The last photograph of my father was taken by his good friend Tim during their final visit. In it my Pop hardly looks like a dying man—his skin hasn’t a wrinkle; his eyes are clear; he’s wholly engaged in conversation, happy to be with his old friend. But less than a week after that picture was snapped, my father left, without packing a single bag, but yes, with a hat on.
A response to grief for me is to make art. During my mother’s dying, poem after poem came, voicing what I was unable to articulate any other way. Last Saturday I sat with a copy of Tim’s photo wanting to build a collage around my father’s beautiful face. I’d look at his face and well up with tears, unable to conceive of a picture. Clearly it was too soon for that project.
However, amidst a stack of handmade papers on the table, were two that caught my eye: one was comprised of red, brown and white circles, and the other a thick, solid saffron sheet. I deconstructed the circles, cutting them free from their background so I had a stack of circles beside me that I placed and re-placed on the solid paper, spot-gluing them, finally, adding a few leaves, some small circles of cut-out maps, and gold decorations. The design that formed calmed me; it felt right. I retrieved a sense of rightness when my world had lost its predictable form, when it felt angular instead of like a (more-or-less) sure round ball.
Later, I sewed this collage to a bottom sheet of orange felt. I like stitching paper to fabric. In addition to spending lots of time with my dad at Bookshop Santa Cruz we also frequented Harts Fabrics; he too loved the textures, the colors, the trims. The collage isn’t finished yet; I’m going to add more beadwork, but here is it so far.
Needle and thread in hand, with scissors and glue, too, I began stitching myself back together. All the while I worked thoughts played and settled down easily, while the grief held steady but didn’t overwhelm. It was good to make something appealing to my eye, to feel a sense of order where otherwise there’s isn’t one.