Time stands still when I’m in an art gallery. Walking up to a painting, I will lean in to see the detail, the texture, the light, colour and shade. I will step back to appreciate the proportions and scale. Then, I will grip the frame to the right and to the left in steady hands and hoist myself across the threshold to dive deep into the painterly moment that the artist has created.
At least, that’s what I’d like to do.
I was thinking of my grandmother, who died nearly two years ago, and realised that the space in my heart where she resides is like that art gallery, with memories hanging on its walls. I love to dive in and immerse myself in a particular memory – like Christmas cricket games on the front lawn, Vegemite toast dunked in black tea and a certain picnic by the river the summer after my grandfather died. Some are joyful, others are spectacularly mundane, and some are even tragic. One painting is of the last time I saw her, reduced by old age and sickness, not herself. Yet, I still climb in and walk around that memory. While painful, it is precious, a part of what we had.
I have friends who have lost babies, suffered miscarriage and had children die to cancer. I see them doing the same – climbing into the memories and walking around, leaning in to the texture, the detail, the brush strokes.
Why do we do it? Why revisit pain?
I know that for me, it validates a life, a relationship. Sure, the tears come, but there’s also a strange feeling of rejoicing. By remembering, we honour them and acknowledge the impact they made on our lives.
For some, in their gallery of memories there is an artwork that has been painted over. Someone has taken to it with a roller and white house paint. Blotted out the detail. Perhaps even layered coat after coat of paint until there’s not even a shadow of what was once there.
That’s what shame does. And so often, abortion leaves us with that impenetrable canvas, a memory too painful to look at. When society tells us that abortion is just another medical procedure, feelings of grief are confusing. If it’s not wrong, as the law says, as medical professionals advise, as your partner, friends and family encouraged… then why did it feel so wrong? Why did something within you crack?
And the paint goes on, rolled thick and fast.
I just want to say, you have permission to grieve. Not that I’m the judge and juror on these things. But strip away the implications. Do what comes naturally. Never mind that they told you it was just a ball of cells. Scrape back the paint and walk into those painful memories and cry and reminisce and learn. Life, by design, is redemptive. There is hope in the ashes. New artworks to be created.
Maybe you’ll name your baby. Maybe you’ll pull out the ultrasound photo and keep it somewhere safe. Maybe you’ll light a candle on a significant date every year. Making memories for a person you never met, but now wish you had. Healing.