Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Stain that Grief Leaves Behind

"Stained," encaustic, 8" x 10"

I am the ghost in the room, the barely-there fingerprint smudge left on the coffee table. A small full-moon stain left after a mug of cocoa departs the table and meets the lips. I leave little traces that I'm here, but largely I am somewhere else, holding a vision of my dad as he lays dying. Tonight, when the room is filled with wit and humor, half of me dissolves into the carpet fibers where I watch myself offer my dad morphine drops and wait for signs of his feet turning purple. And sometimes, even when I offer a funny story or a genuine smile, a part of me is with my father in the radiology waiting room as he gags down two bottles of his contrast shake, throwing up in between bottles. Or, I am draining his abdomen of lymph fluid and pouring two liters of the opaque white liquid down the toilet. As the conversation turns to politics, I sink through the blue over-stuffed chair and hear my voice ask, Dad, tell me how you really feel.

You don't want to hear it
, he says.

Yes, yes I do
, I say, You can say anything, you can tell me anything.

He says,
I want all of this to be over. I take a deep breath.

I hear you, Dad,
I say. That is the only thing to say. Message received.

I am the stain that grief leaves behind. Watch for signs of me around you--the tomato sauce splatter on the wall, the coffee droplets in the carpet, the arced scratch on the hardwood floors, the rust ring circling the sink's inner rim. Look carefully or you may miss me.


  1. Courtney, I am just leaving a bereavement conference for the MISS foundation after being here for 4 days in a community of people who soooo get it. Compatriots of grief. Re-entry into the everyday world seems .... ?? .... banal? trivial? normal? I don't know. But seeing this painting and reading your words this entry, just wanted you to know you and your dad are on my mind. From one coffee stain to another...lots of hugs to you...

  2. Kara,

    Can anyone go to the MISS conference? I think I might be interested in going next time around.


  3. Yes, Courtney, anyone can attend the MISS conferences. It is one of the only environments where I see a true blend of the bereaved themselves *and* caregivers, side by side. And often the people I meet there are wearing both hats. They came originally as caregivers for training, but find an emotionally safe, sacred, open space and discover they are also processing grief themselves. Their own losses or secondary losses.

    It is really a place of alchemy. And MISS is now partnered with the Kubler-Ross Foundation, so there is really wonderful history, research, creative inspiration there.

    Most of my writing about my experiences there come from the perspective of a bereaved parent, but if you want to see some of that for context?? There are several posts in the Kota blog under the "Miss Conference" label:

    I also have "review" write up from past conference on the Kota site at:

    The conference site at the foundation itself is at:

    I think you can get on the mailing list from there -- and then you would see the announcements about conference dates, but also call for people to pitch for teaching there. If you've got some kind of grief and art idea for a workshop, you might want to pitch something, too... just a thought...