Remembering James through Poetry and Paintings
If just one person experiencing loss is comforted by reading this then I will take comfort in that
Up the road from Bristol Children’s Hospital is a fantastic art shop. The man in there was so friendly. He gave James a free canvas when we bought watercolours and brushes. We bought more canvases and went back to the apartment where we sat and painted together. We lost ourselves in colour and forgot all about that morning’s radiotherapy. The Royal Academy of Art have kindly accepted this painting as an entry into their Young Artist Award Competition! Good luck James…
A few words about loss -
THEY SAY there are five stages to grief. I don’t know about that. It’s far too simplified for me. There are no clear stages, but a violent separation from the familiar and a submersion into a thick fog nestled amongst good days and bad. You have to be patient as you wait for A New You to emerge. I find it helpful to acknowledge that I feel like three selves. There is old self, lost self, and new self. Perhaps when consumed by grief we spend our days flipping or drifting between them. Old self is rare and hidden most of the time, gone forever possibly. Old self doesn’t know James has gone and so, when in a moment of forgetting my grief, relaxed and focused on gardening, old self pops up, thinking it’s safe, the chatter of the mind sitting back, a flicker of the happiness before the trauma. But then as the fog lifts she learns the truth - ‘this actually happened, he died…’ and of course it’s unbearable… old self runs for her life and the new me jumps back into shock… down comes the protective blanket of fog again - I am neither new nor old but I am lost self again, (a thing simply existing).
When I read that back I’m confused. So you, reader, must be too. None of it really makes sense, does it? No. And that is okay. We can accept confusion and let it be.
I spent six years becoming a mother and now, even though I will always be James’s mum, I have got to un-become a parent. The three selves fight each other and my body carries me around in the fog; in the present, now, today - all you have to do is get through the next hour. All of this has to be okay because it is my reality. And although impossible to really ever truly accept or make peace with the cruelty I try to make space for it in my body, to accommodate the truth rather than resist it because denying it creates a lot of tension in the body resulting in all sorts of ailments - in my case chronic jaw tension and tinnitus, a nervous tummy etc. (Note to self: I’ve been recommended a book called The Body Keeps Score… must look it up.)
When nourished by a good sleep there are days when new self takes me out - out into the world, out she goes, almost a real smile, a hug with a friend, an almost normal conversation as a whole being. (I won’t go as far as to say I have fun. I have learnt to be very cautious of ‘fun’. In these early days I have found it better to stay in neutral because it is a long way down if you go too far up.) Venturing out takes all the energy you have but you have to do it occasionally in order to slowly create more layers that will eventually become your new self.
Now I want to tell you about The Compassionate Friends Charity.
https://www.tcf.org.uk/ TCF is a vital support network with wide open arms for bereaved parents and their families. David Barnsby, one of the volunteers for the charity, raised funds to publish an anthology of poems written by bereaved parents. I was lucky enough to have several of my poems included. Forget-Me-Not Poems, a collection of poetry honouring our children gone too soon, is available to buy on The Compassionate Friends website. TCF is a wonderful charity. If you have lost a child, grandchild or sibling I advise you to seek support from their incredible volunteers and you might find comfort in reading the poems and of course you would be supporting the charity with your donation of the purchase price.
I have two compassionate friends who live near by and who have gone through similar losses, (3 & 5 years ago). They are here for me in a way no one else can be. The first time I heard their voices on the end of the phone I felt, well, I’ll never forget that feeling, it’s hard to describe. It was like being lost and then being found. It was a sense of a connection across a vast void. It’s hard not to feel isolated in your grief when you are still living in the environment of your old life, (same house, streets, James’s school, friends etc.) but I have to keep reminding myself I am not alone. There are a million and more mums out there right now in my world.
Below I have included two of my poems from the anthology. I have put off sharing for a long time now because to share is to risk upsetting people with the sad nature of the content, not to mention the embarrassment I feel at confessing to write poetry. But avoiding pain in life only causes more pain as it does not like being trapped. Finally, sharing is to acknowledge that I am a grieving mother which is challenging for all three selves. But I am other things too and I have to live another life now; I have to be adventurous (not something that comes naturally to me) but I have to live the life that James could not.
He was brave so I must be too.
Also available in the The Compassionate Friends online book shop is Bearing the Unbearable by Dr Joanne Cacciatore. This book has helped feel less alone, less mad. (Grief is definitely a kind of madness.)
Two Poems: The World From His Eyes and This is Us at The Kitchen Table
The World From His Eyes
Mummy, Mummy, Let's make it, let's make it today
Right, then… That cardboard box can be a boat
Who cares that it won’t float
That stool can be the helm,
(his imagination overwhelms)
Come on, Mummy!
You sit down there, on that cushion
I’m driving the boat
Where are we going, James?
To find the treasure, of course!
Come on, Mummy, let’s make those cookies in that book This Morning!
Can we make them now, Pleeeeezzz?
Take a photo, Mummy, quick, look out there
Take a photo of the sunrise! Now Mummy,
And we can paint it later
After we’ve eaten the cookies, in the den
Let's build a den, get the blankets and the torch
Let's paint now, Come On Mummy
Mix up the paint, red, orange pink, And blue, I want blue
It’s art, Mummy, it’s art, we’ve made art
Oh James, your joy fills my heart
(and did I ever tell you, my pride fills the oceans of the world)
On the beach, this clump of sand dunes is a pirate ship
These shells are gold and precious gems. You hide them over there
Drop the anchor, aha my hearties.
Permission to come aboard Captain James?
Look, look over there, you point
X marks the spot, he yells, Start digging
Oh, the treasure, LOOK the treasure, we found it.
Can we have the picnic now?
I love you Mummy, this sandwich is delicious
I love you too James
Is there hot chocolate in that flask?
Did you bring marshmallows?
Thank you, Mummy. Ernie’s begging
Dogs can’t eat marshmallows.
No Ernie. I love you Mummy
I love you too James
This Is Us, at the Kitchen Table
The kitchen table is not the same anymore
The art studio is now closed
I miss eating in a mess, glitter on my face and glue on my plate.
It rained paper trimmings.
I say to you all out there - all you minimalists -
All you who can’t relax without clean and clear surfaces, I say, Make A Mess!
Make an awful mess with none of your silly mess-worries
Put things together, make it, fake it, create it
Mix colours, shapes, rough stuff, smooth stuff, shiny and sticky stuff
Throw pipe cleaners all about, sit and breathe in fluff
Let bits of this and that fall to the floor
make stuff now, and forever more, more, more
Cut, tear, rip, stick glue snip
and say, look, we can make ART
And then push it aside an inch or two
Clear a little space, and now for the cake
make room for tea pots and cups, apple juice,
A little slice of cake on a plate
Table tops are for you to lay yourself out upon
Open yourself up, stretch out your mind and leave it
Leave it all lying around - all over the table
Sit back and admire your mess
This is your art studio, say, Look look, we live here!
THIS IS US
You must do this in case one day there is less of you to show off
I said, ‘James, I think you'll be an artist when you grow up.’
‘I'm already an artist, Mummy.’
Is that why you didn't need to grow up?
Thank you for sharing my pain. Are they actually poems in any traditional sense? I don’t know. Who cares? Writing is a really helpful tool for feeling less full of thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t matter whether you have lost a loved one, human or animal, a home, or a precious possession, even a sense of your self - YOUR LOSS is your loss and it demands to be acknowledge and fully felt.
Finally if you have enjoyed reading this you might enjoy reading my Garden Diary on https://www.feesfood.co.uk/blogs/journal. And you can see more of James’s wonderful art on my Instagram page jessicaedwards281214
Thank you for your encouraging comments. This sort of thing makes me so nervous but got to do it for James xxxxxxxxxxxxx
This is so beautiful and brings back special memories of you and James sitting round the kitchen table creating, painting, making. I loved being involved in some of the art sessions, your words around the kitchen table resonate through me, as I picture those times so well and feel privileged to be able to remember James painting and creating. James, a true artist in everyway, still painting rainbows in the sky.
Love always Kelly x