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Nature Strikes Back 

Reassuringly Certain

  
PART I

I have never feared death. Fear, uncertainty and unpredictability
are parts of life, whereas death is an indisputably reliable fact.

However.

On September 21st 2013, my brother stepped off a station platform in front of a train.
This time he had to be absolutely sure. 













The suicide of a sibling changes everything. It legitimises the act. It suddenly seems like a much more reasonable course of action than it did before. In the devastating and complex psycho-emotional pain that follows, this is very dangerous. Especially if you are alone. Death remains as certain as ever but now there is an awareness of agency, that on the bad days verges on compulsion.

Get through that and you find you have no choice but to negotiate an accommodation with optional death. This I have done. On the good days it has become almost comfortable. Companionable. Like a physical other internally attached with whom I continue to exchange views on an option I seem to have little choice but to reserve.  That doesn't mean I'll take it, but being aware of it keeps me in charge of the situation. Talking about it keeps me safe. ​​
Elegy project death dying Valerie Grove Artist
Interior with seated woman and nonchalant death
Sculpture
   Julie by Esther Neslen
PART II

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of my brother's suicide. 


He was very ill. There was no doubt about that. In the 9 tortuous months between his first and his fifth and final attempt, we saw extreme paranoia and ghastly delusions absorbed from whatever horrible news was on a loop at the time. We saw an NHS mental health service that was chaotic, unresponsive and completely unable to cope. We saw a deeply lonely, middle-aged man finally being dealt the ultimate hand by a lifetime gambling addiction for which there was zero support or understanding.  We also saw a man who could have had no notion that almost 400 people would be at his funeral and would give him a standing ovation.


It is not the final, devastating loss of my brother that triggers the kind of post-traumatic stress and anxiety I now experience, It is the extended trauma of that 9 month period with its constant stream of incidents and uncertainties. Sometimes it is obvious why I have had an episode but I usually don’t see it coming at all.

What I have learned is that suicide changes those close to it so profoundly you become a stranger in your own body and your life becomes a stranger to you. There is a chasm between the person you were and the person you will become. You fall into that chasm numerous times and you have to drag yourself out the same amount of times.  Each time is more exhausting than the last. The gaps between the falls eventually grow longer but the risk of a fall never goes.


Another thing I have learned is that each member of an affected family goes through this process in a different way and on a different timescale. The death of a sibling has little in common with the death of a child. In other words it is as difficult for the parent to understand the grief of their surviving children as it is for them to understand the grief of their parent. Confusion, frustration and pain is unavoidable. Even with good communication relationships within the family become temporarily and sometimes permanently unrecognisable. Each person is ultimately faced with the metamorphic isolation of their own grief.

However, listening to others talk about their own experiences of bereavement by suicide has made me realise that in some ways I am lucky. I had a closeness with my brother and had enough time and involvement in his last chaotic months to reach an understanding of the why and the how. I have come to realise that my experience of being there relieves me of the far worse pain of never knowing. 

Because of my brother’s suicide, death has become an essential part of my life both as a reality and a subject. What has emerged is this project. It connects the artist I thought I was before, with the person I am in the process of becoming. The project enables me to embrace the subject of death from many angles and I have discovered an emerging network of people who work with death and talk about life. Realistically, empathetically, creatively and ethically.

Fear, uncertainty and unpredictability are parts of life, whereas death is an indisputably reliable fact. I like facts.
  

Playlist

Prelude to Suite No. 1 in G major
Johann Sebastien Bach
Played by Mtislav Rostropivich
Everything you need to know about life - in 1 minute, 57 seconds. 
Blind Wille Johnson & Willie B. Harris
Soul of a Man
Death underpins so much of American blues, gospel and folk so it is a natural fit with this project. This track was recorded in 1930.
Entrance - Grim Reaper Blues

Raucous, discordant and fun.  A thoroughly enjoyable approach to the subject.
Memphis Slim - Mother Earth
The epic,,14 minute cover version of this song by Eric Burdon and War should have been here. However,  the video above is just too perfect . 
The Lover's Ghost - Ness
This old folk song, also known as 'the Grey Cock' tells of the night visitation of a ghost who must bid her lover a final farewell before the sound of the cockerel breaks the dawn. This version was recorded in 1989 by my sister,