I think I have an unhealthy obsession with death. It is not clear to me when this started. I think I let it out of my subconscious 4 years ago after the sudden death of my mom. There was something about her eyes as they turned from blue to gray that changed me. Even as I type this, I can barely express what I saw or how I felt. It is as if my breath catches in my chest. I can’t go there. I just can’t. I tried so hard to save her.
My work is an expression of my obsession. My enemy is death. For myself and my patients. As much as it is within my power, I fight her. Yes, death is a woman to me. She is the woman who’s eyes turned to gray on that night that was burned into my soul, she is the one that took my mother’s blue eyes away.
People used to tell me all the time when I was little that I looked just like my mother, as I age I can see it for myself. There is this way that her neck kind of wrinkled at the edges. Mine is doing that, too. When I look in the mirror, my eyes are the same blue as hers. I stare at them too long. There are moments that I imagine them graying at the edges and I quickly turn my head. I didn’t just see that. It was just my imagination. I take a deep breath just to make sure I still can.
Most days, I am just fine. I am so very happy. I enjoy my work, my husband, my children, my life. I laugh. I hardly ever cry, but that was not always the case. After her passing, I wasn’t good at all. I wasn’t even sure that I could continue with my work. How could I be a doctor if I couldn’t even save my own mother? It was irrational. I know that now. I went to therapy. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right to leave the profession. She didn’t. She told me I was exactly where I should be. I went to a career counselor. She told me the same thing.
You should just go be a doctor.
So I did.
Except, I kept trying to find a way to explore my feelings about death. I took an art class; it was one of those that are offered through the local community college, typically filled with senior citizens and stay at home moms. I learned to paint. I had no idea that I could. I tried to paint a picture of my mom, but it was too soon, I just couldn’t get her eyes right, so it sits unfinished behind a bookshelf. Then I discovered dolls.
My canvas became discarded dolls. I completely disassembled them. Took off their clothes, ripped off their hair, poked out their eyes, removed their heads and I started over. I remade them. I reimagined them. I make their hair, their clothes, I paint their faces, and I even make their eyes. I tell their stories. I save them.
Of course this is crazy. I know it, but it gives me endless joy and these dolls are saving me, too. For the past 2 years, I have been selling my creepy dolls at oddities expos and on Etsy. I’ve lost count how many dolls I’ve sold. Probably close to one hundred. Somehow, I think other people get it. They see the beauty in the darkness because my dolls are dark. I’m not afraid. My dolls are showing me that death is not the end. My faith tells me that, too. I see my creepy dolls as hopeful. They have survived something bad, just like me.
As someone in early 20s who experienced two close family members pass away from heart attacks, I think I can relate to having feelings about death. Like the comments above, it’s encouraging to read that you have found a healthy and creative outlet to deal with the feelings that associated with death and experiences with it. Thanks for writing about it, as I feel like ‘death’ is something that people often avoid talk about. It’s an irony given death’s universal and unavoidable nature…
Great point Jane. We can’t avoid death so I know I have to reckon with it.
The irony of the timing of this post is unnerving. I have been watching the second season of the Alienist as well as just concluded Dead Still– both of which dealt with memento mori or death photography/art. The picture you posted, and your work with the dolls details just one aspect of this topic. The subject is fascinating and I’m glad that you have found an outlet as you continue to process the emotions and questions surrounding death.
What an extraordinary story, not just about death and obsession, but about finding your own way through healing, back to yourself – regardless of whatever anyone else had to say to you. I’m so glad you listened to your inner child (?), voice, intuition.. because it led you where you needed to go; past survival, past guilt, into greater self-knowledge and creativity.
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At first I was quite self conscious about my artwork. Not everyone would understand, but when some did it gave me confidence. I kept going. I want to keep going. Thank you for your kind words.
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