I’m Gina, an artist from Bristol. I started painting about 20 years ago after a bit of a breakdown. Discovering Art saved me, and it remains one of my coping mechanisms for anxiety, intrusive thoughts and depression. I’ve spent the past 5 years exhibiting my work, painting at festivals, writing for magazines and honing my studio practice.
Last year, I faced a huge curveball. One quiet Sunday morning, my Dad died suddenly at home. I’ve lost grandparents, friends and family dogs before but this experience turned everything I knew on its head. We spoke everyday, and then he was just gone. Nothing can prepare you for a moment like that and the chaos it brings. Time froze, my whole world just stopped and life has never been the same. The shock of this happening isn’t something you can, or would want to understand until it happens to you. It’s the worst thing that can ever happen.
The past year has been full of so many emotions. His death turned my whole life upside down and created just the biggest shitstorm. I’ve felt like I’m living in a world which looks physically the same, but feels entirely different. I’ve had to learn to just live again but in this weird new normal.
A couple of days after he died I called a counselling helpline. I was desperate for answers that of course nobody can give. They weren’t unhelpful, but they told me to look up the 5 stages of grief because it might give me some context for how I would be feeling.
If you google the 5 Stages of Grief, it comes up with the following.
Denial and Isolation.
I quickly realised this wasn’t the case.
Death doesn’t make ANY sense, but it won’t stop you trying to rationalise it at 3am. Going over and over things. Has it really happened, could I have done anything, I can’t believe it. What the fuck. In fact, this doesn’t just hit you at 3am, it can flood your mind multiple times an hour throughout the day and night. Sometimes the way grief hits is uncontrollable, like an absolute stampede. It hit me in a very physical way; I would get these pounding chest pains, migraines, and feel like my jaw was just wired numb. It’s more exhausting than you could ever imagine. I could function but I wasn’t a person I recognised.
People tell you time is a healer, so everyday I woke up expecting it to get easier. It didn’t. In fact, the pain got worse and I felt physically choked by grief for a long time. Every day was hard and I felt totally lost, broken, and bereft.
I learned that Grief is rarely logical and it's certainly not linear. After a while, I realised that the hole of missing him is something that would now stay with me forever. It couldn’t be fixed. Nothing can make it better, even if people tell you that it will get easier or that you should stay strong, or attempt to make you feel better by saying ‘At least’.
What nobody tells you about death is that it's just the beginning of adjusting to a new normality without them. There are so many phases of heartbreak and obstacles to overcome. So many times I’ve had to pull myself back together. Moments where you lose the plot completely and then an hour later you surprise yourself with your own strength. It's impossible to expect too much of yourself in the immediate aftermath of death. It’s just awful.
One of the hardest things I’ve found was that normality continues around you. That kind of thing I really struggled with to begin with. I remember getting ridiculously angry when I’d see people just walking around when I couldn’t eat a sandwich without crying.
With the addition of lockdown, I’ve found it to be a weird Groundhog day or a bad dream you can’t wake up from. I found existing in a world where he does not, just unfathomable.
People tell you the first year can be the hardest as you face milestones without them. Yes Father’s Day felt like a kick in the head, but the truth is everyday was a struggle because I was thinking about him every second of everyday. I decided I could try to do something to change the perception of grief and help myself and so I got some new Loxley canvases. I’ve always loved the texture and quality of them. The deep edge canvases are my favourite because they make me feel like I’m creating a window to another world that I can jump into and escape.
Through this painting, I explored my grief as I approached the first anniversary of his death, the texture represents all the anxieties, non linear narrative, the mess your brain can become. The colours are like the flashing warning lights and painful triggering reminders that hit you out of nowhere, saying he is gone. Without art, I’d go mad, it’s a way to process all of my feelings without judgement and I would recommend anyone going through grief to just start.
The deafening silence of him being gone plays on my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing him, wanting his advice, and wanting to hear his laugh. But I will continue to paint through it.
Grief throws all logic out of the window and you are left treading water attempting to pick up the pieces. But even if you find all the pieces, they are broken.
This my perception of Grief
Some people find routine helps
Some people can’t get out of bed.
Sometimes nothing will help you.
It’s ok to want time to stop
It’s ok to feel like the world as you knew it has changed
You are allowed to mope and wallow.
You don’t have to ‘be ‘strong’
You don’t have to ‘spread positive vibes’
You can be angry at the world
You can feel like what’s happened is unfair
You can keep talking about them
You don’t have to get over it