Wishing For and Wishing Away
Mixed media, 2016 - 2017
"We started this together and we will end this together"
W hen I was a child, wishing away my grandfather seemed effortless. A couple of, “I hate you” and “wish you wouldn’t show up for piano practice” was all it seemed to take. Life after the death of my grandfather was forever altered.
Two years ago, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Our slogan was, “we started this together and we will end this together.”
I wished with all my heart that he would be the one that beat cancer. Radiation, Chemotherapy and surgery – our small family found our strengths and stayed strong together. My wish had seemed to come true when his report came back, disease free.
A few months later, he was diagnosed with metastasized brain cancer. My heart was torn from my soul. After months of steroids and CyberKnife radiation treatments which took a toll on his body, I begged for his life. At first, I wished that he would beat this cancer too. Then, as the disease took hold, I wished for his peace. Making a wish as an adult is truly complicated.
One year has passed since I held my dad’s hand. As he took his last breath, I told him that, “we started this together and we are ending this together”. Some say that time heals, but what I see is distance widening from the last time I saw him alive. That distance is one of my biggest struggles and it’s growing more painful each day.
My artwork has always been about my family and about loss – either the loss of memory from dementia or loss through death. Creating art is not only an expression of my grief, but also a way to preserve my family’s memory.
In my past series, I considered myself the “Collector, Protector and Keeper” of our family’s heirlooms. Similar to meticulously detailed Victorian human hair wreaths that often represented the family tree, I used miniature furniture as representation for the objects in my home. My family tree. I obsessively cocooned the miniatures in thread using the colors of human hair in order to contain and preserve - nearly suffocating them in the process.
As my current work continues to draw upon the Victorian era, my focus turns to mourning symbolism, spiritualism and superstitions. Although I continue to use my “cocooning” technique, it is now used to encapsulate my grief, struggle and suffocation of loss. My work portrays miniature mirrors symbolizing portals in order to connect with the spirit world, black thread to represent hair and the color of traditional Victorian mourning and the superstition of cloaking mirrors in black cloth to avoid the recently deceased spirit from being caught inside.
The miniature "lover’s eye" painted brooches, worn as a token of love, have inspired my densely cocooned, miniature porcelain doll heads. In keeping with tradition, I also place my emphasis on having only one eye exposed. The use of black beads resembles the Victorian mourning jewelry and embellished garments. The heaviness of the black thread and black mourning beads in this series translates the weight of grief that has overcome me.
Attempting to express into words the overwhelming emotions I have endured during the past couple of years has been more debilitating than
I ever imagined. I have learned to live with the grief of my grandfather’s passing for more than 30 years - analyzing my actions over and over, translating my emotions into words and speaking about that body of work as it has become second nature. His loss filled me with guilt that I have grown to understand.
My dad’s sudden illness and death is completely heartbreaking. His loss is beyond measure. As the first year passes, the memories of treatments, caring for his needs and challenges and his last moments still echo in my head. Trying to understand what has happened and how I am supposed to live with this deep grief is an uphill battle. As our family continues to mourn his passing, another family member has been taken from us. One year and two days after my dad’s passing, my maternal grandmother crossed over. I am learning that grief is not something you overcome – you just learn how to live around it.
I’ll always consider myself the “Collector, Protector and Keeper” of my family heirlooms. Even more so now, I have to keep their memories and stories alive in order to control the decay of my family.
"Our Darkest Hour" (detail)
porcelain doll, mourning beads, thread, industrial felt
H15.5" x W11.5"
Rebecca Reeves is a mixed media artist based in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her work has been displayed in numerous art exhibitions nationally. Her aesthetic and mode of living is reflected in her ordered and beautiful home and studio, that was recently featured in Prairie Style magazine.