This daily archiving series is about organizing and dating my journal collection, as well as acknowledging the self-directed violence as important therapeutic shadow work.
Today’s journal spans poignant time. My father, Roar Thorsen, was unwinding and had just a few months left to live. We shared a deep friendship. We were working hard on our book knowing time was of essence.
Birthday card sent to my father in Sarpsborg, Norway, from my grandfather, Gunnar Thorsen, and fellow Norwegian soldiers (in German concentration camp) for my father’s 12th birthday Aug 8, 1942.
After graduation from school my Dad decided to join the army. Thereafter he ended up in the Norwegian Air Force where he quickly climbed to lieutenant. First he was stationed at Kjeller Airfield outside Oslo.
Not many knew that Gunnar was such a tough guy but there were many times he scared people by his authoritarian exterior. But he was always good to his family. He was my hero, even though sometimes he scared me too with his tough attitude.
Wow. October 25, 2018 will mark the sixth year since my father passed away. I am so aware of all the dates in October… so aware that he was winding down.
Interestingly, more October connections: on October 12, 2005 (13 years ago), my father drew for the first time after his life threatening stroke (September 21, 2005).
My father, the Viking, my greatest cheerleader, infused in me the joy of creating, the joy of hard work and the importance of never giving up.
And so we wrote a book together. And on October 15, 2012, as he was navigating the fog of morphine, surrounded by reminder posters on the wall as to where he was and what year it was, we pressed send to the publisher. We marked the occasion by signing the inside of our favourite book that inspired the project.
On October 25, 2012, the morning of the day he passed, I played this Swedish lullaby, sung by his favourite actor, into his left ear. Over and over again. Sleep, my little heart.
Six years. Why does it feel so significant?
In our Viking heritage/ Norse mythology, the number 6 represents the leash Gleipner.
Gleipnir was the name of the super strong leash used to hold the dreadful Fenrir Wolf. The Fenrir Wolf was one the monstrous children of the trickster god Loki. The dwarfs had made this extraordinary leash.
The Fenrir Wolf only agreed to try the leash if Tyr put his hand in his mouth. The wolf bit off the right hand of the god Tyr. Tyr gave his name to Tuesday. Gleipnir consisted of six items:
1. The sound of a cat walking
2. The beard of a woman
3. The roots of a mountain
4. The sinews of a bear
5. The breath of a fish
6. The spit of a bird
The Vikings explained that the Gleipnir was the reason these six items no longer existed. The Fenrir Wolf will not break loose from Gleipnir before Ragnarok (the end of the world). source
I kind of see my father as Fenrir and the stroke as Gleipnir. And my father has broken free now, and devoured Odin. But there is so much significance to this myth that I will write about at a later date.
As these translations focus on the letters from my mother to her best friends in Sweden, I will not be including letters from my Dad (this project is for mom, Drawn Together was for Dad). I will however include some interesting bits and pieces from Dad’s letters that give insight into mom and home life.
Mom’s third letter, dated Monday November 18, 1968
[Note: my nickname in my family is Nina]
Thank you for two very interesting letters the other day, I both cried and laughed when I read them. Cried when I read that Eivor is starting to bring in money, which led to, amongst other things, us heading out on the weekend in search of a larger apartment. It is true that it is quite nice here, but a little awkward. You enter the living room onto wall-to-wall carpeting and that is a pain, you understand, as you know our angels.
At least we found a townhouse with access to a swimming pool. Super fancy, 4 large bedrooms, combined living room and dining room, gorgeous kitchen with a dishwasher. Two washing machines and two dryers in the basement. Beautiful colours on the inside and a whole new neighborhood.
We have a view of the mountains even here. One of the bedrooms is downstairs and three up with thick, luxurious wall-to-wall carpets, with hardwood in the living room (which I am so grateful for). There is even a front hall when you enter. It will be much nicer for hosting and having guests as there are two floors. We are making our decision in the morning.
Otherwise things are moving along well. I miss you all. (strangely)
Last Saturday we were invited to an English family. He works at Sandwell. They live close by in an absolutely adorable log cabin, with a wood stove made of rough granite. It turns out they are real tough people. Every year they do a road trip with boat and tent (they are in their 60’s) to Alaska and the Rocky Mountains. On the last trip, they were out in the wilderness the whole holiday. They didn’t see any humans, except maybe for natives and farmers. It takes about 8 hours to drive to the Rocky Mountains from here to a place called Williams Lake. It is supposed to be a great place.
He showed us slides and you, Rolf, would have cried if you saw the trout they caught every day. There are several small cottages built in the wilderness for any visitors– anyone can use them. They would repeatedly run into moose and bears. Anders will go crazy with anticipation before we get there. But there is no point to going there until the Spring as it is really cold up there in the winter. It is better head South in the winter. In two days we can be in Florida.
It +10ºC here today. Girls are still wearing ankle socks. But not Nina. She has to wear leotards. But it rains a lot here during the winter. Last Saturday, we took the kids up the gondola. Maybe Roar already wrote about that. He bought a book and mailed it to you (as temptation), but it was not sent by air mail so it will probably take awhile before it arrives. I haven’t received photos from Åke yet– maybe these were also sent by boat.
It is going really well for the kids at school. Nina goes 9-1 and Anders goes to 3. There is no bad day for grade 1. I am surprised. And they really go hard. Nina has to write long essays. She has such a great accent. It helps when they have start so young. Sometimes she is grumpy when she comes home for lunch, but after she has eaten, she is satisfied and happy again.
I can’t believe this is true– girls are not allowed to wear pants at school. Luckily, it does not get that cold here. I think it is a bit more strict here, and they don’t have the same approach. Vern’s two young girls are already reading fluently. I can’t believe it is true. Nina (and I) hope that she will be able to be in the same class as Ann-Christine in a few years. That’s the story I use when Nina doesn’t want to go to school.
This coming Friday, we are going to the boss for dinner. Blah! I am not allowed to wear my long pants according to Roar. Otherwise he doesn’t dare to go. The old bag called me the other day. I thought it was Fru Koppel. I have never heard anything more close. She is Danish and has lived in Stockholm for six years (stewardess), so she speaks Swedish. She is supposed to be really attractive (gross). But she actually sounded rather fun. Everyone is pretty much a bunch of old bags and bitches otherwise, I think.
Yeah, I guess one will survive this as well. There is so much to arrange, and one can’t catch up. Just imagine how much we will have time to do this summer when we come. We won’t need many clothes. Just money for the trip. The rest we can take care of. By the way, what the hell did Eivor receive from Roar through the window? Luckily it wasn’t at the door.
On Saturday, we are going to Vern for dinner because the kids are going to the ice rink to skate. Vern is the same. He must be so clever. He has built a large house with three storeys. His kids are girls ages 15 and 14, boys ages 12 and 10, and twin girls ages 6 and a half. Sheila is really nice but not exactly a party gal. Everyone seems so damn well-behaved here. Lucky for me, Roar spoke to the neighbor the other day and I asked if he was cool. Roar then said, “not as cool as Rolf.” (Which I agree with) Roar was quiet for a bit and then said, “and the broad wasn’t as perky as Eivor Carlson either.” And somehow that was followed by me saying, “and that I am very thankful for.” It just came out of me. I am going to ensure things are relaxed and calm for awhile so I don’t have to chase Roar, etc.
But I miss other types of exchanges of course. Who knows, maybe a moose hunting family will show up this summer. NOTE! But not without the kids. If I have to pay for them, I will.
I am writing myself to death. My fingers hurt. Roar is also writing letters.
I must tell you, we had some problems the other day. They aired Bonanza, Laredo and High Chaparall on three different channels at the same time the other day. This drove Anders crazy. One channel is just cartoons. Batman and the sort. The boss’s wife told me I should watch TV as much as possible to learn English, but I actually just write letters.
Say hello to Gunhild, with best wishes on the baptism. The same happened with Katarina, if you remember. The ceremony lasted an hour and Stake had dementia but there was just six of us, so it worked out anyhow.
Now I can’t write anymore. I will write another day. Please write back or I will die an old man. I play Sven Ingvars every day and long for home. But time passes quite quickly. Pan and Pia [the dogs] are welcome to sneak around outside our house some night. I will let you know when Rolf should give Moritz arsenic in a few years. Or Max could have snuck it into the coffee. I assume Rolf can buy it cheap.
PS. Excuse the handwriting. I have written to Dad, Helga, Ulla-Britt, Sivan as well.
EXCERPT: Dad’s letter dated November 17, 1968
… There is a hell of a difference between Gruvöns Sågverk where one was only an errand boy to Moritz. If I only get over this initial uncertain time, it will be an astounding school in which one learns to become the boss. Hope this will be of value when we return to Sweden in the future.
Well, I will end it here– will write more later. Please write again soon, it is so nice to hear from you both. I am starting to get over that difficult day when we left you– but I will never forget it.
In the dream, I haven’t been home to visit my parents for four years. In the dream, they are still living at the house on Braemar (the one we moved into in 1977, the one before they downsized in 2004). In the dream, they are both as sick as they were before they died. My dad after his stroke, unwinding with bladder cancer. My mom shrinking from pancreatic cancer. I haven’t been home for 4 years and the realization happens as I am sitting in my car (which I don’t have anymore). In the dream, I choke on panic and try to open the car door, but it so heavy as if pushing against water. I finally get out and start running up Lonsdale… but it is like wading through mud and I am screaming at the top of my lungs but there is no sound. I keep calculating in my head obsessively- it’s been 9 years and 4 months since mom passed away. It’s been 5 years and 4 months since Dad died. It’s been 15 years since we moved from the Sunshine Coast… I keep lining up all the pets that have passed, calculating, calculating. The crushing panic of not having visited mom and dad is drowning me…
I woke soaked in sweat.
I sit here now at the kitchen table…
… staring at a package of letters.
I received the package in Dec 2013.
The first letter written 50 years ago this year:
And I have managed to only get through one since receiving them. For though the letters are likely optimistic, I know my mother’s pain. And I am preparing, now that it is 9 years and 4 months since mom passed away. It’s been 5 years and 4 months since Dad died. It’s been 15 years since we moved from the Sunshine Coast… 50 years since we first moved here from Sweden, 40 years since we came back… preparing to finally to process my grief about mom by translating those letters. My relationship with my mom was extraordinary and complicated.
As I start to work through the pile at last, I feel the (re)connection to my heritage. The THOUGHTS and MEMORIES contained in those letters, in my DNA, are now ready to surface.
The other day I found a photo in the big family mish-mash photo box. I don’t recall ever seeing it before. My mom and dad look happy and at peace.
What about the dream? In reality, I did caregive for mom and dad as best as I could. In reality, I saw them almost every day. They were my partners in crime on the Molly project, which is entering it’s 15th year and which is entering a new exciting phase.
Maybe the dream was some kind of cleansing.
A gift from mom and dad to let me know they are OK, and that I am OK, and that I am free now to flow with the current. I made it.
What makes you breathe in and breathe out in a full-hearted way?
For me it is ART.
And so it was for my Dad.
I was so blessed to witness the healing power of art as my Dad thrived at his extended care facility, carving out a life for himself. He had purpose, routine, passion. He had reclaimed his emotional life through art. And he created till the end. With a full heart. What can be greater than that? Wow. Deep breath of gratitude.
2. Capture chapter highlights:
Our story opens with the last breath and closes with the first…
The last breath of life leaving the body behind. The connection severed between the light body and the heavy body. The end of this life…
Let yourself die. Let go now. Hold to nothing. Trust the process…
Float free in your original spaciousness…
Watch as something slowly approaches. It is the first breath of life.
– Stephen Levine
3. Explore another source regarding listening to the messages from the heart:
I was screaming into the canyon At the moment of my death The echo I created Outlasted my last breath
My voice it made an avalanche And buried a man I never knew And when he died his widowed bride Met your daddy and they made you
I have only one thing to do and that’s To be the wave that I am and then Sink back into the ocean
In keeping with Dad’s wishes, I documented our last day together.
I came up early in the morning yesterday and spent some hours by myself with Dad before the rest of the family arrived for our daily vigil.
I set up the space I had an intense need to offer some kind of guidance for him.
I played the Tibetan Book of the Dead audio for Dad. We were not interrupted and it was very powerful.
My father’s feet showed signs of mottling, so I had a lovely gentle conversation with the nurse and we inspected him and nodded silently to each other. Dad continued his rhythmic breathing. interrupted here and there with some abrupt harsh intakes of breath. His heart beat on, but there were arrhythmic moments and his pulse was weak.
His senses were shutting down. Hearing though may be one of the last things to go.
I felt he needed to hear more gentle guidance, so I played him Swedish lullabies into his left ear, sung by his favorite actor, Allan Edwall:
The family arrived and we spent another beautiful day together.
We played some of Dad’s favorite Swedish comedy and some of his favorite Disney movies:
Staff came in regularly to tend him and to check in. The doctor felt Dad could hang on another two weeks. I was confused as it did not feel right intuitively, and felt a panic well up. I did not want Dad to suffer any more.
We had a lot of family discussions and then we packed up around 8:00/8:30 PM and turned off the lights except for the Christmas lights and diffuser. Dad was peaceful and apparently painfree. I sensed he needed time to concentrate and to complete the journey on his own.
15 minutes after we left, care aide Kim went in and checked on him and he was still breathing. Then care aide Mike went in and discovered that Dad had stopped breathing. I received the call as my son and I bit into our dinner at Burgoo.
We quickly headed up and when we walked into the room, Dad was surrounded by his beloved caregivers. They had tended him so beautifully.
My son Julian, my brother Fredrik, my brother Anders and my sister-in-law Charmaine and I sat for an hour talking, laughing, sighing, breathing, planning, sharing shots of Dad’s whiskey in his honor. Dad’s “baby,” Tobey, lay on Dad’s legs as we awaited the transfer of Dad’s body.
Today we will be sorting his room. I am filled with joy, relief, love, sadness and all the beautiful emotions a daughter can feel losing her beloved father. I have also lost my best friend and I sense that once the numbness wears off, I will experience intense loss in this regard, but I accept and welcome it for I am so lucky to have had such a friendship.
Much love to all of you.
I feel my Dad doing his signature thumbs up!
You can read the book I created with my father (PDF file):
2. Capture chapter highlights:
This is how it is to die:
A sense of lightening, an expanding, a floating free…
3. Explore another source regarding listening to the messages from the heart:
Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
(“The Sheltering Sky” – Paul Bowles)
[Thank you, Emma Varley]
4. Today’s angel card(s):
When I draw a blank angel card, I smile, as I take it as my mom and dad telling me: YOU GOT THIS. It is up to you. Trust. Stay in the “don’t know mind.”
I love family. And we have shared so much- all the life markers, the ups and downs of life and through it all there is that special glue that connects us.
We had an impromptu get together at my place on Saturday- somehow ALL of us (niece, nephew, brothers, sister in laws, daughter, son, daughter in love, parrot) were together in my creative mayhem- my crowded delirious delicious chaos.
It’s not unusual for us to get together, but this day felt a bit deeper and very special. I was so aware of a feeling I couldn’t name- joy, love, gratitude, what?
I looked around as I sat sewing my nephew’s Cookie Monster costume and smiled, watching the hurricane of activity as everyone ranging in age from toddler to adult was talking at once, doing something, playing with something, eating chicken! ribs! cupcakes!, being real loud and hilarious.
Chaos meets chaos in the name of LOVE! I felt the strong presence of mom and dad and that they were celebrating with us. Celebrating family. I felt Tobey’s spirit walking around snuffling for scraps.
And I really had this sense that we were drawn togetherfor a reason– if nothing else than to just BE together. But in my heart I felt there was something more. I had a smile on my face all Sunday and just had to send a message of love and gratitude to the family today, acknowledging there was something magical about it. It definitely was not a typical family dinner. The palpable connection and vibe harkened back to our vigils around Mom and Dad during their final days. We were all together celebrating our connections.
And so now, we cut to about an hour ago and I receive a message from my cousin in Stockholm that my mom’s brother, my uncle Olle, passed away peacefully on Saturday surrounded by family.
Is this why we were drawn together on Saturday!?
It’s amazing- a family drawn together. Souls celebrating, acknowledging.
My uncle was so funny, so loving. The rest of us were frequently doubled over in laughter. And often woken by his late night cook offs in the kitchen. I recall he was so worried that I would get lost in 1984 when I hopped on the train to visit my friend outside of Stockholm. When I arrived at Huddinge station, he was sitting in his car, ensuring I had arrived OK. In 2009, when my son and I were taking the bus to visit my cousins at their summer cottage, Olle walked us to the bus stop, bought the tickets and thrust chocolate bars in our hands for the trip. He loved history and he influenced my love for American literature- introducing me to the likes of Miller and Heller.
Photo by my son Julian Bowers of my uncle during our visit in 2009. Olle looks out his apartment window over Stortorget in Stockholm.
Say hi to Mamma and Pappa, Olle.
An homage by my son, Julian:
My great uncle Olle passed away on Saturday.
I only met him once during the half a week I was in Stockholm, but he was a really wonderful and warm person and he was one of the many things that made my trip to Sweden in 2009 so phenomenal.
A story mom’s fond of telling is his bashing around in the kitchen at three in the morning to make himself a full dinner. I can relate to this habit.
When I went to Stockholm, he was living across from the Nobel Museum. “See that place?” he asked me. “Yeah, I went there yesterday,” I said. “I’ve never been there in my life,” he laughed. “OUR FAMILY HAS HAD THIS PLACE FOR TWENTY YEARS,” I said. “I’ve been meaning to go.” “IT’S…RIGHT THERE.” “Ehh, I’m not in a rush.”
I always thought that story was funny, but in hindsight, I appreciated the fact that he wasn’t too concerned about rushing in to doing things if it wasn’t necessary. It doesn’t matter if he ever went or not, he was obviously relaxed and satisfied with how his life was going and it was wonderful to see someone content with the flow of life as opposed to fighting it. He was a comforting human being to be around, just judging from the few days I was able to see him.
I took this photo of him in his apartment.
Dedicated to Olof Orwald and Aunt Siv, cousins Annika, Dan, Gunilla, Tom and their families.
Interestingly, today it is 48 years since my family arrived in Canada:
This is such a beautiful tender time of the year for me. The autumn is both a time of loss and renewal. My parents passed in the autumn, yet autumn is a time of new possibilities and fresh starts.
Life/ death. The extremes?
Or two sides of the same coin or exactly the same? For isn’t one simply the other? Is the dark abyssbefore birth and after death simply the same graceful infinity that unites EVERY thing in this finite universe?
The overhead horizon. They want to say something, the dead.
They smoke but don’t eat, they don’t breathe but still have their voices.
I’ll hurry through the streets as if I’m one of them.
The darkening cathedral, heavy as a moon, ebbs and flows.
– Tomas Tranströmer, Deep in Europe from For the Living and the Dead (translated from original Swedish by Don Coles)
Avlyssnad horisont. De vill säga något, de döda.
De röker men äter inte, de andas inte men har rösten kvar.
Jag kommer att skynda genom gatorna som en av dem.
Den svartande katedralen, tung som en måne, gör ebb och flod.
– Tomas Tranströmer, Djupt i Europa from För levande och döda.
Recalling this time of year with my father:
October 11, 2012
Dad and I spent the evening in emergency to replace his catheter. We watched the debate and laughed and talked about life.
October 12, 2005
Dad’s first sketch after his September 21, 2005 stroke:
October 13, 2012
My father is dying. I accept it. He unwinds before me. I let him go. But losing my best friend is more painful than I anticipated.
October 15 2012
My father’s last writing:
And though at times, the wave hits me and that drowning saudade washes over me, I know that without the grounding of loss, I would not have the air with which to fly.
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. – George Eliot
My father’s last pencil box. It will remain untouched. It contains his favorite drawing tools like the black pencil crayon and his instant coffee spoon and his rolled up hand towel that he used to brush eraser bits away.
I went into Staples today and felt the weight of missing Dad. He and I loved shopping for stationary together.
I miss our coffee dates and his to-do lists, but I am ready for the next chapter. Ready to keep going.
What makes an object sacred? Write about it for 15 minutes. Draw. Add thought bubbles. Pull out key words from your journal entry.
For me, it is impossible to quantify grief. To qualify it. To define it. It comes as a surprise. It comes as a wave. It comes suddenly. Or it comes on slow. It can feel like nostalgia, anger, sadness, gratitude, drowning. It can be triggered. It can be low grade. It can be reassuring. It can be overwhelming.
Journal entry: November 3, 2012
The emotion of missing. What is it?
Saudade is a unique Portuguese word that has no immediate translation in English. Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. It’s related to the feelings of longing, yearning. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again… It can be described as an emptiness and the individual feels this absence… In fact, one can have ‘saudades’ of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future. source
As the numbness wears off after Dad passed away on October 25, I find myself longing for that numbness again. Now I feel the familiar sense of fear- sort of like walking on a unsteady pier or a balance beam that wobbles or a tightrope over a waterfall. I am flooded with thoughts of doubt. Did I do enough? Should I have been more aggressive in getting treatment for Dad earlier? Should I have taken him for more walks in the electric wheelchair? Was he lonely and scared at the end? These are expected thoughts. I know that. They are not to be avoided or feared. It’s the process we all experience as we walk through grief. I get it. I dare to look. But it hurts.
My various experiences of loss and experiences of grief are not like yours, or hers, or his or theirs. Mine takes up a different space, shape, beyond time. Shifting, eternal. Each one of our personal truths are unique. Profound.
And as saudadic waves wash over me, I find it healing to explore:
SOME PORTRAITS OF GRIEF
August 2, 2016: Living Grief is the profound journey of ongoing loss; where we can neither grief nor celebrate. Yet, our loss is palpable. We feel it wrapped around our throat choking back vulnerability we’ve not ever experienced before. We journey through acceptance, make friends with physiological depression, butt up against anger, bargain with whoever or whatever holds our conscience…ultimately, finding the sweet spot of denial where we can see and be what ‘is’ and live in the joy of where we are at on our journey with our loved one. My gorgeous daughter, Sophia, turns 16 tomorrow…16 years more than we expected to have her, 15 years later with a palliative designation. Tomorrow I will be swallowed up in denial…and will let joy breathe for me, filling up my lungs until I can cry no more and the melancholy rocks my broken heart to sleep. It is like a play…and even though we know there will be a final act, we so desperately cling to the idea of it being never ending, no matter what.
… If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back.
But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.
You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are… Read more
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear…
For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time. – A Grief Observed
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart? – Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3, Page 3
Encompass’d with a thousand dangers,
Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors… I… in fleshy tomb, am
Buried above ground.
There will be a moment where a memory will hit, or a milestone day, or just a moment of being overwhelmed with something seemingly unrelated… and grief pops up again. AND THAT IS OK!!! More than ok… this is normal… your sadness about your loved ones death is normal… Your grief is normal and essential for your healing. There is no wrong way to do grief other than to pretend it isn’t there… Denying grief is the same as trying to convince your subconscious that there was no love here, no good times to remember, and this person meant nothing to me. READ MORE
There is a sanity to grief… given to all, [grief] is a generative and human thing…it acts to preserve the self.
There is a beautiful part of my creative process that I cherish- the part that allows me to dialogue with my parents as if they are here in my kitchen, sharing coffee and offering advice and dialoguing on the cold case. I had some magical moments the other day as I pulled out old binders of research to cut and paste onto a current drawing:
The words were originally photocopied, cut and pasted onto paper and placed in a binder by my father. I gingerly felt the paper he had once touched, being so fully in awe that his hands had used his glue stick to place the cut-outs onto the paper he chose. I was so aware of the way his hands moved. What his skin looked like. And now some years later, I am taking his process further by cutting the words out and using my white glue. To place those words onto my latest piece. I know it may sound trivial, but seriously- I am so in love with how the creative process brings the living and the dead together into a type of timeless/spaceless mid zone.
And the tangents the process takes me on are magical.
For example, the other day, I was contemplating where my interest in crime (and the human condition and its dark side) originated. As per usual, I decided to put a crime drama on in the background. To drench myself in the Swedish language, I decided to look up some Nordic Noir.
With its roots in the ground-breaking TV dramas The Killing, Borgen, Wallander and The Bridge, Nordic Noir has become a genre in its own right, influencing screenwriters far beyond the Scandinavian Peninsula. – nordicnoir.tv
I found the following six part very Agatha Christie type drama inspired by the writings of Maria Lang.
Dagmar Lange (31 March 1914, Västerås – 9 October 1991, Nora) was a Swedish author of under the pen name Maria Lang. She was one of the first detective novelists in the Swedish language, and her books helped make the genre popular in Sweden. Her first novel, Mördaren ljuger inte ensam (The Murderer is Not the Only Liar), was published in 1949 and caused some controversy because two of the main characters lived in a homosexual relationship… Lange wrote more than 40 detective novels, as well as crime fiction for young adults. Most of her books are set in the fictional Swedish town Skoga, which is based on Lange’s home town Nora. She was one of the original 13 members of the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy when it was founded in 1971. – wikipedia
OMG- how cool was she?!
And since I was in full creative process, and in that timeless spaceless mid-zone again, feeling the presence of my parents, I was reminded that Maria Lang was one of my mother’s favorite authors. There was one book in particular that she always had in her bookshelf or by her bed. And I (who keeps everything) still have that book. I found it in my personal library (that is why you should keep everything- ha!).
Kung Liljekonvalje av dungen
I looked inside and was DELIGHTED to discover that the book was a gift from my father to my mother as she lay in the maternity ward, having just given birth to my older brother on the 13th of August! A murder mystery. Was it her special request? Or a surprise?
King Lily-of-the-Valley from the grove,
King Lily-of-the-Valley is as white as snow,
now the young king mourns
over Princess Lily-of-the-Valley-Maiden.
King Lily-of-the-Valley, he lowers
his sad head so heavy and weak;
and the silver helmet shines
in the pale summer twilight.
Around the bier, a spider weaves
from the “incense place” with floral scent
an incense [that] slowly flows;
the entire forest is full of fragrance.
From the birch’s rocking crown,
from the wind’s waving green house
small songs of sorrow sound;
the entire forest is filled up with whistling.
A message is whispered through the valley
about a king’s sorrow among whispering leaves,
in the wide kingdoms of the forest,
from the capital of the Lilies-of-the-Valley.
And this lovely timeless/spaceless mid zone sends me on a wormhole of research that feeds my creativity.
Gustaf Fröding (22 August 1860 – 8 February 1911) was a Swedish poet and writer, born in Alster outside Karlstad in Värmland.
My mother gave birth in Karlstad, received a murder mystery by her favorite author, that featured her favorite flower and the poem by the poet also born in Karlstad (and where I was also born).
And here it is May, and I am drawing birds and wondering about my interest in the dark side, and being reminded that it is from my mom, and that my love of research and drawing and cutting and pasting is from my dad. And again, here it is May, and I am reminded of my mom’s favorite beloved worn book and her favorite flower and I am still drawing birds:
Lily of the Valley and the Nightingale
A sweeter story tells of the affection between Lily of the Valley and Nightingale. The Lily of the Valley loved Nightingale’s song, but was so shy she hid in the grass to listen. Nightingale was lonely and said he would no longer sing unless the Lily of the Valley revealed herself, and promised to bloom every May for all to see. And so she does. – Deborah Weber
These times are treasures. I need not fear I didn’t have time to collect all the stories I could from mom and dad. They are telling them to me still.
I walked around Beaver Lake today. I was infused by the profound beauty of nature. Warm sun. Blossoms. Skunk cabbage. Herons were dancing in the wind above the lake, ducks were courting and playing, chipmunks and squirrels scurrying. Chestnut-backed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches landed on my hands. I describe the feeling as angel whispers.
I took a few photos.
And drew my collected observations:
Stanley Park Scenes 72-hour PLEDGE DRIVE!
Until March 31, 2016 9 PM PT.
I am raising funds to renew and upgrade this blog and to purchase art supplies!
For every $20 pledged, I will draw a new scene from my daily observations of animal and bird activity in Stanley Park.
You can choose to purchase a drawing for a $75 or more donation.
The rest of the drawings will be donated to EVERGREEN HOUSE residential care facility, Lions Gate Hospital, North Vancouver to celebrate my father, Roar Thorsen (who lived at Evergreen House 2007-2012 and who loved drawing and being outside in nature) and to thank the staff who made our lives so happy.
Pledgers can choose to have their names included on the donor list!
Donate via email transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org
My current book project, Molly, is a creative non-fiction tragedy that centres around a suicide in 1947.
Suicides were well publicized back then, often featured on the front pages of newspapers.
Searching online images “suicide, 1947,” the image that inevitably comes up is the photo titled “the most beautiful suicide“- a haunting and iconic image.
But as I scrolled down yesterday, I came across another haunting and shocking image— of Daisy Duck! I just had to draw it! What is happening here? Daisy, are you OK?!
My Dad taught me how to draw Donald Duck when I was a kid, and those cartoons were some of Dad’s favorites. I wish he were alive so he could discuss this heartbreaking, troubling and fascinating image with me.
I drew it from a screenshot from the 1947 animation: Donald’s Dilemma:
Donald’s Dilemma is a 1947 Walt Disney Studios animated cartoon directed by Jack King and starring Donald and Daisy Duck. It was originally released on July 11, 1947 in the United States. Although Donald is the official headliner for this cartoon, Daisy is the actual protagonist. The dilemma of the title is actually offered to her, not to Donald. – source
Daisy’s loss resulted in a number of psychological symptoms – she suffered from anorexia, insomnia and self-described insanity. An often censored scene features her losing her will to live and pointing a gun at her head. She decided that she would see Donald once again, at any cost, but failed to do so. That’s when she decided to go to the psychologist – and the flashback meets the actual time of the cartoon. – source
Oh, how I adore this piece. It contains so much. It illustrates the beauty of Roar’s post-stroke art. It contains his intense attention to detail, his use of stickers to cover “mistakes,” his classic hands-in-the-pockets “gubbar,” his portrait of his beloved dog Tobey, as well as my cats, his love of the Swedish landscape, his joy that he felt creating his art inside a residential care centre, his pride.
I just love it. And seeing little water splashes on the piece as my nephew (little Roar) stands at the sink and washes his hands, adds so much to my love of this piece. For me, art has no end- there is no end product; art evolves over time. And these water droplets are the continuation of the marks my father made.
I would love to break down- my heart feels too big for my chest cavity. I want to curl inward.
There was so much life- and there still is.
There were so many laughs, tears, visits, conversations, coffee cups and just being. So many Swedish videos-
And those salami and cheese plates and those hazelnut milk chocolate bars and all that gum. So much Tobey-
So much life!
How can your heart, Pappa, be so present and beating and then stop? And end? Is your life over?
Oh, this table—
Plugging in and setting up. Our note taking and reviewing, our planning, your dictation. Actually getting the book done. Somehow. Somehow. How? How?
I hear the familiar hospital staff behind me on their 5 PM break. Remember how they yelled “Lucky guy” to you every time? You yelling back with a thumbs up?
I watch the Fall leaves outside- gently moving in the breeze. This view. How could we be so happy within these walls?
Is it because it was SIMPLE?
We were free (so very free), within the limits. Those delicious undisturbed hours just the two of us, with Tobey asleep under the table.
Taking a walk around the block first with all our bags, then setting up at our table- ELATED when it was free. Hurry! Hurry!
That northwest corner. The perfect spot. The view of Grouse Mountain. Get the coffee and the food. Plug in the laptop. A good long visit. Then the packing up and heading back through the north doors and letting Tobey pee. In through the side entrance to Evergreen and back upstairs in time for bedtime prep.
And you- so heroically enthusiastic about it all.
How can this be 3 years later? You passing on the 25th? How can this be? Seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Though SO MUCH has happened since. What I take away from our times at this table is the SIMPLICITY of being. So much has fallen away. And I carry the corner table with me.
As I write this, my pen is clutched tightly in my hand, Overwhelmingly tight. And my other hand clutched the paper of this journal. It is one of your old notebooks that you had only just started. In the front flap you had written in pencil:
E M E T A R Y
What were you starting?
My head is down. Not looking right or left. I do not want to meet a familiar eye. I want this moment to be my time. Our time. But as I look towards the sun setting- so many sunsets with you- but now our view is blocked by new buildings. Still the same chairs. The same tables. The same trees, bushes, smells and sounds. Two tables down sits that woman who transported you through the underground hallways to the multitudes of procedures. She slowed down so you could give the finger to the morgue sign.
Sigh sigh. BIG SIGH. I wouldn’t trade this grief though. I worked hard. I was so tired. So tireless. So very, very blessed. We knew we were doing important work. Work for US. Whatever that meant. Not just for legacy but for the process. We really really enjoyed THE PROCESS. Savouring the sacred moments at this sacred table.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner
I am so glad I went alone, for not only could I soak in the event itself (as I am passionate about this case), but I could really sit in my personal grief.
This was the room I sat in with my Mom as we first listened to a lecture about the Babes in the Wood because of an article my Dad had given me from the Vancouver Sun. —
Mom and Dad- the two people who tirelessly worked with me, traveled with me across the Lower Mainland in search of clues, relished in talking history, mapping it out, tending grave sites and the scene in the park… Who could handle my endless chatter. Who loved to hear about the latest unfolding and discovery.
Mom and Dad- who also shared my interest in the case covered by last night’s event, who shared deep concern for the women of the DTES and who came with me to the healing tent, who shared concern for the families, who helped me deliver art for fundraisers and who drove me to meetings with police officers and family members, who helped host events at schools, who came with me to the trial, who despaired at the failure of the system, who cut out articles and analyzed and discussed and inspired me to work with at-risk youth.
Cut to 12+ years later, and I am back in that room at the Central Branch. And Mom and Dad are not here to share this profound event with me.
They are not here.
And so I feel it.
It starts in the toes and wells upward through the legs and spine. I swallow water as the wave lifts me upward, whiplashes and slaps me forward face down on the shore.
And I lie there, listening to the Bergmaneque soundtrack…
… realizing that somehow- I’m still alive.
Get up, wipe myself off. Dry off in the sun. Sit for awhile looking out over the amniotic sea in absolute gratitude for the memories and gifts Mom and Dad gave me.
After my mother passed away November 8, 2008, I inherited my parents’ dog and parrot. My father was already in residential care. I LOVE having the pets. The parrot, ASTERIX, speaks Swedish and belly laughs like my mom. There is great comfort in still hearing her voice.
My father lived for Tobey. I never visited Dad without bringing the dog along. Tobey would be under the table in the cafeteria,
waiting on Dad’s bed if we headed next door to the hospital for an X-ray,
walking alongside the wheelchair when we’d go to the podiatrist, shopping, to the coffee shop or Fat Burger.
My Dad would always ask me, “How can we keep Tobey alive forever? Is there a pill he can take?” He LOVED Tobey. He worried endlessly about losing him.
Dad passed away October 25, 2012, knowing Tobey was still alive and well. Indeed, alive and well forever in Dad’s eyes. THAT IS TRULY WONDERFUL!
Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Today I look at the first one… A letter from my mom to Rolf and Eivor dated November 1, 1968. We moved from Sweden to Canada (the first time) October 31, 1968. My mom was 32 at the time.
Some excerpts [approximate translation]:
Ah, so here we are. Dang it is sad to not be able to run back and forth to drink coffee with you all day. [Our two families lived next to each other on Råbäcksgatan in Grums, Sweden] Alas, one has the habit instilled…
We were at our new house today. It’s beautifully situated below a mountain…
I bought a washer and dryer today as there is no basement…
The neighbor came over with coffee today and I guess she is my age (18)…
Fredrik swears like a chimney sweep and Nina looks at me all worried and claims that Auntie Eivor taught him…
You’re coming on Saturday, right? The trip went well and I wasn’t too scared, but God, I am tired. We traveled for 24 hours…
… Anders and Nina were allowed to visit the captain on the way to Amsterdam. O’boy that was really something for Anders…
What do Ann-Christine and Niklas say? Katarina speaks of them as if she will see them tomorrow.
The kids are starting school on Monday. Nina played with a five year old today and Roar laughed because Nina asked her, “Can you hopping?” because they were going to jump rope.
She makes up her own words, and it seems to work…
Oh, how I am going to miss home. O’boy but you are coming next summer. It’s so damn beautiful here and lots to see and do.
But I stripped it down. Stripped it down to the bare essence:
So what I truly learned in 2013 is that I have the right, or more accurately, the duty to pursue the gift I was born with FULL TIME. Being a creative is not an option for me. It’s a way of life.
My father died an artist. In his final years, he pursued his passion and worked on his innate gift every day. Truly, his dream of living and dying an artist came true.
We are all born gifted. And no matter what we may choose to believe, we constantly nurture the gift by simply living and experiencing. But when the door presents itself to truly pursue the gift fully and develop it (ever-changing and evolving and never-ending development), we must go through the door.
“I’m filled with burning passion to experience life as fully and as madly as I can and I’ll always, always follow my heart. I am constantly evolving, learning, growing — life is a series of adventures tied together with the thread of friendship, experiences, lessons and love. I am listening to my heart, I am noticing the subtle ebb and flow of my life as it unfolds before my eyes. I am open to change, I am vulnerable to the call of my soul but above all I have absolute faith in where I am going. I am a firm believer in noticing synchronicities and letting them guide you on your path — noticing ‘signs’ directing you in a certain way can be magical in transforming your life. I also believe people come into your life for a reason, and that chance encounters can change your world.”
Roar’s art provided him with a much needed connection to the world.
I miss my father so much. Last night I spent some quiet time watching Swedish films and allowing the feeling of intense loneliness flow through me as I embraced the fact that I will no longer sit with Dad at the cafeteria at Lions Gate Hospital working on our art, watching Swedish films on YouTube, drinking coffee and JUST BEING.
I am SO THANKFUL for having taken the step to fast forward the creation of our book last year. The book is just a small little phenomenon but it was huge for us. And it’s huge for me. My father did not see the finished book before he passed away, but he knew it was at the publisher. And the book allows me to visit with him as often as I need by reading it.
A year ago, Dad passed away. It feels shorter. It feels longer. It feels at times overwhelming. But I am at peace. Dad left me with is a profound sense of empowerment. I miss his pep talks though. He, like nobody else, “got me.” I am blessed to have inherited his gift of art and to have learned so much from him. I am blessed. I am blessed.
Kram till dig, Pappa.
The table- our most favorite spot to work on our book and discuss life.
I played this lullaby for Dad many many times in the morning on his last day:
My father and I kept mutual journals and one of our original journals was pulled apart and offered to the community.
I am so excited to be witnessing my Father’s dream project of community journals unfolding.
The latest addition is by Matt Roy:
He added a page from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves to create a 3-D visual on top of our journal page. Very gentle, beautiful, healing…
Now begins to rise in me the familiar rhythm; words that have lain dormant now lift, now toss their crests, and fall and rise, and falls again. I am a poet, yes. Surely I am a great poet.
― Virginia Woolf, The Waves