Life and Death, hand in hand /  For the love of life

Life and Death, hand in hand

My mom passed in early summer of 2012 from terminal cancer. My dad passed 2 years later, in late summer 2014 from the same disease. Yes, that’s a couple of months ago. The mourning process I went – and am still going – through with each was different. It’s hard to describe how. The death of both of my parents has been a painful experience, leaving me broken and wounded in ways I was not able to deal with at the beginning. The death of my mom was the first time I experienced loss. I was shocked and broken and for very long months, was not really myself. I functioned and filled my role as a parent, a mother, a wife, bringing my career back to life, all in a very automated way. At the end of each day when my duties were all done, I would sit and look at my mom’s pictures, and I, I just could not believe she wasn’t here anymore. My dad’s loss was – and still is – digested differently. On one hand I am more “experienced”, I knew where and what was going to happen and was more prepared – if one can be – to that moment. I was prepared. But then again, no one can be “prepared” for loss of someone is not only so dear, but has always been a guiding light in my life. In between my day to day duties, I sometimes stop and think about him and I still cannot believe he left us, that he left me. And if someone ever wondered if a broken person (from one death) can be broken again (from another death) well then the answer is “unfortunately, absolutely yes”.

Klimt, Hope, The National Gallery of Canada

Klimt, Hope, The National Gallery of Canada

The grief over my dad is still with me. Actually, the grief over my mom too, but I guess I got used to it. Someone once told me a loss of a dear person is like losing an arm or a leg, it’s a part of you which is no longer there, but you just get used to it with time. The hole my dad left in me is still bleeding. I started looking at different pieces of art and music that talk about Death, Mourning. Loss. Unfathomable loss. A dear friend of mine reminded me of Klimt, an artist I adored as a younger self. Klimt’s paintings were a lot about the beautiful things in life, they are all very beautiful and erotic. There is a pseudo air of calmness, joyfulness, happiness. However in a lot of his paintings, evil, darkness, loneliness are laying beneath the surface, or sometimes even stand face to face with life.
‘Death and Life’ and ‘Hope’ are two such great examples of Klimt’s dealing with the eternal dialog between life and death. ‘Hope’ – displayed at the National Gallery of Canada – painted in 1903, is one I feel particularly close to as it shows a pregnant women, death and sorrow surround her. The women stares right at us. There is some worry about her, but also a lot of confidence in the life in her. She knows. Both my mom and my dad started developing cancer in the same year I became pregnant – 2010. I grew life, they grew death. My mom passed 2 months after I have delivered my second child. Throughout her illness I was growing life in me. It gave her Hope. It gave me Hope. Something to cling onto.I wish I had that calmness and strong sense of ‘knowing’ the girl in the painting has. In the National Gallery’s page about Hope, the following is mentioned:

“In preliminary sketches for this painting the tone is more positive: the sketches show a couple within a landscape reflecting upon their happiness. Klimt’s decision to change the composition may have stemmed from his reaction to the death of his second son during infancy in 1902.”

Dealing with a known scenario of Death, such as Terminal Cancer, the question I found myself fighting most is, when is going to happen? Facing the concept of death for the first time, I used to go to bed every night and try and get a sense whether tonight Death is close by or not. Is he in the stairs leading to my mom’s apartment? Is he here with us? Or has chemo helped and he has left us for a while? It might be of a simplistic way to express a deep fear of handling the worst scenario of all. Klimt’s “Death and Life” – his most crucial piece which is displayed at the Leopold Museum in Vienna – encapsulates that feeling exactly: death is constantly lurking behind the corner. Life is portrayed on the right as a dreamy moment, in constant movement. Death is always there, Life is always there. People in the “life stage” are with their eyes closed, they don’t see death, but death definitely sees us. It is mentioned that at first the background to the painting was the known Klimt printed gold, but that then Klimt covered it in the dark gray cloud that is there now. This painting, which took 5 years to paint (1910 – 1915) was completed very close to Klimt’s death in 1918 and I assume his dealing with the topic became grimmer as years went by. Very similarly to Hope, the composition and coloring of the painting changes as Klimt himself experienced notions of Death.

I cannot leave this post without sealing it with one of last songs my dad played for me in his last visit, tears in his eyes, tears in my eyes.

“And you who had the honor of her evening,
And by the honor had your own restored
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Alexandra leaving with her lord.”


2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Ophir Yerushalmy #

    Alin. I empathize so strongly with what you wrote here. My mother is dealing with terminal cancer that was diagnosed this July. The prognosis is not very good.

    Death was always a presence in my life, since I lost my dad to the same kind of cancer when I was 4 years old, but as you said, nothing gives you immunity to death and to final goodbyes. The work of Klimt is mesmerizing, horrifying and makes you feel at home all at the same time. This is how you constantly feel when death is no longer a stranger.

    Be strong. Be weak. Be happy. Be sad. As long as we are being and feeling we give Death a good fight. That is what I keep telling myself anyway.

    With love,

  2. Alin Wagner-Lahmy #

    Ophir, I am all goosebumps. I want to thank you for this beautiful and sad comment, but I really wish neither you or I had to write it. You are so right – some moments in life define that death is no longer a stranger for you and since that moment everything changes. I hope your and your mom’s dealing with the disease will not be too taxing on the soul and body. Both you and your mom have the privilege to be with each other in the hard moments, it’s such a privilege. “As long as we’re being and feeling we’re giving death a good fight” that is such a precise and inspiring way to say it.

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