It’s on my refrigerator door–a small, rectangular magnet wedged between a “Choose Hope” magnet and a photograph of my son. The image on the magnet startles. Think Edvard Munch crossed with Vincent Van Gogh. An image depicting a bit of both artists: the sheer starkness of Munch’s scream on a yellow-splashed figure with arms uplifted wide in a field of blue, green, and yellow brushstrokes. As if reaching for sky. Or stars. Or sun. As if embracing the whole of the sky, stars, sun, and horizon of the earth.
But a figure in a background whose purpose is unclear, elusive even. An unsteadiness tangible, palpable. Is this figure screaming, arms outstretched and field ablaze with such sharp colors because the artist is depicting pain? Loss? Grief? Is the figure letting go of pain? Or is the figure reaching for what can never be again–a loss so permanent as to thrust all of one’s self into the permanence of pain?
Perhaps the figure is reeling from a loss so catastrophic that all one can do is scream to sky, to stars, to sun–to wherever forever is, to where forever is out of reach forever again.Beth Brown, My Forever Son, From Sorrow to Joy: How Pain Colors Loss
Or is the figure reaching for what can never be again–a loss so permanent as to thrust all of one’s self into the permanence of pain?Beth Brown, My Forever Son
And it is only today that I saw another possiblity. After nearly 9 years of learning to live with both love and loss, integrating the pain of grieving the loss of my son to suicide, I can see that perhaps this figure is filled with light. Lightness of being. Sunlight. Translucent where golden rays of the sun’s light can shine through anything. Even darkness. Even descent. Even despair. Even the shadow of death.
Perhaps there is brilliance in the rising brushstrokes. Hope even. Joy even, Connection even. Even and when and in light of great loss. Even then, light can find its way through the catastrophic loss of a child to suicide.
Dylan’s darkness became my darkness. Dylan’s despairing (and sadly defining) moment of taking his life became my despair. I lost my life as I knew it to be-its size, shape, and colors-and it’s taken me these 9 years to see that light can still exist with darkness. That the two can exist in the same space and time. That the colors and shapes can change.
I didn’t see this possibility before. All of the colors of my world were the color of grief and longing. I ached to have Dylan again, to see his 6 foot tall lanky college self flopped on the couch, gaming with friends. I felt the tangible absence of his deep voice: “Mom, can we order a pizza?”
All the shapes of my world were the life-sized hole and the noticable absence of my son. I had welcomed his college years, I had welcomed his becoming a young adult.
My son, Dylan, now forever just turned 20 and gone to wherever forever is, to where forever is out of reach forever again.
On Joy and Sorrow
Kahlil Gibran – 1883-1931
On Joy and Sorrow
Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow. And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.