It was the call that no parent wants to get. The voice on the line said three simple words that would change my life forever, “Devin is dead.” Over the minutes, hours, days, months that followed, emotions swirled…sometimes extreme pain, sometimes numbness, sometimes anger, sometimes laughter, but mostly sadness.
I had life-changing plans in place before my son died. My husband and I were to sell our house of 28 years, relocate to a new part of the country, and semi-retire. We kept those plans and moved to Western North Carolina (Black Mountain) in May 2018, just three months after Devin’s death.
I pushed on. Although there was much to do, I was determined to allow myself the time and the space to grieve. I took long solo walks, I quietly shared my loss with those around me that I felt comfortable with, and I began to draw.
I wanted to get back into my graphite work since pushing it aside in my early twenties. My daughter (Devin’s sister) suggested I begin with a portrait of Devin. I had never attempted portraiture work and was a bit hesitant. I started it and worked on it for days. Each pencil line seemed like a visit with Devin. I studied and memorized each and every part of his beautiful face. It was a process. I felt relaxed and comfortable with this process. I enjoyed the time with Devin. And then there was nothing more to do. I had poured my heart and soul into the drawing and it was done.
I put the drawing away. I instinctively knew the last step would be significant. It was two days later when I set the drawing on the table, looked hard and long at Devin’s image, put the pencil to the bottom right corner and signed my name…it was finished. The process was over, the work complete. I was saying goodbye to my son.
The emotions that soared from the deepest part of my being were powerful. The grief and sadness spilled out of me just like his image flowed out of me days before. There was no way of predicting the strength of that raw emotion. I cried into the afternoon and then into the night. I fell asleep spent, drained physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I had to keep drawing. Something in the experience with Devin’s portrait propelled me into not only wanting to continue to draw people’s faces; but finding that I HAD to. I drew the grandchildren, I drew other people’s grandchildren, I drew street people, live models, images of total strangers from magazines, I have copied the masters, and I continue. And my artwork has brought me to a level of understanding about life, about death, about grief and pain, about love, and letting go. It is the physical embodiment of the notion that life is not black and white, made of many shades of gray in there. It is also an exercise in patience and letting go, slowing down, and focusing.
I believe this chapter in my life is a “Gift from Devin for me to find.”