Depictions of grief are often structured following the outdated Kübler-Ross model that details the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.² What does it look like if your grief pattern falls outside this too-perfect formula? In the summer of 2020, I was faced with a hugely momentous time in my life. I was getting the last of my things sorted for my partner, Scott and I to move from Victoria, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia (my first time living outside of Victoria). I had just finished my undergraduate studies rather abruptly, my wedding was downsized to a fraction of the original plan due to restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic, and my dad attempted suicide days before the wedding. Grief is often considered to stem only in the presence of completed death, but in my case, I was faced with a melting pot of partial losses. This left me questioning how to make sense of any of it. There’s a fairly codified ritual in the wake of a loved one dying—a funeral service is held, loose ends are tied up, wills are sorted—but, again, like Kübler-Ross’ five stages, this series of events is based on a more easily understood scenario.
Despite all these jarring events, my partner and I moved across the country mere weeks following my dad’s attempt. We packed our 1986 Toyota Van (affectionately named Bandit) to the brim with belongings, homemade snacks from our family, and a rolled-up foam mattress that we would sleep on each night, and we left all of our troubles behind us. While I still had reservations and concerns about leaving Vancouver Island given the circumstances around my dad’s uncertain recovery, I knew we had to go, as everything had already been sorted. Scott and I didn’t have jobs anymore, I had moved out of my apartment, the school year was starting very soon, and I wanted to be anywhere but Vancouver Island; I felt as though there was little choice left in the matter.
Upon arriving in Halifax on September 1, 2020, we were unsurprisingly met with a much less exciting city and experience than we had hoped for due to Nova Scotia’s strict pandemic restrictions. I was faced with anxious and dark feelings given that we left British Columbia during such a scary time of personal tumult, followed by landing in Nova Scotia during a global shutdown. As I was already feeling this way, I felt uncomfortable having the work I would be making during my time in the MFA program reflect these anxieties. More than anything, I was excited to dive into making work as an escape from the chaos of both the pandemic and my family at the time. Once I got back into making work, I picked up an unfinished video piece titled Apocalypticism that I had originally intended to show as the final offering for both my undergrad coursework and graduating exhibition. Apocalypticism is a collage of both found and newly shot footage that, when I began working on it in January 2020, was a reflection of the horrors that I was seeing play out globally: the Australian wildfires, the slaying of the Iranian general Soleimani, the forceful implementation of an oil pipeline through Wetʼsuwetʼen lands, and the beginning whisperings of some strange, new virus. At first glance, Apocalypticism may not come across as the light-hearted escapism I was yearning for, but it aided me in bridging the gap between the joyous times I was having at the end of my undergraduate studies to the weird world I had now arrived in. I found catharsis in completing Apocalypticism in the Fall of 2020; I felt that its completion signaled that I was ready to move on from the events with my dad, my undergrad being cut short, my wedding being a whisper of its original plan, as well as the global concerns I had back in January 2020. Apocalypticism allowed me to start thinking forward, instead of being tied up in the past.
Following the completion of Apocalypticism, I continued to think on a global scale as opposed to a personal scale and I began diving into my concerns and questions about the climate emergency. During this time, I made a shift to working with digital 3D modeling and animation—something that was fairly new to me. I learned a lot in working with various new programs, like Blender and Unreal Engine, but the work I made never properly conveyed my ideas in the way I wanted them to. I was still toying with 3D processes in the summer of 2021, but, around the anniversary of the events with my dad, the inevitable emotions and concerns I never wholly addressed started to flood back. This time I was facing these feelings with a year’s worth of reflection, and felt ready to change course to make work that addressed my lingering, unprocessed questions and emotions. I had felt that it would be irresponsible to make work that didn’t consider the global issues of the moment which felt more important than my own. However, I also felt a responsibility to myself to make work that addressed the supposed grief I was feeling.
The first question I had for myself was: how could I consider what I was feeling to be grief if nothing had been fully lost? I still graduated. I still got married. I still moved across the country. And my dad was still alive and doing well. In 2018, during my undergraduate studies, I had made a work aptly titled, Grief Pattern that was my response to multiple deaths that occurred in the immediate circle of my partner and I. Grief Pattern followed the formulaic Kübler-Ross model of grief mentioned previously. It made sense! That work was about my experience of shifting through the five stages of grief, as the deaths I was faced with were real and final. This time, with my dad, I was faced with an experience unlike anything I had previously endured. Despite the experience with my dad being outside the scope of my understanding of death at the time, I was faced with similar feelings to those I had had in previous experiences with the deaths of loved ones. This experience left me questioning if the similar feelings I was having were valid. I tried to understand if the emotions I was grappling with could be called grief, or if there was another name I didn’t know of for how I was feeling. And if I couldn’t figure out the name for what I was feeling, I struggled to understand how I might conceptualize my emotions visually.