Right on the heels of my grandmother passing away, I attended a 1-week intensive graphic novel workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies.
The timing could not have been more surreal. On the one hand, I am thankful that I had the time away to isolate myself and process my grief, particularly through art and with the guidance of new mentors. On the other hand, I felt so much guilt going off and doing this when my family was in such pain. I wanted so badly to back out and instead use the time to go down and help my family take care of everything we needed to.
In the end, my dad flew down to help my mom and aunt pack up my grandmother's belongings in Florida, sort things by grandchild, and drive the long trek back up to New York in a truck. There was so much heartbreak watching photos stream into text threads of items I associate so clearly with some of the happiest memories of my life, removed from their natural habitat and put forth into the void of "does anyone want this?" I found myself saying I wanted everything that no one else wanted, occasionally having to set boundaries for myself, acknowledging that I have a very small apartment. I wanted to be there, on the ground, to walk through the halls of my grandparents' house one last time before it was disassembled, and now I don't know that I'll ever get the chance. The house is now up for sale.
If I was in a different stage of my life, I might consider buying the house myself. The idea of a stranger entering and living in a house that was so specifically built and occupied by my loved ones seems wrong. But to what lengths can one go to protect themselves from having to let go? How would I feel, living in a home that would only ever be bittersweet, tainted with loss and grief and wistful memories? Not to mention, I have a home and a partner and a job in Boston. I can't uproot everything just to cling to what used to be, sacrificing what is still here.
As with my grandfather, Grandma Rose did not want a funeral. I understand the reasoning, that they had attended so many for their friends and family and the idea of subjecting those that had outlived them to planning something during their grief felt unnecessary. I understand, but I also lament the opportunity to say goodbye and receive closure. We will still have the chance to pay our respects at their grave site at our convenience. I am just sad that I cannot have that clear reason to gather with my family now.
The silver lining is that the workshop ended up giving me all the tools I need to work on my graphic novel. I now feel like I understand where the book is going, and I have had the time and space to process my feelings about my grandparents and the impact they had on my life. I've been working nonstop ever since I returned, and I only hope that I am able to keep up with it in the coming months and years so that I can actually set this story onto paper. I hope to share regular updates on that as I have them.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.