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  • Writer's picturekarinthomson2020

What just happened...?

The draft script I had written for myself in 2022 had a major rewrite in May when two people close to me died. All plans took a back seat while the whole process of death and its immediate aftermath consumed most of May and June. The grief is complicated by the fact that both of these people died too young. Both died from cancer. As that economic phrase asserts, they went 'before their time'; as if we have a time allowed, an expected duration for a normal existence. One of the wonderful things about Powell and Pressburger's 'A Matter of Life and Death' is that someone with only a short life-span appeals against his time allowed and is given a generous extension. I read out sections from the film script at my ex-husband's funeral. It was his favourite film - it was the only thing that seemed right for me to say. Our daughter wanted the song The Bear Necessities from 'The Jungle Book' played. Film provides us with a profound connection, tied to memory, tying us to each other. They are great moments of time and emotion shared and held, sometimes for a lifetime.

In April, I saw a picture on Instagram of a graveyard sculpture at the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa. It was used as an illustration for a quote with no detail of what it was. I was so deeply struck and moved by the work that I did some research on it and the sculptor, Domenico Razeti (about whom there is very little information online). I shared and discussed it with friends. Had I the money, I'd have been compelled to fly out there to see it. When I look back on that random fixation now it feels like a premonition. I don't believe in such things. I love graveyard sculptures, but to be so fascinated by this particular figure at this time is one of life's odd coincidences. The sculpture is of a grieving woman; not an angel, a cross, a representation or symbol of a loved one.

The stunning thing about Staglieno are the sculptures of the living, grieving for the dead; they too at that moment of death have stopped in time, have turned to stone, and their grief will always live there. Something strange happens to time when you experience the death of others, you live in a separate zone for a while, life goes into a strange state of limbo. The sculptures at Staglieno speak of that to me - of people captured in that limbo, in a state of paralysis while nature and the world moves on.

Several years ago I saw the poet James Fenton at Cheltenham Literary Festival, and through that experience came across this poem, 'For Andrew Wood'. In the past, I have shared it with people I know who have lost those they love. I read it last night for myself and it prompted this blog post:

I think the dead would want us

To weep for what they have lost.

I think that our luck in continuing

Is what would affect them most.

But time would find them generous

And less self-engrossed.

And time would find them generous

As they used to be

And what else would they want from us

But an honored place in our memory,

A favorite room, a hallowed chair,

Privilege and celebrity?

And so the dead might cease to grieve

And we might make amends...

Generosity, forgiveness, and honour - Fenton turns the process of grief on its head and gives it to the dead so we can see more clearly our own need for peace and resolution.

Excuse this personal indulgence in explaining my lack of activity on the film front and how art has connected very strongly with my experience of grief. The importance of the arts in our world impresses itself most strongly in difficult times. If we have a communal soul, a shared connection, it is art which shows us that, whether it is film, theatre, fine art, music, poetry. We see others and the world together with the wonder it deserves. It saddens and angers me deeply that arts courses are being cut in UK universities. Without art, we become emotionally and spiritually isolated. Without art, the rest is pointless.

New moments shared with others, making new memories and new connections, have seen me through the last few months and through difficult times in the past. Although I have experienced great sadness, I have also found joy and am totally blessed in those friends who keep me connected to art, beauty, nature and laughter. Life does go on, doesn't it, with its wonders and its trials. I hope as this year goes on I can share some positive creativity with you - the ending of old projects and the beginning of new ones.

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Alyson Slattery
Alyson Slattery
Aug 18, 2022

Sending oceans of love to you. I couldn't agree with you more about the vital importance of the arts , not just in helping us survive the trials of life but as an essential part of our humanity. And I can't help be reminded of how many of my happiest memories of our friendship have centred around the cinema, the art gallery, the theatre and live music.

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