"Bushfire" by Joan Goldsworthy
I used to have a debate with
my mother-in-law about our mountain. Where we live Kunanyi/Mt Wellington is a
looming presence. To me it is inspiring, protective, embracing. To her, while at
times inspirational, it could also be oppressive.
I employ the past tense
because we will no longer have that debate. Joan – Joey to most family and
friends – died last Saturday, aged 77. The date was the 7th of the 7th
– somehow typical of, and fitting for, this amazing woman.
The Monday after her death I
made the mistake of going to work. I lasted past lunch, but achieved nothing
useful. Grief is a work that needs space. I decided to walk the five and a half
kilometres home; to get some air into my lungs, to let the motion turn my
A moody Kunanyi/Mt Wellington from home
From the city the mountain
felt only mildly dominant. One early navigator aptly described it as a lion couchant. But as I drew closer its
presence grew. If ever it was going to feel oppressive, to become rampant, it would be today.
I thought over the last few
days. Certainly Joey had been very ill for some time. But then doctors had
called her family to her bedside 23 years ago, when she was not expected to
last the night. The fighter that she was, she proved them wrong. She recovered,
moved to Tasmania, and built a house at the back of our large block. From her
studio there, she would add to her stunning body of artwork: mainly paintings
in the abstract expressionist style.
"Squall" by Joan Goldsworthy
Many of her significant
later works came to feature Mt Wellington, as well as the D’Entrecasteaux
Channel, and other Tasmanian landscape features. For someone who came to
resemble the classic little old lady, her works were staggeringly big, hugely
expressive. She was not a book to judge by its cover. From her diminutive
frame, via her small hands and out of her mild, grey-pated head, came grand and
dramatic works that effused emotion, compelled attention and demanded a
"Lavender" by Joan Goldsworthy
It is hard to think that this
little (not very) old lady is no longer with us; that she has not somehow beaten decline and death again. This time Joey had quite quickly changed from the person we knew
into some kind of transitional being, pale of skin, shallow of breath, and seemingly unaware of our presence. But before the end she had one brief
return, one more opening of the eyes, one final acknowledgement of her gathered children
and their farewells.
"Mt Wellington" by Joan Goldsworthy
Then she was gone, and only her shell remained. And how different from the living
do the dead appear! Their presence drags from us the biggest, most primal of questions,
tapping a deep well of emotions, regrets, hopes and fears.
On my walk home two days
later, I was still pondering all of this. Looking again towards the mountain, it seemed that its presence had swelled. I was close enough to see individual trees on its
forested flanks and to clearly discern single columns of the Organ Pipes. The
lower hills on each side seemed to swoop closer still. To me at least, they
resembled some kind of giant embrace. Not that I would want to try and score points over
my late mother-in-law.
Instead I'll let one of Joey's paintings have the final word.
"Fugue" by Joan Goldsworthy
How aptly you describe the change in a person - from life to death! The shell is so very altered from the living, very present, being.
I think it helps us ever so slightly to let go - as the person we were entwined with has truly gone.
Joey had many amazing gifts - capturing the natural and spiritual world through her art was a prominent one. Yet she also had a wonderful compassion and an incredible desire to reach out and touch you in the hurting moments along with cheering for you in those moments when you conquered bits of life.
I think we all know that in her we had a most wonderful gift!
Thanks for your lovely comments Helen. I'd judge that they come from a canny reading of Joey as well as your own close acquaintence with grief and loss. Love and hugs, Peter
Such a lovely tribute! Thanks for sharing a part of who your mother-in-law was.
Patricia, thank you for your comment, and for your earlier comments on my blog. I appreciated that earlier feedback, but neglected to respond at the time.
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