Tag Archives: art

The Land of Do-As-You-Please

4 Jun

“Hello. My name is 1)_____.
Today I’m grieving the loss of 2)_____,
who passed away on 3)_____.
He/She/They was/were my 4)_____.
His/Her/Their loss makes me feel 5)_____.
In closing, I’d also like to say 6)__________________.”

 

Three years into grief, it’s not difficult to conjure images and memories of those first days and weeks. “Overwhelming” doesn’t quite say it, it’s a hurricane of cheek-cracking, Shakespearian proportions. You’re asked to dig down into your own guts and scoop out reserves that you’ve never suspected were there. When you’re at your lowest moment, you’re making decisions that, at the time, you imagine will haunt you the rest of your life if you choose poorly.

“Cremation or burial? Urn or Casket?” “Memorial or no memorial and if so, when/where/how and who’s coming?” “Should I begin some sort of tradition?” “Should I join a support group?” “If we still want other children, shouldn’t we take immediate steps in that direction?” “Should I take depression medication?” “How much time should I take off from work?” “How much time do I have to cancel this or return that?” “Should I travel?” “Should I sell the house and move?” “Should I kill myself?”

“What if I do this wrong?”

And you ask for help and guidance and, with luck, you have people in your life who are as helpful as anyone could reasonably be. But their help essentially comes down to one, single, frustrating piece of advice:

DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.

It’s not meant to add to the frustration, but, of course, it does. And to be fair, what else would you expect them to say? It’s your loss, your grief.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve received a handful of emails and blog comments and even one or two in-person questions from people who have become reluctant members of the club Carey and I have belonged to for the past 3 years, namely the Brother/Sisterhood of Grieving Parents. “What should I do?” they want to know. “What did you do?”

What we did and what we continue to do isn’t a guidebook or a roadmap for others by any stretch, but today, on my boys’ third birthday, I thought it might be helpful to get specific.

A few things we’ve done:

 

urns

We decided on cremation and chose urns for our boys. A friend of ours (and client of Carey’s) runs a mortuary and was very helpful in presenting options to us. He suggested mixing their ashes and keeping them in one urn. Since we’d gone to such lengths to preserve their individuality, we preferred to give them separate urns. Rudyard’s is the reddish-bronze, Desmond’s is the silver and Oscar’s is gold. We keep them on our living room mantle.

 

sunflowers

At the memorial, we presented the urns in the center of three sunflowers which were in three square glasses. Since then, each week, Carey brings home three fresh sunflowers from the store. We’ve kept a steady rotation in the glasses ever since. Sometimes they’re in the kitchen, sometimes in the dining room, sometimes near the urns. It lifts our spirits to see them.

 

albums

On the day, we took over 100 photographs of the handful of moments we had with our boys. While, it’s true, we’re choosy and protective of who sees them, we had prints made of all of them and keep them in a couple of small photo albums.

 

carey-tattoo jer-tattoo

We decided on tattoos to remember them. Carey has their names in script on the side of her foot and I designed their first initials with the date of their birth into artwork for my left wrist. It’s the only tattoos either of us have.

 

office-artwork

Recently, Carey and I collaborated on a piece of artwork for our studio/office. The birds are three finches done in black ink and white acrylic. The background is collaged from pages from vintage books by Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde and also some sheet music of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, which mentions Desmond.

 

Last year, for reasons beyond my understanding, the news media became intrigued by our story. Specifically, our memorial video, which shows footage of our boys’ remains shortly after their passing. We were interviewed by The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America about our story. It was a great opportunity to talk about the pain that parents of stillborn children experience.

Our interview with Dan Damon of BBC World Update:

 

From time to time, I’ll take part in open mic events at a coffee house in Long Beach. In the past, I’ve read a story inspired by the boys and, last week, I mentioned them in a presentation I gave about my personal passion-issue, which is gun violence in the United States. Amid true-life anecdotes, statistics and a brief history of firearms, I spoke about the Sandy Hook tragedy, recalling the blessing it was to have the opportunity to comfort my children as they passed, a privilege taken from many parents whose children are victims of shootings.

In general, whether it’s home decor or small life decisions, we gravitate toward ‘three’. It’s subtle, but visitors will see triads and triptychs of flowers, artwork and other odds and ends around our house. It’s subtle, but it’s our way of remembering.

We did join a support group. In fact, we participated in two of them. Easily the most helpful was New Hope, which offers grief support programs and services. In fact, it introduced us to some of our closest friends.

 

candles

And finally, each year, on June 4, Carey and I take the day off. I’m a guy who, though I’m loathe to admit it, isn’t always above working on Christmas. But, for us, June 4 is sacred. No clients, no freelance, no popping into the office to make sure my art director is meeting his deadlines. We design the day specifically to make sure absolutely nothing is going on. On the minute of each of their births, we light a candle to remember. And we then proceed to do whatever we want, which is often very little.

 

If your’e a grieving parent reading these words, understand that none of the above are obligations. Three years in, Carey and I are winging it, just like you are. If you’re worried you’re going to make the wrong choice, don’t. Your grief is yours and you get to decide how to live in it and through it.

That said, one piece of “don’t” advice for those who have experienced recent loss: don’t put it off. You’ll be tempted to delay decisions about burials and memorials and other things that require fast attention until your head is clearer, but trust me when I say it won’t be easier later. Allow yourself the freedom to choose something less than perfect. Less Than Perfect is going to be the status quo for awhile and you’ll need to find a way to work within that.

Also, one last thing to the newly-grieving parent. It’s been said so many times to Carey and me that we’re in full-blown cliché territory, but it bears repeating, so, begging your forgiveness:

It will always be hard. But it won’t always be this hard.

Today, if you’ve lost a child, you’re in my prayers and my heart is full for you. I’m sorry for your loss. But I’m overjoyed you’re with me, with us, in the world.

 

1) Jeremy
2) Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar
3) Saturday, June 4, 2011
4) sons
5) destroyed, angry, burdened, confused, broken
6) I miss my sons very much

 

 

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Best Possible

23 Jul

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, but I’ve thought of my blog and those who read it often. This post isn’t so much an update as a, well, a Something. A couple of weeks after the boys were born and passed, I began writing a short piece without any sort of idea where it was going or who would be likely to read it. Maybe it would be just for me.

Tonight finds me at an open mic night at Seka Coffee House in Long Beach. I’ve been given 5 minutes to do whatever I want with a captive audience and I’ve decided to read what I wrote. Due to time, I’m only doing an excerpt, but the full text is below, if you’re interested.

It’s called Best Possible and it was inspired by my sons.

It’s after sundown. I’m in my car and I’m driving somewhere, only I don’t know exactly where because that’s up to my passenger, who’s giving directions, calling out the turns and the exits, the merges and the yields. I ask him about the destination and he says “trust me” and I’m not altogether sure I do, but I will.

He’s in his 40s, maybe even 50, and his hair’s starting in with the gray, but mostly he’s pretty thin up top. He’s paunchy and pale, with a voice like my father’s, only a little deeper, and a profile like my mother’s, only a little more beaky and it’s been a few days since he’s shaved.

Point of fact, he looks exactly like me. Or anyway, exactly how I’ll look in 10 or 15 years. Truth is, he’s my future self and he’s returned to his past, my present, to tell me to stay on the 710 south.

“How many kids do you have?” he asks me and I tell him he already knows and he says, “humor me, would you?” and I tell him the truth, which is to say I had 3 boys, but now they’re dead.

He shakes his head and winces. “I’m sorry,” he tells me. “You’re one of those. Two of my sons also passed, but the third, Oscar, he made it. He starts high school in the fall.”

The place we arrive, it’s sort of a little studio, the kind where they teach children karate, only it seems to be closed. My passenger, the future me, says, “go ahead in.” I cut the engine, undo my seatbelt and hesitate. Finally, I ask him if he has any, I don’t know, advice or something. He itches his nose and rakes his fingers through his hair the same way I’ve done since I was a toddler and eventually says, “oh, sure. You should exercise more.”

I leave Future Me in the car and head inside. The door’s unlocked and the lights are off, except for a little desk lamp on a tiny, wooden table in the center of the room, between a couple of chairs. In one of them sits Future Me, who I could’ve sworn was in the car just a second ago. He’s slightly older, or maybe younger. Something’s different and it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what, but he’s focused on his paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov, the one collecting dust at home on my shelf in my office, and if he notices me, he doesn’t say anything.

I sit in the opposite chair and eventually break the tension by telling him I’ve tried to make it through Karamazov three times and I always fail miserably. He looks up and chuckles and says, “this is attempt number five for me and it’s a real climb. Would it kill these people to have a regular conversation once in awhile? Page 170 and I’m ready to murder all three brothers.”

We spend a few minutes talking about books we like and books we don’t and he mentions Ayn Rand and I tell him she’s one of Carey’s favorites and he says “who’s Carey?” I’m not sure if he’s joking, but I say, you know, she’s my wife and he closes his eyes and smiles. “Carey, right. From college.”

I’m for mystery as much as the next man (and in this particular case, that’s me too), but I eventually ask him who he is, what this is. He points to a little door in the back of the studio that reads STAFF and says, “you’re going to have to go in there, sooner or later.” Then he hands me a raffle ticket with a number hand-written on it and says, “I’m you. The you that gets you ready.”

I open the door.

The STAFF room is less of a room and more of an indoor arena. Not exactly a stadium, but it’s in the neighborhood. There seems to be a big event going on in the center, on some kind of red platform, complete with concert-style lighting.

Also, the place is, well, packed. Old men, young men, everything in between. Some in outrageous outfits, some in understated suits. A handful seem to be drunk or high and others still are handicapped. But the big thing they all have in common is they all look exactly like me.

“We’re waiting,” says a voice next to me, who turns out to be a very pained-looking, mid-twenties me, propped against a wall, clutching his sides. “You’ll want to get comfortable, most of us have been here awhile.” I ask what we’re waiting for and he says, through gritted teeth, “we’re all waiting for some one-on-one time with the guy on stage. The one in the center.” I ask who’s in the center and he says, “it’s me. You. All of us. But he’s the Best Possible Version.”

I thank him and begin making my way down the aisles. But before I do, I ask him if he’s having kidney stone trouble. “How’d you guess,” he says and I tell him to try a shot of lemon juice each morning. He says, “no kidding?”

Every 10 or 20 minutes, the sound system barks out a number. I take a look at my raffle ticket and it looks like I have a few thousand ahead of me. I do my best to get situated.

Hours turn into days turn into months. I spend a lot of time talking to other me’s, listening to my life story over and over, sometimes with only slight variations from my own experience, sometimes wildly different. Since we all have the same name, we refer to each other by our numbers, which is kind of cool and makes us all feel like Patrick McGoohan.

It’s the old versions of myself, the guys who are 80+, that really flip my shit. They don’t seem in any hurry to convince any of their younger selves of anything and they’re mostly short on words of wisdom. It’s all Que Sera Sera, which is the opposite of the frantic teens and reckless 20s.

I hear stories of me’s that were and others that weren’t and others still that were, but maybe not quite in the way I remember. For example, I attended Samford University, met and married a girl named Molly, and began art directing video games. I also sold my first play when I was 18, which was called Whatever Gets You Through The Night and divided my 20s between trying to get stage shows off the ground in New York and living with my dad in Hartville when money was tight.

I had an affair with a coworker when I was 31, divorced Carey for her, and turned to getting high when that ended in tears. In high school, I was screwing around with Matt Brainard and wound up getting hit by an icicle, which took off my left leg. At 52, I published a book on 15th century Spain that less than 100 people bought and at 25, I lost my life to a drunk driver.

There are a few trending themes. Carey’s in a lot of the stories, the lives, maybe even half of them. Art and writing, in some form or another, are in nearly all of them. I tend to wind up with at least one child. I’m typically either Christian or agnostic, but sometimes Buddhist and in one case, I’m even a Scientologist, if you can believe that.

The only thing I’m consistently sure of, with each story I hear, is that I’m simultaneously inspired and disgusted by what I’m capable of.

Finally, my number’s up.

I head up the stairs to the red platform, head buzzing with all the conversations of recent weeks and months, trying to keep straight which me I am. At the top, on a small, tan couch, sits the Best Possible Version of me. He’s older than I am, significantly older, with silver-crazed eyebrows and leather suspenders. He looks tired. Ready for whatever I have to throw at him, but still tired.

He stands when I approach and shakes my hand. “It’s your time,” he tells me. “What would you like to talk about?”

We sit. I tell him I’ve been thinking about that parable where everybody puts all their problems in a big pile and winds up taking back their own problems for themselves when given the choice. I tell him the story’s bullshit, as I see it. I’ve met a lot of me’s recently and there were quite a few of them whose life I’d choose over mine. I miss my sons. I want a life where I get to see them grow into men.

Best Possible nods. “What do you want to ask me?” he says.

I tell him I want to know what he did so differently from the rest of us. Was it faith that made him better? Or adversity? Or was he just born with a better soul? How did he avoid all the mistakes the rest of us seem to make?

“I avoided nothing,” he says. “I’ve probably made more bad choices than anyone here. Not just because I’ve had time to make them, but because I’ve been terribly, terribly stupid with my talents and my relationships. If there was something to screw up, I screwed it up. I could tell you my story, but you’ll have to take my word for it: it’s a real heartbreaker.”

I ask him what makes him the Best. Did he cure cancer or something?

“No,” he says, “you need to listen to me, here. I haven’t led a good life and I spend my time choking on regret. But I look around and I see all these versions of myself and I ask every single one the same question: how do you feel about the men assembled here?”

I say I love them.

“Yes,” he says. “So do I. And they all love you, too. They’d do anything for you, because they know you from the inside. Isn’t that the perfect way to feel about someone else?”

I say Yes it is.

“I doubt any reasonable person would call me the best version of anything,” he says, “but I sit up here because one of us has to and I thought it might ease the burden of a life that didn’t turn out how I’d planned. You already know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?”

I nod and say You’re going to offer me your seat.

The old me slings an arm over my shoulder: “Yours if you want it.”

And if this is a dream, here’s where I wake up.

And if this is what it’s like to be dead, here’s where I find out What’s Next.

And if this is just a story, here’s where I clue you in about the sort of story you’ve been taking in.

And no matter what I decide, the numbers will continue to bark from the sound system and the long procession of me will continue up and down the stairs, maybe some staying in the Best seat, others not wanting to bear the weight. The artists, the husbands, the leaders, the abusers, the addicts, the fathers, the heroes, the professionals and the basket cases, everything I ever could have been and ever could be are waiting their turn.

Like Patrick McGoohan, though, I’m not a number. I’m a free man.

And while I may not be the one who decides how my life turns out, how my story goes, I do have a say.

Today I say Continue.

Memorial Video: The Bear Triplets

28 Jun

Below is the video produced for the June 25th, 2011 memorial service for Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar Bear, our triplet sons.

Please be warned: while this video contains a handful of images from their brief lives, it also contains some imagery captured shortly after their passing. If you’re disturbed or offended by this sort of thing, please don’t feel any obligation to watch.

Thanks for celebrating them with us.

Faces

25 Jun

Today was our boys’ memorial, which was shared with a few dear friends and family.  It’s another example of something I’d like to talk more about later, but suffice it to say it was a really tremendous time.  If you were there in person or in spirit, thank you.

It probably hasn’t escaped you that Carey and I have been very precious about sharing photos of the boys.  Only a very few people have seen them and that may change eventually, but to commemorate the day, it seemed a good time to share my drawings of our sons, produced for the memorial.


Rudyard


Desmond


Oscar

Good night and God bless.

Pre-Babies Bucket List

2 May

“Get it in now.”

That’s what Carey and I are hearing all the time, several times a week at least from loved ones who truly mean well.  They’re usually talking about sleep, but they also mention the other frills no-kids-couples take for granted: eating out, catching a movie, blowing disposable income on a spur-of-the-moment-whatever-it-is.  Because the time is coming, and that right soon, that even a trip to Subway is going to be A MAJOR FRICKIN’ ORDEAL.

A little about me, because you’re dying to know: I’m an illustrator and an advertising art director.  I do an awful lot of storyboard art and a fair amount of cartooning.  I’ve worked on video game covers, children’s books, character design, the odd comic book here and there.  I keep a blog of original comic strips I give away as gifts and, when I’m not doing any of the above, I do a lot of drawing for fun.  A few years ago, I did a kind of wild-guess calculation and estimated that I probably produce somewhere in the neighborhood of nearly 1,000 drawings a year.  I looked it up and that officially qualifies me as an “artist” but, then, so’s the guy who runs naked through Times Square with clothespins on his nipples.

No surprise, nearly all of my big ambitions are creative in nature, most of them publishing-related.  A handful of my dreams have come true and some have yet to.  It’s usually a little anticlimactic, but it still feels pretty good to check off something major.

So Carey and I have been looking at each other and asking each other if there’s anything big we want to get out of the way while it’s still just the two of us and we’ve more or less come to the conclusion that, sure, of course there is, but we don’t really have the time or energy, particularly if we need to rearrange everything in our lives over the course of the next 12-16 weeks.

But for some reason, I was looking through a few old blog entries recently and I came across a post from 2006.  Besides being amazed by how insanely long my blog posts used to be, I was struck by my list of “69 Weird Things About Me” (I know, I know).  Particularly item #45:

One day I will meet the artist Kevin Maguire and I will tell him that his work decided my career path. I don’t know how it will happen (mainly because I have no idea where he lives) and as the years go by, I get more and more nervous about it, but it will happen.


Kevin Maguire was and is a comic book artist and his artwork made me want to do what I do for a living.  I could go on (but I also discovered  I already did).  I suppose it’s more than a little geeky and possibly even creepy, but I’ve always wanted to meet the man himself and let him know that his work helped me decide who I wanted to be.

And as it turns out, Maguire was a special guest at a comics convention in Anaheim over the weekend.  He was autographing prints of his latest comics creation.  So I went:

A photo of Kevin Maguire, taken by me.

A photo of me, taken by Kevin Maguire. (Sorry, kids, his recent work's a little on the saucy side.)

We chatted for a minute or two about his work and what he’s enjoying about it and etc. etc.  I fought through embarrassment and gave him a hyper-abbreviated version of the speech I’ve been rehearsing for about 20 years and he accepted it graciously.  I told him he was the reason I went into art as a career and he said, “oh, so you’re blaming me?”  Of all the things I was expecting, the thing I’d least prepared for was what happened: my art-hero turned out to be a good-tempered, funny guy.

So, item #whoknowswhat on my personal Pre-Babies Bucket List: check.

Listen, I know this really has almost nothing to do with our triplets, but I thought I’d mention it here anyhow.  I suppose it’s sort of a post about following your dreams and doing what you need to do to realize them, and that’s what I want for my kids.

Or maybe it’s a post about rounding up the dangling plot threads from this chapter, clearing the stage for the next one.

Or I suppose it could be one of those stories I’ll bore the hell out of my boys with one day.

Whatever the case, I’d like to be somebody’s else’s Kevin Maguire.  You never know, could happen.  Inspiring people:  it’s what an artist should do.

Or a dad.

Sketch: Flowering Triplets

7 Apr

Sketches of babies have started infiltrating my notebooks for several weeks, which I guess is no surprise.  Half the time, I really don’t know exactly what I’m going to draw when I start and I’m almost as surprised as anyone by the end result.

Anyhow, this was doodled today at the office and, for some reason, it felt appropriate to post.  Not a great likeness of my wife, but I was drawing without a reference, so I guess that’s the way it goes.  Hope you like it:

Triplet Comics of Yesteryear

29 Mar

When I’m wearing my artist cap, I enjoy illustrating and cartooning.  Several years ago, I began doing short, strange comics for fun and giving them to the people that inspired them.  I don’t do nearly as many as I used to, but I try my best to stay in the habit.  At this point, I’ve drawn maybe 90 or so.

I remembered recently that I’d done a comic about a set of fictional triplets for my friend Kirsten.  It’s safe to say that, when I drew this, I never fathomed my wife and I might have triplet children of our own:

SororityApologies if it’s a little strange or grim for you, particularly if you came expecting new ultrasound images or screwball thoughts on baby strollers.

Anyhow, I thought it was too coincidental not to post.  (And wouldn’t it be weird if ours were born on the evening of September 3rd?  Entirely possible, that’ll be 35 weeks.  Cue Twilight Zone music.)