I will not say; do not weep; for not all tears are an evil – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.
At the end of April my world was rocked by the sudden death of my brother, Werner.
Beset by a debilitating skin condition for most of his adult life he was not the most of well of men, his unexpected departure from this world was nevertheless a shock.
Having no partner or children, my Mother and I had very little chance initally to absorb the impact of his death as we quickly dispatched ourselves to Hobart, where he lived, to organise his affairs and say goodbye.
While a sad time, this immediate period after his death spent in Tasmania was also a cathartic time. In packing up his possessions, catching up with old mutual friends or meeting new people whose lives who had been touched by him, I was able to update my picture of a wonderful, crazy, and passionate man who left us way too soon. That mental picture has become central to my sense of remembrance of him.
The initial grief period in Tasmania through exchanging the stories of my brother and the shared experience of sorrow, confirmed for me how unique the journey of grief is for all of us. I now believe there is no right or wrong way in going about this fundamental life experience.
I am well aware that as time unfolds my grief and sense of remembrance will also change, particularly as major milestones such as birthdays and holiday celebrations including Christmas unfold in coming months.
However Werner’s death has not been the only one. Unfortunately Death has decided to remain active around me although not quite as directly. Since my return from Tasmania close friends and other family members have joined me on the grieving journey.
With Death being so prominent in recent weeks, it is probably needless to point out that writing, either on this blog or the work in progress, has not been a high priority.
My brother’s affairs had to be sorted out (a process that still continues), family members to support and friends searching for answers. This coalition of grief needed each other and the space for creativity was simply not a high priority.
Having made certain pronouncements on my writing goals at the beginning of the year , I quickly realised I had to be kind to myself and therefore decided not to get stressed about the fact that my writing projects have taken a hiatus. This wasn’t the time to force the writing.
Deep down I always knew that the need to do my own writing would return along with the reappearance of the muse. As you can see it is slowly emerging, although only baby steps at this stage.
However the creative life has not been void in recent weeks. It has been somewhat more a passive than active pursuit as the creativity of others guide me through these initial stages of grief. Solace has been gained through looking at a art, listening to music, attending a concert, reading books or watching fine acting. This passive absorption of creativity has been fitting. For my brother and I the creative world was a mutual sphere for us and through these activities I have been able to find him.
Indeed I can say that the creative world has been a blessing.
However these recent experiences have prompted me to ponder on the impact of grief on creativity. I am well aware that for some it can hinder the muse, while for others it becomes a central aspect of their healing process.
As everyone’s ability to grieve is unique I therefore believe the combination of creativity and grief is an unique process. We never know quite how it will hit us until we are in its midst. I also suspect that how I am experiencing it now could well differ the next time I confront grief and loss.
One of the most poignant experiences of grieving and creativity I have ever come across is the experience of one of the my favourite composers, Nigel Westlake following the murder of his son Eli in 2008.
For the first 12 months after the event composing and creativity was the last thing on his mind, as he recalls in the CD notes for his work Missa Solis:
“Many things, including music, completely lost their relevance and meaning. I was cast into an abyss of grief and yearning. All plans went on hold, future work prospects were postponed or cancelled.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.
At the time of Eli’s death Westlake had already started composing Missa Solis as a secular mass to the sun, however by the time the work finally premiered in 2011 it had turned into a requiem for Eli. As Westlake recalls:
“When I finally worked up the will and the courage to revive my interest in composition, in the forefront of my mind was the desire to express my grief at the loss of my son through music.
As the pages of Missa Solis stared back at me from the desk, I saw within them the potential to further expand upon this material in a way that might somehow reflect the enormity of my loss. As I pondered the parallel between the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’, Primavera’s ancient ode, ‘My joy is born every time I gaze at my beautiful sun’ now assumed a portentous significance. Here lay the blueprint for Eli’s requiem.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.
Since then Westlake’s grief and honouring of his son has continued to influence his creativity which has included the beautiful song cycle Compassion created in association with Lior. A piece of music that has been a part of my own grief soundtrack.
As my own words finally once again flicker from the screen, I suspect grief’s impact on my creativity is yet to fully express itself; however I am thankful that green shoots of creative expression are once again starting to emerge from within me.
Time will tell where the juxtaposition of grief and creativity will lead me, however I am already certain of one thing. There is beauty through tears.
Werner, may I continue on the creative journey for both of us. xo