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Living with dying: Releasing the story from the body

Editor’s note: Last month in this space, Andy Davis shared his story of finding meaning in his grief. This month Louella Morgan-Richer, a community member and hospice volunteer, shares her personal story. We recognize the power of our stories to connect our own experiences of grief with the experiences of others. In this way we might find transformation, love and healing.
When my parents died, I was afraid of my voice. My voice showed my emotion, which expressed my weakness. I was afraid to speak. I wanted the dark to encompass me and swallow me whole. I wanted this. I wanted to die. To release myself from the pain and grief I was experiencing but felt I could not express.
Instead, I was numb, raw, and vulnerable. I was silent.
What kind of life settles into our bones, our blood, our fascia if we don’t take the time to grieve these losses? Can we dive into the wound, the loss — excavate and unearth it, then move back out of it? If not grieved, loss has a way of living in the body. But grieving often means moving into hard parts of ourselves and making a home in it, settling into shadows.
We are so separated from our own bodies. We separate our mind, our body, our soul, as if one can function without the other. Allowing for this fragmented way of “how we know what we know” into mind vs. body vs. emotions. We separate. I separate. How do we reclaim our bodies?
Giving language to grief is not just remembering it or replaying it in one’s mind in order to write; it’s the feeling, the remembering in the body. What does it mean to have deep wounds that are almost beyond language? Beyond words? Words. For me, sometimes such a limiting means of expression. Such confines we create these moments of life within. If I’m honest, I would say I am scared of words.
When I turn to art, I am allowed a place to express myself without words. Some of my paintings, such as “Behind the Screen,” start with writing but when the words stop, I turn to paint.
Through painting, I gain insight as I relate to my grief. Perhaps it’s because I obtain a certain distance; find a space that no longer feels like it will swallow me up but instead, allows me to assimilate the meaning of the loss into my life. I have also found connection and that, I realized, was what I had been searching for all along; connection to myself, my story, my community, my wholeness. I feel like art is almost a public service, an expression of ourselves as a witness to something bigger.
This work shows the complexity of these experiences and how they cannot be easily categorized into stages and gates but instead each person must find their own path, which might not have a neat beginning, middle, and end, but it will be their own journey in and through their grief so that they can find acceptance and wholeness too.
Louella Morgan-Richer continues to use art as an expression of grief and loss. Her paintings, including the one shown, can be seen at End of Life Services, located at Marble Works in Middlebury and at Healthy Living Market and Café in South Burlington. Louella will also be offering workshops at BUNDLE (the old Clay’s) at 60 Main St. in downtown Middlebury starting in early summer.

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