Between dreams and awake


Sometimes I find myself conscious of being in that space between asleep and awake. It happens now most often at night, but it used to happen a lot in the mornings.

I used to wake up and, for one blissful moment, forget that my part et was dead. It was my favourite time of the day because it was real life and for that fleeting second I could still feel him asleep beside me.

The next moment, of course, was torture. I would remember and it would feel like all the blood had drained from my body, all the air was sucked from my lungs. This still happens sometimes, more than three years later.

But, most of the time, the visits I get from Tyler during the ‘between’ times fill my heart with joy. I love getting a visit. It’s more pleasant to me than the dreams I get and, certainly, better than the nightmares.

One evening back in October, as I was falling asleep, I had one of those moments where I knew I was awake and falling asleep but everything felt surreal and dreamlike and an idea flitted in to my brain that I wasn’t able to shake.

“I have to paint my journals.”

It was that simple. But this little thought took on a life of its own. And it became a series of 12 paintings.

I literally ripped and tore up my journals and painted them into abstract landscapes.

There’s poetry I wrote. There are lyrics from Bruce Springsteen and Zac Brown Band songs that have helped me process my loss. The entire eulogy I wrote at 2 a.m. the morning of his funeral is stuck between the layers of paint. There’s also a letter I wrote to him a couple of months after he died. There are literal tears painted into these canvases.

I had to set them aside for a while after I painted them. Because I knew they weren’t finished but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing.

In another ‘between’ time, it came to me. Gold leaf. It’s the light that comes in where things are broken, where room has been made in the process of letting go. So, I sealed the pieces with varnish and added gold leaf at the horizons.

It’s important that the light comes in at the horizon. It’s a concept that comes from one of the poems that I wrote, where I explored the idea of where my love might be.

I don’t think I believe in heaven or any kind of afterlife. But I think our spirits stick around for a while.

I’ve always figured that if Tyler was going to be somewhere, it would be where he knows I would be looking. He knew how much I love sunsets and watching the sky. So, I think he’d be in the place where the sky meets the water, where the sun sets, where the road disappears. I think he’d be at the horizon.

The paintings are all framed in thick, black, lacquered frames intended to look like the body of an electric guitar. Tyler played often and well and some of my favourite memories of him are with a guitar over his shoulders, wearing slippers and coveralls, playing and singing in the garage of our home when he didn’t know I was watching. It felt right to wrap these paintings up in something that reminds me so much of him.

I’ve called this my “Letter to You” collection because I was listening to the Bruce Springsteen album of that name while I painted it. And because it contains the first letter I wrote to Tyler after he died. I kept writing to him in my journals. And because these paintings are a letter to him.

They’re a love letter. An act of grief, of love, and of letting go.

It took me a long time after I painted them to be ready to release these paintings into the universe. It feels like a goodbye in a way. It’s certainly a farewell to my intense period of grieving.

I’m doing well these days; finding joy, purpose, friendship, contentment. I still miss him every day. But I’m not in pain the way I used to be. I’m ready to move forward with him always in my heart.