Navigating the Wilderness, and my voice sitting beside it, has been in motion for some time now. It felt like a pause, with posting all but abandoned and apprehension around social media and such public sharing growing into something unmanageable. With our family at the centre, and the contracting and expanding nature of our world, this, page, block of squares, corner of a global void, felt entirely wrong. Behind the pause has been motion, be that pacing the house in a state of disbelief, speaking to a crowd and sharing Norah’s story, developing research around death and dying, or finding ways to release the raw emptiness of grief. Those motions, physically, emotionally, are mapped on our bodies, and scored across our lives.
When Norah died, our communities froze in a state of shock. Our grief fell on barely a handful of our people, and whilst our true family pillars solidified, the excess in our lives recoiled. Secondary losses came with every wave of grief, and we were grasping for a space to hold the enormity of our new selves, and the depth of emptiness that had filled Norah’s place. That shock, and recoil, and utter disconnection, led me here. A wander through the trees, a tear stained journal and a stumble in to a domain name.
Navigating the wilderness started with an intention, one that is shared in so many of these sites; perhaps somebody will read these thoughts and avoid our fate of isolation. We can’t stop children from dying, but we can hold open our arms and welcome in grief with no other space to go, and try and help those on the outside understand us somehow. With the weight of our daughters death smothering us, grieving in public felt like a natural step. Instagram became a way to scroll through families like ours, and a little card with Norah’s face on gave us somewhere to start the conversation. But it didn’t matter how many words I shared, or how many times I spoke my daughters story, the recoil was ever present, and the means of the message felt wrong.
Along the way though, I became a collector of stories. Names of our lost loves filled my conversations, and silent legacies came to life in our day to day. “I have a daughter, and she died”, gave a permission to share. Parents, siblings, friends. We carry death with us in every step, and so too, we carry life. But those lives, in our quiet and fearful society, are lost. Not in the sense of ‘passing on’ or any other reality hiding behind euphemisms, our deaths cannot be avoided in that sense, but a secondary loss of sorts, the space to speak our missing’s names and stories.
Grieving in public beyond the first permitted year feels like anarchy. In my work, in my writing, my art, my research and my conversations, I have befriended a responsibility to build on that anarchy. And yet, this virtual space still feels uncomfortable.
This space started as an external legacy for Norah, it felt entirely hers, and imperative to share. We needed people to know her and see her how we do, and understand our lives in grief. As time moves forward though, we are disconnecting our Norah from the Norah we share, and we are so aware of just how precious her life is. Our photographs, our memories, our stories, they all move ever so slightly further away in our timeline, and our pull to share has shifted in to a fierce need to protect her.
This discomfort that I’ve been sitting in is starting to take shape. True to its name, navigating the wilderness has pulled us across landscapes I could never have anticipated. With and without Norah, I am coming to understand that our world will always be a wilderness, and with new souls joining us along the way, we cannot escape the reality we have never been in the place we stand before. I am beginning to understand though, that Norah’s life and legacy is the fuel for my work, but my work is entirely my own. My grief and love need to find their place within my internal world, and this space needs to shift.
And with that, Navigating the Wilderness is in motion.
The wilderness is entwined in everything I am and do, so this place still has a standing. It is mine to curate though, and in making that disconnection I am creating room to build on the responsibility I feel to welcome in grief and develop my work in making connections from death in to life. My intention for now though, is to share the motions, and to navigate our wilderness along the way.