Dealing with Loss and Regret

I spoke about being a disappointment in my last post. Recently a good friend of mine passed away. The news was sudden and through a 3rd party. I won’t lie, it hurt, a lot. We had been inseparable, but had lost touch over the last couple of years. She was well on her way back after recovering from a stroke and I had a new life which included starting at a new school and a new, serious relationship. I would think about her all of the time and tell myself I needed to make time to call, but I didn’t. She, in turn, didn’t call me. I admit it, I was guilty of letting our relationship fall onto a back-burner. It has been really hard for me to face that fact, that I neglected someone I loved and never got to say goodbye.

We met when I was a student and she was my professor. I was at a cross-road in my life and she was the key to my escaping my old life and starting over, the person who believed in me and kicked my ass. From the first class I had with her I knew I wanted to be friends with her. She was quite a bit older than I was, but we immediately connected. I have to tell you that I’ve never really seen age as an issue, and I think those who can’t relate to people of different ages really don’t know what they’re missing. Anyway, we were immediately smitten with one another and became fast friends. She listened to my stories about my now-ex who was emotionally abusive, tried to take credit for my work, and was so jealous and envious that I couldn’t have friends, go places, keep a journal, or talk about my feelings or what I needed. I even stopped writing poetry and music. When I started making art again, she and her sister often made fun or talked about me behind my back. The only time she ever encouraged me was when I was making art to sell in order to support us. There is so much more to this story, but I am talking about my dear friend and want to get back to that now.

Rhoda, my friend and mentor, was a brilliant artist. I can’t describe the amount of work that went into each of her projects. They were stunning, beautiful, and unique. The first time I ever saw her studio I was taken with her sketches, journals of written research, the amount of work that she put into making sure each detail was perfect. She was showing me new work in progress, nude self-portraits, and I photographed her with my twin-lens camera as she spoke about them. We also went out on field trips and sometimes I would photograph her as she worked. I wish I’d photographed her more.

We spoke about upcoming projects, things we were both working on, life, love, art, food, everything. She was there when I had my first post-breakup solo gallery show.  She knew the pain I had been in, what I had processed, and what the art on the walls meant. I had done everything but bleed for that artwork, and in order to escape that relationship. She hugged me that night and she was proud of me. It is just one of the bittersweet memories I am left with. We were going to work on a large environmental project together. It never happened. Now I’m going to hopefully carry on and create that project on my own.

Man I miss her. It is about a smile, a laugh, the way she said, “fuck it”, so many little things. The last time we spoke I told her I wanted to get together to photograph her for a portrait series I’m working on of inspirational women in my life. She has to be a part of it. I screwed up. I was overly busy working on too many things, as usual. And then I was hit by a drunk driver. It messed up everything – my mind, my body, my work. I was recovering, going to multiple appointments, dealing with memory loss from my concussion, and I let our get together fall by the wayside. I also never heard from Rhoda during that time. When I finally got things under control, months had passed. I felt like shit about it. I called and left a message for Rhoda, explaining and asking to see her. I never heard back. I thought perhaps she’d had another stroke and was unable to contact me. More time went by.
I kept telling myself that I should go to her house and check on her.

And then more time passed and I saw a post on Facebook that a memorial was planned for her. I screamed, I cried, I was angry. I read more online and found out she had been ill with pancreatic cancer for more than a year. She had done an installation which addressed her facing death. She had planned her post-mortem art installation. And she hadn’t told me one word about it. Yep, I was not told one word about what was going on with her. I also had allowed myself to separate from her and that was my fault. After spending some time working through all of my feelings I’ve come to realize that we are both to blame for the emotional mess I am now left with. Perhaps she didn’t want to burden me because I was living my happily ever after. She knew when she had her stroke I was there, 24/7 for her. If I knew about her illness I would want to be there for her. Maybe that was enough for her to keep things to herself. I will never know. If she thought she was doing me a favor, she was wrong. All I have of her are memories, a handful of photos, a feminist book from the 70s from her collection she gave me for my birthday, and regrets. And an empty space inside that eventually will heal with time.

I let her down, I let myself down. I feel like a disappointment to myself and I will always wonder if I was one to her. As much as I am learning to let go of what others expect of me, and the idea that I am disappointing others when I can’t live up to their expectations, it will take a while to work through this. I have to remind myself that she held me at arms-length from her while knowing she was dying. For whatever reason, she did. I have to love her, keep my memories of her close to my heart, and let her go. I am happy she was in my life at all. I know how fortunate I was to have crossed paths with her in the first place. As I always say, everything happens for a reason. Life goes on.

“Am I closer to death than you? Does it matter if I am?
We all tell ourselves that we could die tomorrow, but do we really believe it? Why do we have so much fear talking about death in very personal terms? Am I more willing to discuss death when it’s not my death?”  ~Rhoda London

A video documenting the creation of one of the pieces from Rhoda’s gallery show about death.


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