I stole this image from the interwebs.
When I was around 12, I saw some made-for-television, women-in-peril movie about a deadbeat mom changing her ways or a journey through foster care or adoption or something. I remember almost nothing about it, but one line stuck with me way back then. It was, "Mother means God in the mouth of a child." That line came back to me after my mom died, because I felt like my soul had been removed and bashed against a wall a thousand times. When my mother died she took the whole world with her. My God was gone. That was how enormous grief felt.
I didn't know what to do with the grief. Some people visit the graveside of lost loved ones, but my brother and mother's graves were thousands of miles away and hundreds of miles from each other. Taking flowers and talking to the grass and sky at their places of rest wasn't possible. Instead of visiting their grave/mausoleum I paced a lot. I probably paced enough to reach those thousands of miles on foot. I paced around nature. I wandered cemeteries. I walked cities and my own neighborhood. When my brother died I sprinted myself a stress fracture. When my mother died I walked a hole in my foot, but no matter how far I walked or ran, there was no location to hold my grief with me. There was no church for my lost god.
During the course of my own grief therapy, my therapist said something like, "You're going to be an art therapist, you should do some art about this." And I said something like, "Everything I do is about this." And she said something like, "No really make something about this, just about this, not that self-soothing stuff." Okay, so that's not quite how the conversation went, but you get the gist.
So, I made a lot of things "about this" which I will get to overtime, but the first was the space.
I am no gardener. Digging is fun. Planting is cool. That's as far as I want to go. Watering, weeding, debugging... I don't even know what else... that stuff sucks. However, I decided to create a place to hang out with grief and I thought a tree would be nice. I could handle a tree. Digging, planting and mostly ignoring (aside from some pretty simple sapling needs) was within my range of commitment. I decided on a pink dogwood tree, because my mom requested pink flowers for her funeral. I selected the area of my backyard outside my kitchen window so I would see it daily.
This is how my yard looked when I started!!!
In my defense, it looks better than the dirt, broken asphalt and chain link backyard I had on moving day, but still bad. I know.
An interesting thing happened when I planted that tree (and this is a metaphor I try to keep in mind whenever I am starting anything new that sounds overwhelming), I thought this is a nice little tree, it deserves something more, so I planted some bulbs around the base to come up in the spring.
When those started coming up, I thought these are pretty flowers around a pretty tree, they should have a better space, so I did some mulching and got some rocks (remembering my poor gardening skills) and then I enclosed the rocks and the mulch with a little fence. I thought there should be a place to sit and be with this tree, so I got a bench. The view wasn't right, so I mulched along the fence and planted stuff. The daffodils, tulips, crocuses and whatever other bulbs I planted went out of season, so I planted other flowers for the summer and I watered them. I started working my way along the other fence. I planted a rose bush. And I made a bunch of art to go with all of this. I watered things! I pulled weeds! I processed stuff. My dad died. I gave him a space in my memorial garden with my mom and brother. My girlfriend added some of her own processing about her cat and best friend who died a year after my mom.
At the beginning of last summer, the space looked like this...
The grass was still a major work in progress. The tree and flowers were much tinier than they were at the end of the summer. I'm still no gardener or landscaper, but the point is it's progress. More importantly, I don't have to wander with my grief anymore and I feel like I can honor lost ones through honoring this space.
Other grief work sprouted from this and I'll get to that eventually.
As I was searching for a pink dogwood image to steal from the internet, I found this site on creating a memorial garden. Notice the image of the pink dogwood while you're there. I almost stole that one for the top of this post.