Ok….the story behind the drawing! For the past year, I have been on an online support group for grief. It is called, “LifeStarters.” The woman who designed the course lost her husband eleven years ago. She did not find what was good for grief and now has this course. In it, there are steps to do. I finished the first course last spring. The steps after that are supplemental. I am still working those steps. The drawing is in response to one of those steps.
The step is to practice crossing over the bridge before starting a new segment of your life without grief being an overwhelming factor in your life. The step asked me to write my feelings about crossing over the bridge everyday. Another component of the assignment was to look back at my “old” house and cross over, remembering the house, but not remaining in it anymore. Kinda a farewell thing, that has plenty of pre-history behind doing this step. This is step 23 if that gives you a clue to how long it takes to get to this point in the self/group healing.
Anyway….when I read about the step, for some reason, I thought I should illustrate it instead. A visual picture popped into my head. I thought…why not? Draw it instead. The first image that popped into my head when the assignment said to walk over the bridge, I saw the St. Johns Bridge here in Portland. It was my late husband’s favorite bridge out of all of the many bridges that cross the Willamette River. Just before I had read the assignment, I had this drawing that I barely begun and was wondering what to do next on it. Now I knew. So I looked up images on google of the bridge and found this one. A beautiful night scene with the fog and moonlight. It seemed to speak of my current situation that I am find myself in. Kinda in a fog, yet having to figure out how to move on with my life. Like most people in love, the moon was special to us as well.
On the bridge is a small figure in shadow. It is my dear Jene-Paul wanting me to cross over. Near the “big” me is a smaller me, going towards him. The big me is holding a paintbrush to signify my art journey. My other hand holds a rose in memory of Jene-Paul. To the bottom middle of the drawing is a tangled up heart with snakes, snares, and unrecognizable shapes. That is a picture of my heart during this past almost 17 months. Grief of a sudden death of a spouse can really screw up your heart and mind. Taking care of my father with dementia all alone for those first six months right after he died is equally hard. The isolation I had during that time was horrible. I chose to draw not the house I had to look back at as asked in the assignment. Instead, I decided to look back at all I had to go through during these months. That is what I really lived in.
To the left of the heart, there is a shadow of an old fashioned coffee pot. My husband made those old pots/cameras/mixers into light sculptures. You will notice that the top of the coffee pot is lit up. His initials are on the glass top where the light comes through. I actually have this pot in my bedroom. He was my light. I placed that lamp/coffee pot in a night sky. The night sky right under it has the Big Dipper over a building. This is significant for me for several reasons. One, just before Jene-Paul left on his trip, he surprised me by putting up plastic glow in the dark stars in the shape of the Big Dipper over our bed. He loved the stars/astronomy and science fiction. I think he did this to remind me that while he was gone, he would be sleeping under the same stars as I was.
But, the stars over the building in the drawing has reality and mystery to it. Several months before I left to go to the court hearing last August, I had a dream of Jene-Paul meeting me in a hotel room. I only had five days notice of the hearing, so I did not have time to book any hotels, since I did not know how long it would take. The first night there, I found this hotel room. It was the hotel room I had dreamed about! There, on a moonless night, was the Big Dipper bigger than life over the room I rented. Not only that, the room number was 7, the same number as our home. The door was purple, the color that Jene-Paul associated with me from the purple ink I would use to write him love letters in high school. Even stranger, there was monkeys statues in the lobby, (that is what those monkeys are for) and porch. Jene-Paul had this thing about monkeys. He used monkeys as a symbol of his love for people. He gave monkeys to those he loved. And he had this weird little song that drove me nuts, that he always sang: “Jesus was a monkey and he looked like you.” It was so surreal to end up there and have all this symbolism of Jene-Paul so close to me. On the building I also put the name of the man that killed Jene-Paul, and the sentence he ended up getting.
It did not stop there. After the hearing, all I wanted to do was leave this place. The first time I was there was right after his death to pick up his ashes and retrieve all of his camping gear that was on the scooter that was destroyed. The second trip was almost to the day exactly a year after his death for the hearing of the young man that killed him. I had so much pain and yet amazing memories of my time in Mateo County. After the hearing, I packed up and started heading home. I decided to stop at a store and buy some souvenirs for my grandkids, since they live in Bozeman and Minneapolis. I wanted something from the ocean for them. I found a touristy place and went into it. The first thing I saw took my breath away. There was this little plaque that said, “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Almost everyday, Jene-Paul would say to me, “has anyone told you yet today that they are in love with you today? Let me be the first.” I almost lost it in the store right there. I was an emotional wreck having just ended the hearing only an hour earlier. I bought the plaque with some trinkets for the grandkids. As I left the store, I pulled out of the parking lot, onto the street to wait at the signal. I realized that I was at the spot that he was killed at! The store was across the street from the place where he died! That did it. Tears came at that point.
Below the monkeys and hotel room is a small view of the Atlantic Ocean, and the pine trees. On my first night in Nags Head in 2016, right after his death, I was only a few hundred feet away from the ocean staying in a camper a friend of the family lent to me. With nothing to do in the evening, I went and sat on a bench watching a thunderstorm to the northeast of me right over the ocean. Jene-Paul and I loved the thunderstorms when we lived in Montana. This one was spectacular, best I had ever seen. I sat there until I could feel the electricity and smell of rain in the air. I got into the camper, closed the door and a hailstorm began. This storm was full of thunder and lightning as it headed east into the night sky and vast dark ocean. My husband always had a goddess, (Eris), that he used as a scapegoat for all of his problems. I felt that in that storm, he was fighting with her about leaving me and not wanting to be dead. Illogical for sure, but my grief was new and strong. My imagination went there without hesitation.
That is what this part of the drawing is about. The white pine trees were everywhere. I juxtaposed them with the ocean, since they too had special meaning. Back in 2011, right after he contacted me on my blog, I had a strange dream about him. I won’t explain all of the dream, but will say that I did go through hundreds of miles of white pine trees to the ocean. When I drove back home the first time from Nag’s Head, the trees in the dream were on my drive home! I have never been farther east than Minneapolis/St. Paul till his death. It was if I dreamed of my future and did not realize it until that first drive home.
In between the heart and hotel room is a silhouette of a tiny tree that could be interpreted as a vein to the heart. It is both. There is a small tree right across the creek from the house I live in now. For a full year, I agonized what to do with Jene-Paul’s ashes. I finally realized on his one year death anniversary, as I was on my way to a place I thought I “should” spread his ashes, (note: his children, ex-wife were given a small jar of his ashes at his Memorial the ll months prior. I knew they would want to remember their father outside of me), that I had gotten it all wrong. It was the last time I felt strongly that Jene-Paul was speaking to my heart. I felt like he was saying, was that he just wanted to go home and finally be put to rest. “Home” meaning the house I live in now. So, I did just that. I came home, in tears, by myself, and took his ashes with a little figurine that he had for years on his bicycles, and scattered his ashes under this little tree. I look over to his ashes now and know he is finally at rest. He is home. On the night he died, we had talked briefly. He wanted to just come home. He was done with the trip that night.
To the right of the heart is just the craziness of this past year. But, there is also the other trips and experiences I had. The silhouette of the house has the open floor damage of this place. When they started the remodeling, I took off to see my mother in Southern California. I had not been down Highway 101 in decades and decided to jog west from Redding over to Eureka. In Arcata just south of Eureka the town has beautiful architecture. The house is one of the famous old mansions I took a picture of. Jene-Paul was in my mind so strong that overnight stay. He loved the old architecture and it was one of the first things he had to show me when I first saw Portland. After I left Arcada, I headed south on 101 down through the Redwood forest. At this one particular part of the highway, I had to pull over to the side of the road. Right below the old mansion in the drawing is a little landscape that is so significant to me. Once again, I was seeing another part of that dream that I had back in 2011 with Jene-Paul in it. Right before we even got together. The last time I had been on this stretch of the highway was in 1978. Again, this dream, (which I found I wrote in detail about back in July 2011 in my journal) came alive again.
There is another part of the drawing, right of the monkeys, next to the scene I just described, that looks like a hallway. It is the outer corridor of Mission San Miguel in central California. Jene-Paul wrote beautiful stories of his long trips he use to take before we got together. One of those stories is about his stay at this mission I am guessing in the late 80’s or early 90’s? Anyway, I saw it on my way down to my mothers and decided to stop and see it. Once again, fate chose to let me see his world he had walked in. Normally, the inside of the courtyard is off limits to tourist. Because I came on a weekday late, the gardeners were out and about. I was able to go inside the courtyard and see all the places Jene-Paul wrote about in this adventure from his past.
To the very right side of the mansion is just all the landscape from here to back east I traveled during these past 17 months. Right above and to the left of the mansion is a paint brush that symbolizes all that remodeling and painting I did up till last November. And, underlying all of the drawing, is the ashes. They are the foundation of this drawing. So now you know the meaning of this drawing.