On Grief

There’s been a lot of discussion about grief since the election: what is “proper” grief, when to get over grief, and people denying the grief of others. Two months ago, this post would have probably just been a rant about not telling people how to grieve, but then my friend Bubby Jerimyah D’Luv died suddenly.

And the grief over the election fell into grief over Jerimyah. I lit my candle for him, and wore my rainbow socks to his memorial. I was his friend, but I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with him. But I have my memories of the times we did spend together. Going to Hobbee’s. Doing the body acceptance workshop. The look of happiness on his face when I went to visit him in the hospital and we talked about going swimming together sometime.

“What is remembered lives,” I said at the memorial.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of the Mothers of Refuge, Emerald O’Leary, passed. So, grief again. She was a sassy Irish lady, who was an amazing artist. One year at Easter she, with the other artists at Refuge, made Easter hats. She came up to me right before service and handed me this glorious hat saying I should wear it for service. So I did (the picture is on my Facebook page, so there’s proof!). There was a lot I didn’t know about her, but what I do know, I cherish.

I lit my candles for her, too, and remembered that she, too, will live because we remember her.

And then, this week, my friend Cynan passed away. He was always a gentleman and a big bear of a man. He was mostly a friend, but we also some adult fun with each other a bit in the first few years I was in the Bay Area. I remember hanging out with him and his wife in their apartment a long time ago, with Cynan in his big chair and Kim in hers. I don’t even remember why I had gone over that day, but it sticks in my memory. I remember him singing in the hallways at Pantheacon, and smiling as I heard his voice down the hall. He also gave amazing hugs, and you knew you were hugged. We hadn’t talked as much in the last few years, except at cons and parties if he was there, but he was always present when he was in the room, which I can’t really explain much better than that.

I’ve been lighting candles for him, too.

Which also brings me to the fact that we’re moving to Chicago at the end of February. Today I realized, that there’s grief there, too. We’ll be leaving friends and the coven to start something new in a new place. It’s exciting in the fact that things will be new (and I’m looking forward to seasons and summer thunderstorms again), but it’s also sad to be leaving what we have here.

And when we’re in Chicago, I know I’ll be lighting my candles for that grief when I get my altar set up.

I’ve studied a lot about grief, since working with those who are dying is part of my vocation. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work is something that I’ve studied in depth. But I think that there’s a lot of people who really misunderstood her work on the stages of grief, and if you read her books, you’ll see that she explicitly states many times that the stages of grief are not a straight line. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are non-linear. Sometimes a person may not even go through one of the stages, or experience more than one at a time. It’s a huge misunderstanding to expect someone to just go through the stages and be done with their grieving in a set period of time.

What Kübler-Ross tries to explain in her work, and what I’ve experienced myself in working with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one and in my own grief, is that you need to respect the grieving process. It doesn’t matter what the person is grieving over, either. Whether it’s a loved one, a pet, the election, a celebrity, or even a sportsball loss. No matter the source, the grief is real.

We’ve been taught, in American society at least, that our grief should be something that we hide, or if we don’t “get over it” quickly we’re somehow mentally ill, or being stupid. It’s worse if someone is grieving over a pet, or a celebrity, or something others deem not worthy of any extended period of grief.

I think that what we’ve been taught is wrong.

I think that not showing our grief, wailing, crying, singing laments, or being denied the ability to publicly express our grief is wrong.

So I give all of you who are grieving, no matter what you are grieving, the permission to cry out loud, to shout, to rage, to sing, to wail, to write, to do anything you need to express that grief. I give you permission to grieve whether someone else thinks it silly or not. I give you permission to not talk about your grief, to hermit, to be alone in your grief. I give you permission to grieve for as long as you need to. I give you permission to grieve publicly, in community, and if I am there to witness your grief, I will make sure you are allowed that space without someone bothering you or telling you that your grief is invalid.

And I will give myself this same permission, because I am grieving, too.

Art, Beauty, and Permission

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This is a picture my wife took of me the other night with her new camera. To a lot of people, it’ll be just a good picture of me taken by my wife. For the two of us, however, it means a whole lot more.

After many years of not being able to do her art due to a grueling work schedule and fears about other people’s reactions to her pictures, my wife has decided to pick up her photography again. If you ask her, she’ll probably joke that it’s all my fault. In some ways, that’s the truth: I helped her decide which camera to buy and then encouraged her to buy it. To put it another way: I was a person close to her giving her permission to go and do her art.

Our society is really weird about art. We love art and revere artists (to an extent) and yet our culture actively seeks to put down artists, especially if they do things that are really different. There is a culture of treating art as if it were somehow “less useful” than other things that one could be doing. Many artists (whether they do it professionally or not, regardless of skill level) will hear things like: “That’s just luck.” or “My kid could do that!” or “Can you make any money from that?” Insinuating that the art is just some sort of hobby, and that if you’re not going to try and make money from it, then it’s not “serious” art.

In the arts, there are a lot of gatekeepers and jealousy. Both my wife an my mom are visual artists. The wife does photography (among other things), and my mom does impressionistic paintings in several mediums. Both of them have experienced through the art world (mostly through clubs and shows) an antagonistic attitude toward what they do. Sometimes it’s jealousy, either in regards to skill, time, or tools (this happens a lot with cameras, it seems). Sometimes, especially when being judged in shows or being chosen to be shown in a gallery, there’s a “gatekeeping” that happens when the judges either don’t like your art, don’t think it’s proper art, or have some sort of jealousy towards the artist for whatever reason. Add on top of this issues of gender, race, age, attractiveness of the artist, etc. This is just true for the visual art, but for all types of art. We have a lot of gatekeepers in our society who decide what is “real” art and what they consider “just a hobby.” I mean, think of Bob Ross. Now, his paintings aren’t my cup of tea and I find them kind of boring, but his paintings influenced millions of people to get into art. But there are gatekeepers in places like New York who totally pan his art and wouldn’t consider it “real” art or Bob Ross a “real” artist. Yet, Bob Ross painted nearly every day and it made him feel fulfilled. Regardless of the art, isn’t that what is thought of as a “real” artist: someone who makes art?

Is all of the art that’s created going to be good, highly skilled, or everyone’s cup of tea? Of course not. But it doesn’t meant that it isn’t art, and, in an ideal world, it shouldn’t mean that people should get jealous of another’s skill or equipment. Unfortunately, it will happen, because, as I like to say, we’re all humans doing stupid human tricks.

These stupid human tricks aren’t just limited to the reactions to artists, though. This picture is a picture of my body. My fat body. My wife titled this “Gina being classical” and really loves this picture of me. She told me that it was a beautiful picture.

I didn’t believe her…at first.

All of the old tapes, all of the crap about beauty standards, came rearing their ugly heads in my brain. The first thought I had was “wow I’m so fat!” which got the brain weasels dancing to ugly, unworthy, and all of the other crap that has been instilled in my brain over the years. I’ll admit, that when she posted it to Facebook, I was worried about what others would think of the picture. I know there are people who would see this picture of me and fat shame me (even if only in their heads), or decide that I need to be told what I can do about my health. In other words, I know there are gatekeepers of beauty, deciding who and who is not beautiful. Our culture is really horrible about bodies in general, and fat bodies in particular.

But then I kept looking at the picture, and once the brain settled down (somewhat), I saw more. I saw that this is how I am, and how the world sees me. Most importantly, I finally saw this as how my wife sees me: big, bold, complicated, and, yes, beautiful. I feel her love for me in this picture, and that she saw the beauty of my body as it is (even if I didn’t).

And, surprisingly (to me anyway), many people on Facebook agreed with my wife’s assessment. This is a beautiful picture of me. I have permission to be beautiful in this body, regardless of what others think.

Technically, both us don’t need permission from anyone else to do our art or to feel and be beautiful in our bodies, but with the way our society is, sometimes we need to get that permission from outside ourselves to feel justified in taking that power. But once the decision is made in your heart, you realize that you never needed that permission in the first place, nor do you have to justify your art, or your body, to anyone.