Making it better

I’m finding that making things helps. Last week I made a cake, an entirely unnecessary cake, but one H. would have liked and one I could share, not to mention eat slowly myself. I’ve also been “making” in the form of a visual grief notebook, pasting and painting and noting, the book getting fatter as the pages stiffen and crinkle with watercolour and glue. I’m not sure why it helps, maybe it’s the fiddly effort of it, which makes grief “work” tangible, or maybe it’s the fact of a record (allowing me to trace where I am/was), or maybe it’s just that it holds down, however temporarily, something otherwise internal and unpredictable and uncertain. Also, the doing is enjoyable. (And as I’ve said before, having finally grasped this for myself, it’s not the artistry that matters but the process.) Whatever the psychology involved, it reminds me of lines from a Sandra Birdsell story in Night Travellers:

…crying made everything worse. But she’d discovered that crayons and paper made it better. Drawing was a bird moving against a clean sky the way you wanted it to.  

Here are a few pages from the book to show what I mean. One early page contained “ordinary little” reminders of him.C1C6E3BB-8AB2-4361-A791-E7215D30841F_1_201_a

Another told a story about his clothes. (Yes, I’m afraid I actually went to the thrift store and bought back a shirt I’d donated!)379E668D-6CC3-439E-9406-9D450757AD32_1_201_a


There was a small regret to note. During the last years, he wasn’t allowed grapefruit because of a heart medication he was on, so we never had them in the house, though we’d both previously liked grapefruit a lot. Once in hospice, off those meds, why didn’t I bring in some juicy triangles of grapefruit to let him taste again? It never occurred to me! Now that I’m back to eating grapefruit myself, I wish, oh I wish, I had!


The most recent page I made was prompted by something I saw in an illustration of Covid loss, which I recognized immediately as a powerful description of absence — space filled with a life summed in obituary. I worked from happy photos of our 46th anniversary last August when we had our morning maté (yerba tea) at the bay, sitting on our favourite log. I walk there still and sometimes sit on that log beside the unbodied shape that memory makes.


20 thoughts on “Making it better

  1. Dora, this is beautiful. I love this idea and it tells the story so well. I’m glad you went back and
    bought the shirt. Makes perfect sense to me. I also love thinking about the things we notice
    and miss and that will then perhaps be missed by others when we are gone. You are an artist! Thinking of you as you continue to move on this journey of grief and memory.

  2. Thank you for letting us into your lives together….did make me teary but that’s not bad. B.

    Sent from my iPad


  3. 💓🙏
    Thank you for sharing Dora
    It seems to me your way of documenting your loss and grief is so graceful and beautifully creative.

  4. Wow, Dora! Your grieving turned into art! So hands-on and tactile, you bring Helmut’s memory to life again by recalling the little things that made your relationship with him so intimate and meaningful! This is mourning that heals, memories that “bless and burn.”

  5. I lost my husband on Dec. 1, 2019 after a devastating diagnosis at the end of Oct. 2019, a combination of an uncaring doctor and ignoring symptoms because we were looking forward to Ron’s retirement and travelling. I too worked through it (if that is even possible) by writing and hard work. I wrote, a from a broken heart article, that was printed in the local paper in Morden, Mb. I cut squares out of all my many fabrics and made about 50 baby blankets and 25 baby outfits for charity, I baked up a storm, I shovelled a path through gravel in our side yard after I watched my neighbours landscaper doing it in their yard. Our new home in OK Falls, BC was built on a gravel pit and we were planning to landscape our side yard after RON retired. Recently, I am working with a publisher on a children’s/tourist’s book called An Okanogan Alphabet.
    I also had to give/sell a garage full, a shed full and a back deck full of Ron’s tools and construction material. I put my house on the market exactly a year later and am now in the process of moving into a condo in Penticton. I have learned how to bank on-line, how to talk to bankers and all manner of business my husband took care of. First I could not move because of all the memories and now I found I had to move because of all the memories!
    I like what you are doing! I made a memory book for RON with all the kind words friends and business associates wrote and now a friend is quilting a lap quilt out of some of Ron’s dress shirts! And so I am moving forward but still sad I have to do it alone.

  6. “Drawing was a bird moving against a clean sky the way you wanted it to.”

    An such sweet drawings of beautiful memories!

  7. What a beautiful way to walk through your life together. You are a gifted artist! This could be a published book.

  8. I admit that this is a side of you that I am only coming to know in your grieving — and it is lovely!
    Thank you for sharing it. I love its homespun nature — Helmut would like it too.

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