By Jane Edberg copyright 2018
“I did not expect myself to bury my face into the ashes of my dead son, but I did. I needed to know he was not there. I needed to see if I could feel him in those grains, if they had energy, meaning, but they were silent, as grief is silent, relentlessly so."
- excerpt from “The Fine Art of Grieving”, a memoir in progress by Jane Edberg
The Fine Art of Grieving is a synthesis of photography and prose related to the tragic loss of my son Nanda, who died at the age of nineteen in 1998.
My illustrated memoir vividly describes how my creative process emerged and reveals how I connected to my grief.
I leaned in, excavated, and played with the details. I imagined, and created, compelled to explore and process my grief with a wild mind, like an animal mother who smells, tastes, touches, and repositions her lifeless offspring.
The train tracks where my son died, his ashes, his belongings, our photographs, my hair, tears, flowers, the places we shared, all became my art materials.
My camera served as a tool for documentation, and self-observation.
I used creativity to connect to and express my grief, to find meaning in loss, and make art as a reminder.
Over a period of nineteen years I started writing about my loss, but mostly, I did what I do best: be the photographer, set up the camera and start the process of self-observation. Since I had been writing to survey my new life for insights, it seemed natural to illustrate with photographs what words could not say and vice versa.
In the garden where the fava beans had dried and hardened to yellow stalks I sat before the camera shrouded in Nanda's red blanket.
I was as hollow as those stalks.
Brittle and spent.
There, I caught the grief in all its agony.
Alive bent against the dead.
In one of my images, the wind lifted Nanda’s blanket into the shape of my son’s body. His red blanket was the catalyst, vehicle, and anchor that allowed me to stay connected to conscious grieving.
I did not have boundaries to my expression when I found myself head high in mustard flowers trying to rediscover the boy who loved to wander those fields in spring.
I let myself float down the rivers he swam in and I pressed myself into his belongings.
I knew that if I headed face on into what I feared most, that he was really gone, I might be able to create a new relationship with him based on the fine art of grieving.
It is my hope that the book that emerges from my own process will help others with their loss.
“The Fine Art of Grieving” is not a ‘how to survive loss’ book, it is an excavation of the meaning that I gleaned from the darkness of deep loss; a mindful process that brought to me the light of understanding, and spiritual awareness.
My book faces death directly, it’s a not-so-pretty look at bereavement.
It breaks the model and stretches (challenges) the boundaries of traditional expectations about the grief process.
My creative process has informed me about death, loss, and put me in touch with my new relationship to Nanda, to who I was, who we were, and who I am now.
Born in Egham, England (in 1956) photographic artist Jane Edberg is recently retired Professor of Art and Digital Media at Gavilan College in Gilroy, California. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance Art, Photography and Painting in 1987, and her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography and Performance Art in 1989 from the University of California at Davis. She spent her early years in Canada, has lived in England and Italy, but spent most of her life in the United States. Jane currently lives on the California coast of Monterey Bay.
Jane has been fascinated with photography since she was five years old. Her grandmother gave her a Kodak Instamatic when she was eight, and her father gave her his two and a quarter medium format camera when she was fourteen. Jane has been setting herself as subject before her camera since those early times.
She now uses both analog and digital cameras to produce artworks combining images with text. Jane’s main media is photography combined with writing, but she often incorporates painting, sculpting and mixed media into her artwork. Jane has also produced videos, films, composed music, choreographed dance performances, danced and directed major art performance venues. She’s shown in galleries worldwide for over thirty years.
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