Left: "People Waiting" by John Hooper. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22711505@N05/26448326089
Right: "The Rummage Sale" by Miller Brittain. Source: National Gallery of Canada: https://www.gallery.ca/magazine/your-collection/at-the-ngc/life-in-saint-john-miller-brittain-and-a-portrait-of-the-people
In our deepest grief, we unclench fully. For most of us, there are very few times in our lives when we reach this level of softening. I don’t need to describe the feeling further because you already know it. It consumes you. Some of us seek out grief for this very quality, which can be addictive. Growing up on Canada’s east coast, I’ve long been familiar with the stereotype of Maritimers reading the obituaries section of the newspaper before anything else. Road crews there still cease working and doff their hats when a funeral procession passes. These are only tiny tastes of a substance that can’t be bottled.
You know real grief, and it knows you.
All around my home town of Saint John, New Brunswick, you’ll find the statues of John Hooper and paintings of Miller Brittain. Both artists depict people in a way that’s best summarized by the word thick. The human figure is broad, flattened. It’s hard to find softness in them. But if you study the thickness closely, you’ll see that these people look as though they’re made of clay.
We forget that it’s only in our softest state that we can become anything. This is what grief is trying to tell us. And it’ll never stop until we listen.