life. Imagination is rescue.

Sometimes, I'm reading a book and I love life so much and I'm angry that it was taken from him. Sometimes, I love life so much that I want it forever.

Somewhere, those breathing years still live.

Sometimes I say the word "daddy" out loud and in my mind. Over and over again. Daddy daddy daddy. I say it as though that one word can conjure him.

I used to be in awe of life, now I'm in fear of it.

Reading van Gogh's letters, I feel connected to him across the centuries. Words dissolve distance, forge intimacy, immediacy. Van Gogh, always so alone but alive, marked by a feverish passion to put his dreams in paint. Many lonely people love him, myself included. Maybe he gives us hope that we can create other worlds even though we--and he--couldn't survive this one.

Will I ever create? Will I ever be a good writer? I write from the heart, from a broken heart, and so my words are also broken, but they are alive.

I loved him so much. I want him back. I want our life together. I want it all. I loved him so deeply and that love has consumed me and I can't find it again and I ache for it and I can't comprehend that he's dead. I want him to be alive. I live in turmoil. I live in a stupor because I can't understand where he went or what life is without him. There's a mist over everything. I can't see clearly. I can't live.

How could I have ever been prepared for his death? Life was a dream until he died and I woke up to a cold reality.

I hate my body because it dies, it is impermanent.

Someone is always dying. The world is always collapsing and rising again, being remade, rebuilt.

What have I lived to tell? What secret am I seeking to know? How to live and not let the world kill me.

For some, the miracle never comes. The miracle would have been seeing him live.

I still can't see fathers and daughters without breaking down. He is lost. I will never know that love again.

Someone please love me.

You can make another world out of language but you can't live in it. You can say he's alive but he isn't.

I sit in the quiet loneliness of evening and write these fragments as an attempt to resist silence, to free myself, to save myself, to give some kind of meaning to my life.

I confronted the nothingness he became and the nothingness I will become.

Daddy. Daddy. Daddy. His name is like a prayer.

I want to forget. I want to start over. I want to be free from fear.

In the film The Quiet Roar, someone tells the main character that she loves her unhappiness. I can't remember the exact words but that's the gist of it. Maybe I love my unhappiness. Maybe I am attached to my grief. But I feel so mutilated by the pain. I don't know how to be happy. I don't think happiness is possible because there's always the fear of death, the fear of what's coming, the fear of loss.

I want to dissolve into paint, into words, into song.

The Devastating Loss That Inspired Picasso's Blue Period

On the evening of February 17, 1901, in a cafe in Montmartre, a young and troubled artist named Carles Casagemas brandished a gun and fired it at his girlfriend. To avoid the bullet, she ducked under the table. Thinking he’d killed her, Casagemas shot himself in the head. Miles away, in Madrid, 19-year-old Pablo Picasso was informed of the death of Casagemas. The two men were best friends. Picasso was devastated. Casagemas’s suicide was a crucial event that helped inspire Picasso's Blue Period.

While many are familiar with Picasso’s Blue Period and know that it represented a time in the famed artist’s career when he focused on melancholy subjects, like poverty, sorrow, and the downtrodden of society, few may know that it was the death of Casagemas that plunged the artist into this world of profound despair. Picasso once said that “it was thinking of Casagemas’ death that started me painting in blue.” 

Picasso was grief-stricken and also haunted by guilt at leaving his depressed and unstable friend only three weeks before Casagemas’s suicide. In his grief, Picasso did many strange things. He used Casagemas’s studio in Montmartre and became lovers with Germaine Gargallo, the woman Casagemas shot at on the night of his suicide. He seemed to be inhabiting Casagemas's life. Unsurprisingly, his obsession with Casagemas extended to his art. Four crucial paintings of the Blue Period depict Casagemas and represent Picasso’s intense mourning for his friend.

Two portraits focus on the immediate aftermath of Casagemas’s suicide and show the young man in his coffin, the bullet wound visible on the right temple. Since he was not there when his friend committed suicide, Picasso created these images of Casagemas from his imagination. They seem to be a way for Picasso to come to terms with the death of his friend, to stare at the dead body, to confront the reality that Casagemas is truly gone. The first painting contains red and gold, but Casagemas’s flesh is a ghostly bluish-green. By the second painting, Casagemas and his surroundings are soaked in blue, a sign that Picasso is becoming consumed by sorrow and deepening his attachment to the color itself. 

Pablo Picasso - The Death of Casagemas, 1901

Pablo Picasso - Casagemas in his Coffin, 1901

These are cathartic, necessary works that Picasso needed to get out of his system. The two portraits of Casagemas, and one of his funeral, were all painted around the same time in the fall of 1901, just months after Casagemas died. In the throes of a raw and overpowering grief, Picasso painted and painted, and the Blue Period began to form out of this deep and wounding pain. In "The Death of Casagemas: Early Picasso, The Blue Period, Mortality, and Redemption," David J. Chalif writes that, “close inspection of these [...] paintings reveals the rapidity of their creation and the frenzy of emotion in the brush of their creator. Rapid and explosive strokes are applied to panel and cardboard, perhaps the only surfaces available to Picasso at the instant moment of this catharsis and attempt to purge guilt and absolve memory.”

Another important painting from Picasso’s Blue Period that focuses on Casagemas’s death is The Burial of Casagemas, a long vertical painting that is epic in scope. While the earlier paintings had centralized Casagemas’s body on its own, the burial painting gathers people around him, and the upper part of the canvas explodes with activity; there are prostitutes and a horse and a woman holding a child. Chalif observes that “The ambivalence and tension about mortality is depicted in the balanced halves of The Burial of Casagemas. Death is countered with life, entombment with sexuality, and solitude with intimacy. Perhaps as a mechanism to assuage his own guilt and fears of mortality, Picasso first depicts death and then rejects it." Perhaps the Blue Period is notable because it is a rare instance when Picasso contradicts his later, more famous image of virility and brash masculinity. The Blue Period shows a Picasso who is not defiant against death, but a man who is deeply unsettled and devastated by it. 

Pablo Picasso - The Burial of Casagemas, 1901
Picasso’s last painting about Casagemas serves as a tribute to his lost friend. In La Vie, painted in 1903, at the latter end of the Blue Period, Picasso gives us a living Casagemas as opposed to one in a coffin or a shroud. Chalif writes that “Magically, Picasso changes himself into Casagemas, revives and resurrects him, makes Casagemas potent and sexual, and gives him a child. The canvas suggests the mysterious and supernatural. It is Picasso’s ultimate absolution for the suicide, his gift to Casagemas, his catharsis, and his apology.” One of the great things about art is how it allows us to imagine other worlds and to make those worlds real through words, paint, and other mediums. In La Vie, Picasso gives his tragic friend a new life, a second chance. What if, on that night in February 1901, things had gone differently? What if Casagemas had lived? In life, we can’t change these tragedies but, with art, we can imagine and dream and create alternative outcomes. Picasso restores Casagemas’s life as a way to mourn his death.

Pablo Picasso - La Vie, 1903

I would argue that the Blue Period was essential in shaping Picasso into the painter he became because it allowed him to exorcise inner demons and to get closer to realizing his own artistic vision. Grief acted as a creative catalyst that transformed a struggling artist into a truly great one. Even today, although they are not his most famous paintings, the works of the Blue Period continue to resonate with people because they capture the melancholy, sadness, and despair that many of us feel. Picasso did not turn away from the death of his dear friend. Instead, he chose to delve deeper into his grief and to let it fuel him as an artist. The Blue Period was not just about Picasso painting the marginalized of society, it was about a grief-stricken man mourning his dead friend and using art to both express his despair and to bring himself back to life.