In the South Pacific, I walked around the small island of Rarotonga curious about all the amazing flowers draped over the large cement boxes in the front yard of the homes. I was told that the Cook Island Maori bury their dead in their yard, performing a daily ritual and remembrance by covering the tomb of their ancestors in flowers. I’ve thought of that image many times since Lucia’s death. Covering her in flowers over and over again would be so comforting, like thousands of hugs and kisses every day. It is a visual I use in meditation when I want to love her, but she seems so far away.
Our culture doesn’t allow the dead to be buried in our yards. I think most people would find it disturbing, yet in October, fake cemeteries pop up in my front yards of my neighborhood. The tombstones have corny epitaphs. It turns my stomach. All I can think is the thousands of women who lost children. There is nothing corny for us to write. While I find it difficult when other make light of death in this way, I yearn for rituals and death-talk to be out in the open. I suppose it is the fickleness of grief. Nothing is quite right, because she will never come back.
Yet it reminds me that October is a month of ritual and remembrance for the dead. Samhain is the pagan New Year, when it is believed that the veil between this world and the next is thinnest. Samhain sprouted Halloween, a time when we tell ghost stories, dress like the dead, and creatures of the night. All-Soul’s Day is the day in the Catholic Church where we pray for all the faithful souls that died–a prayer for a liberation of the souls that toil and work for salvation. Dia de los Muertos is the Latin American holiday where the ancestors are remembered, honored, invited into homes and churches. It is a joyous celebration, rather than a somber ordeal. Skeletons are made of papier-mâché and hung on sticks, looking like the dead are dancing. The towns parade to the cemetery to eat on the graves of family members, sharing stories of their life. And in this beautiful community, October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Month, where we tell the stories of our legacies. We are the ancestors after all. We remind the world not to forget that babies die, to fund research so that the rates of baby death decline. We walk together. We speak their names in a litany. We hold each other, light candles in a wave of light around the world. It is our ritual. It is sacred.
I wanted rituals after Lucia died, ways to talk about my grief. My first October after Lucia’s death was a time of great comfort for me. I participated in a massive art trade for Dia de los Muertos, and received twenty pieces of art from around the world by other grieving parents. I also sent twenty of my pieces out. After that, many of my rituals for Lucia became art, talking about art, trading art, and sharing art within this community of grieving families. I believe every person is an artist, because we each see the world and our experiences differently, express them differently. In the last three and a half years, I have changed my definition of good art. Art just is. Without judgment. Without perfection. Without snootiness. Art is a way to connect to the part of your soul that is light and love. Art is a moment of meditation, a moment of peace, a moment of clarity. Art is a way to connect. Period.
So, in this way, I invite you to art. I have a visual journal challenge to inspire you. It is going to bring you peace and love and tears and connection to all of these other grieving parents and family members. It is going to bring you connection to yourself.
Let us pretend we are each creating one huge book of remembrance for all of our babies. Use October as the inspiration. First, write some words about grief, your child, ritual, and this community. Do not make it too long, perhaps less than twenty lines. Five lines is probably ideal. It can simply be, “I miss you.” Or it can be a poem. Then use images important to you in remembrance of your child or children. For example, if your child comes to you in the form of a ladybug or red tail hawk, that might be an important image to use. Or use images of rituals done in the name of your child, or other children. Or use cultural images that you connect with–mizuko jizos, Day of the Dead calaveras, pink and blue ribbons, All Soul’s Day colors of gold and purple, or use other cultural remembrances–Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival is the end of August, and it commemorates the departed or the Bon-Otori Japanese Festival of the Ancestors also in and around August.
Try to use the entire page as a visual journal, rather than a photo album. This challenge is to move beyond telling the story of our babies, let us also tell the story of our grief, which is often a rich canvas of color, sound, thought and imagery. Use any media–watercolor, marker, pen, pencil, stickers, stamps, collage, but try to keep it to the size 9″x12″ or smaller. After you are done, take a photograph of your piece and send it to me at uberangie(at)gmail(dot)com. Use Still Standing October Challenge as the subject. I am going to compile them all for a photo slide show of the work from this community. It will be incredibly powerful to see all these pieces together, I promise. The deadline for submission is October 15. We will be publishing the slideshow of community art on October 15th, which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
I created some how-to videos using my October challenge as a base on the different techniques I use for visual journaling, like creating your own stickers from magazines, watercolor pencil techniques, stamping, sticker work.
Here is my piece, and the techniques I used to create it.
(I included the embed code below.) And attached a picture of my piece.
Creating a sacred space.
Making stickers from Magazines.