Grief can affect us in so many ways. It’s not as black and white as once the funeral is over, the grieving stops – in fact many years on we can feel that devastation as fresh as the day it happened.
For some, grieving is an everyday struggle, and for others, it cannot be described. But there’s one sculpture that has had many agreeing it embodies the true emotion and weight of grief – “the Weight of Grief”.
This stunning sculpture depicts the feeling of being brought to our knees with devastation that many can connect with, or remember, in relation to grief:
Peoples’ perceptions come from many angles, one man said all of his rocks would still have jagged edges, depicting the painful rawness of more recent grief, rather than the heavy but worn-smooth edges of carrying a grief for many years.
The piece by American sculptor and artist, Celeste Roberge, is actually named The Rising Cairn and is currently housed at the Runnymede Sculpture Farm in California.
When artist Celeste Roberge discussed the inspirations for the piece, she didn’t directly mention grief at all. Instead she says the inspirations for the piece were from three directions at once. She was inspired when she saw cairns depicting human figures made by the Inuit people. She felt the urge to put herself into the piece by creating a self portrait of sorts. She wanted to depict the weight of consciousness and use weather worn pink granite rocks that people might imagine picking up and placing themselves to give them connection to the piece, human consciousness and the landscape.
She says the more she thought about the piece the more she knew she had to personally find each rock and carry it.
In a way that describes the journey of grief perfectly. We have to find those parts that are jagged and raw and smooth them into parts of us that yes, are still heavy to bear, but with which we can still rise from our knees and carry within us.
Roberge tells that the pink granite stones weigh over 1800 kilograms and represent our insides having to balance within the welded galvanised steel exterior. Many who travel the path of grief would understand this oftentimes difficult balancing act between what can be seen on the outside, and the weight of what is really happening on the inside.
Grief expert Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross rightly asserted in her final book On Grief and Grieving, the bookend to her pioneering book On Death and Dying, that many misunderstood her original writings on the emotions and processes of grief. In the first book she was writing about the stages a person who finds out they are dying goes through.
In her last book, finished just before she herself passed away, Kubler-Ross and co-author David Kessler discuss the emotions and journey of one grieving for the loss of another, a grief in some cases that one can carry for the rest of their own life. The stages and emotions of denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness, and acceptance can come and go and just as savagely come again, as we learn to rise and walk with the reality that is now ours to carry.
In another of her books, Death is of Vital Importance, Kubler-Ross discusses how our brains process information and stimuli, creating our reactions and responses. She suggests that ignoring or holding on to the emotions of denial, bargaining, anger and sadness or depression are as unhealthy as each other. She suggests instead that we become conscious of the arising of each emotion and give it the time and attention that it needs to reconcile it into our being.
She suggests thinking of these emotions as someone knocking on your door, coming to tell you something. She says not to set a place at your table for them as if they are going to stay, because this can lead to people becoming permanently overwhelmed, bitter and twisted, or stuck in a victim mentality.
She says to listen to what it is they are trying to tell you. It might be a response to an expectation that can now never be a part of our reality. At some point we have to accept that none of us are actually the CEO of the Universe, and no matter how much we think things should be one way or another, or how hard it is for us to let go of how things ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be, we have to reconcile ourselves with what really is.
The distance between our expectation and our reality are experienced as disappointments (hurts) and surprises (joys). In griefs large and small, the journey of reconciliation applies to ever expectation we’ve ever held that can no longer be ours, or another’s, reality.
In the early days, weeks, months and even years of grief these ‘knocks at the door’ can be emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting and debilitating.
In this way Roberge’s sculpture being both a self portrait and a connection to consciousness and our environment becomes stunningly profound.
Roberge created another sculpture in the series called the Walking Cairn –
It might be that this one depicts the times of acceptance, walking upright with our reality. Acceptance is no more a permanent state than the states of denial, bargaining, anger or sadness, it’s a part of the journey, not a destination.
A cairn in the traditional sense is a stone built memorial, be it to a person or an event. The stones mark the spot and can be added to by visitors to the site. The mere sense of placing a stone is engaging with the memory, and possibly letting go of some of the weight of it. The Rising Cairn and the Standing Cairn lay bare that we hold many of those memories inside and carry them around with us.