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What is grief?

Updated: Jun 25, 2022

Artwork by sophandson (2021) watercolour and acrylic ink on cotton rag.
Poppies in a Golden Vase. As an ANZAC tradition we remember those who have fought and perished in war with poppies.

I was watching "Alone" (series 4 and then 5) yesterday with my boy. I don't normally do telly during the day but I'm going through oxycodone withdrawal and it's not that much fun. My body aches all over and feels leaden when I move. I'm prone to sudden flushes of claustrophobia and mental unease. My stomach is upset. My mouth is dry. The pain for which I took the drug in the first place is joined now by deep-seated aches which I know are just the drug trying to lure me into taking more...and with restless legs and racing brain-jitters, sleep is illusive.

This is all part of the fun and games of managing my condition and I know from experience it will pass, so I ride it out in the knowledge it's important to reduce my daily intake and try not to spend time giving it more air than it already occupies.

So "Alone".

In season 5, Carleigh, a most promising contender, is competing for the second time. She is a queen of foraging edible plants but fishing had been a weakness during her first attempt. Having neglected to consume enough protein, she had risked the irreversible detrimental health effects of prolonged starvation. So after enduring 86 days on Vancouver Island in autumn and winter, she was medically disqualified. Although Carleigh maintained she didn't feel she had reached her physical, emotional or spiritual limits, the medical team took the decision out of her hands. And it was probably a good thing too.

A few seasons later she was on the ground in the Mongolian wilderness displaying a mastery of fishing. From day one, with new strategies in her metaphoric and literal toolbox, and plenty of fresh grasshoppers on her hook, she was hauling in bountiful quantities of fish. She had successfully overcome the chink in her armour and protein was plentiful.

Day four, flush with success, she swung in another catch, the biggest fish so far. Then there occurred a freak happenstance. A hook slid into the back of her hand, right beneath a tendon. All the way. Ugh.

For over 20 fruitless hours she tried to remove it but finally succumbed, radioing for assistance. She was therefore disqualified from the competition. As she sat in the back of the yellow all-terrain evacuation vehicle she spoke of her sadness and grief. Grief for lost possibilities.

This brought to mind all the reasons we experience grief and how sometimes when measured against other causes and other peoples' situations, we discount the legitimacy of our own feelings. But at the moment when it occurs, in the context it arises, grief is to an individual what it is. And it is real.

Perspective is a management tool, which with hindsight can help determine the shape and impact of grief on a person's life map. But maybe it won't. I'm thinking that perhaps grief is the most solitary, intimate and personal feeling a person can experience.

With just seven days until the start of the Where Art & Grief Meet project, I'd like to know what others think. So this is one of the big questions we'll be tackling throughout the year.

What is grief?

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