Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ten Questions on the theme of trees - still life 365

still life 365 is a unique art project for, about and by mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. still life 365 posts a piece of art every day by a poet, artist, photographer, crafter, musician, collagist, paper artist, filmmaker, painter, sculptor, fabric artist and ordinary person exploring grief through creativity. each piece is an expression of grief, survival, sadness, love and hope. still life 365 is intended to be a safe space for creative expression. still life 365 is open to anyone affected by pregnancy loss not simply parents.

1. When you saw the theme of trees for the month of September, what immediately came to your mind?

Barren, dead trees, we are coming out of winter here and the deciduous trees didn't have leaves yet. They looked barren and everything was so cold. Now only 4 weeks later, my Elm trees have flowered, we can see the new life. I know that barren doesn't mean dead. It is just such a long time since they seemed alive.
2. What kinds of words do you associate with trees?

Dark, strong, heavy, shade, wind, shelter, growing, silent, shadows, support, cradling,
3. Of these words, do you associate any with yourself?

Strong, heavy and supporting are word that I associate with myself. I am quite physically strong, I am not a delicate build, hence I relate the word heavy. I have always been overweight. Recently I have lost over 25kg but I still have an obese BMI. Supporting, I will help anyone who needs help, I am better at actions than words. Silent as I grow older I am better at holding my thoughts close. Shadows, there are shadows of pain left inside me that most people would not know exist.
4. Have you been an outdoorsy person throughout your life?

Yes, one of my favourite places to be out doors is located just 2 hours drive away. It is Wilsons Promontory National Park. Our family would camp there when we were kids for the whole summer holiday, there was no power (except for the amenities blocks). We ran wild, walked all over, swan and surfed went fishing and ate fish for 6 weeks. Our family has always had pets and for a while we kept farm animals and horses on a small property we had. I particularly love horses and dogs. I don't have any horses now but I walk my dogs most days in any weather, we have 3 dogs, 2 are Irish Terriers, and we have 1 very small Tenterfield terrier mix. The video shows Doug and Bella, it was before Erin came to live with us.
5. How has your relationship with nature changed since your loss(es)?

Walks at the beach became a favourite thing to do with my Husband after Thomas died. Its so peaceful there, everything is so big, the sky the water, it makes me feel small and my problems feel small. Photographing sunsets and the water is something I have never really done before he died, now I have many many sunset photos. I suppose I am trying to capture the moment. I am not a good enough photographer to really capture the beauty of my amazing environment on the Mornington Peninsula but that doesn't stop me trying.
6. Did you plant a tree or bush in honor of your child?

No I haven't. I have actually left my garden to die. We have been in the grip of a terrible 10 year long drought. There has been strict restrictions for watering gardens, people were having to resort to saving the water from their showers and washing machines to put on their gardens. Some managed to keep their gardens alive, most have simply pulled theirs up and replanted drought tolerant species. There has been too much death in my garden lately to plant a rememberance tree.
7. If you have planted a tree for your child, in what ways do you incorporate the tree into your life? If you haven't, what natural images do you associate with your loss? (Do you tend to it? Do you meditate or reflect under it? Do you places flowers by it?)

I prefer to reflect in the water and air (that sounds too airy-fairy) but we always think of Thomas as having flown away (like the hymn I'll Fly away). So birds cause us to reflect sometimes, not always, airplanes with double wings always make me think of him. On Thomas' second birthday when I was picking up his portrait from a local portrait artist, a magnificent Heron came to rest on the edge of the creek at the bottom of the garden. He waited a while and I took his picture before he flew away. The lady artist, Meredith said that it was an extremely rare sighting, and she had lived there for more than 40 years. We are having Thomas' memorial plaque made with Australian Native birds on it.
8. Trees have also been used to represent families. Talk a bit about your own family tree.
I have researched my family free. Its pretty straight forward, our family originates from Worksop, Nottinghamshire UK. Then "our branch" travelled to New Zealand, and then generations later, to Australia. When the family tree gets to me, the branches get into a big tangled mess. There is a break (divorce) unwed parents, and death, and that just relates to myself and my 4 children.
9. What are your feelings now about family trees and exploring your own lineage?

I found out a few things about my predecessors when researching my family tree. There were a couple of births to women in their 40's and in 1880 or thereabouts giving birth in your 40's would have been very hard. Giving birth would have been a highly risky event during those times. There were some children whose births were recorded by the church but they did not appear on the census, I believe that means that they would have died. One family had a marriage recorded, with a birth just 6 months later, then the death of the mother a couple of days after the birth and a couple of weeks later the death of the baby. I was researching this information while I was pregnant with Thomas and it knocked me around a bit, I now know a little of the pain that they would have felt. I am thankful that it wasn't me living in those times, I am also thankful that I come from from people who were strong and healthy. My predecessors were Bricklayers and Bakers. I wonder if thats why I love bread, I don't love laying bricks though.
10. The rings of trees fascinate me. I remember learning that in hard years, the rings were smaller, or darker than in years of good water. Describe the rings of your tree.
I think that the rings of my tree are mostly all small and dark, I have been weathering a storm of some kind most of my life. This storm has been the hardest. I am coming up for my 4 year anniversary of my marriage. The first year I was pregnant, the second was the year Thomas was born and died, and from then there has been grief. They have all been really tough years. Every year I have felt like bailing out at some point. Every year I have hung on through my fight or flight times. I have chosen to fight to stay married. It has been one of the hardest things I have chosen to do.

Carrying and delivering Thomas and watching him struggle for life and then losing him has been the most defining experience, I am forever altered by it. It was such an expectant time, full of grief and hope. Grief for the things that were wrong and hope for the promise of the future. I find I am humbled, saddened, shattered, exhausted, shocked, angry, thankful, scared, in awe, dazed, and determined that Thomas' life will not become an event that I will find a way to harden up and get over. His life and death will be something that I will hold dear to me, keeping him alive in my heart. I want to remain vulnerable to my grief, to others grief for this reason.


  1. Beautiful answers, Julie. I love reading more about you and your relationship with your family tree. Also air and water doesn't seem too airyfairy to me, though i love the phrase airy fairy.xo

  2. "Thomas' life will not become an event that I will find a way to harden up and get over. His life and death will be something that I will hold dear to me, keeping him alive in my heart. I want to remain vulnerable to my grief, to others grief for this reason." This resonates with me so much. I feel the same way. Thanks for sharing. I think i will do this on my blog too, tomorrow!

  3. Your response to question 6 really got me thinking about my response to Rosemary's death - "there has been too much death in my garden lately to plant a remembrance tree." That just says it all doesn't it? It's like having the air let out of you.

    I hope that things brighten for you as winter makes its exit and that something completely unexpected and spectacular grows in your garden.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Love to read about your summers in the NP... just lovely.