Facing death with Nick Cave

My beloved Rose and my siblings teamed up and bought me a ticket to see Nick Cave as an early birthday present. It was beautiful. The night before I woke at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Full of emotions I couldn’t put words to, I slipped out of bed around 5 and painted. When Poppy woke and cried out I went back to bed and nursed her back to sleep, then curled up under Rose’s arm weeping. “I’m so sad and I don’t know why”, I cried. “I’m full of sadness and grey rain.” 

I’ve been unable to bear death since my decent into anguish at the end of 2015. The consuming black void took over my life for several months, like I’d fallen off the face of the planet. It was a place without meaning or comfort, where everything I once beleived in dissolved. I finally escaped it, but I’ve been running ever since, vulnerable and frightened. Anything to do with death sets off that terror in me. I can feel the void hunting me. It runs and I run before it. 

Cave lost a son recently, to accidental death. It’s a devastating thing. It permeates this album with deep sorrow. I stood by the stage in the darkness while he sang Into My Arms, the song Rose and I sang each other to give us courage during the pregnancy with Poppy. I sobbed, mascara running down my cheeks. He made death bearable to look at again. 

I was reminded of a student in my art class telling me that about my work. “You make such gentle art about such dark things. You make them bearable to look at.” For the first time in over a year I could hold the idea of death in my mind and not start fraying. This is something art can do. 

I realised it was not and never has been death that frightens me, it’s the void; the emptiness of the morning after. The place without the one you lost. “I hear you’ve been looking for someone to love”, he sings. And I think that in all the billion people on this planet, how can I be so afraid of living without someone? Do I really believe that if I lose my beloved people, I won’t find anyone else to love and be loved by? So many of us are so lonely. No one is replaceable, but I don’t have to live forever in the empty spaces.

Story was one of the few things that helped when I was in the void, but it also lost meaning. All our stories, all my hopes and beliefs and values became ‘just stories’ we told in the dark to make it more bearable. Nothing I’d leaned on had substance any more. The story only soothed me in the telling, once the book was shut it had no power. Nhilism devoured me. I felt so alone. 

In song, Cave tells us his story. This is how he lives, how he survives. I can do that. The stories are like guides in the dark. We don’t have to travel alone. They don’t have to be true to be meaningful. (Good writers touch life often – Bradbury) It’s okay to need art to make it bearable to look, stories to follow like paths in the wild. To be a teller of stories is powerful. Many stories were told about me and they had a binding power. Learning to tell my own stories with honesty and self compassion has been liberating. Even in the sense of being trapped, lost, empty, and profound failure there is a story that can be told in a way that still dignifies this as part of life. Any Leonard Cohen fan can tell you that.  These things are simply part of the human experience at times. We’re all more lost and more failures than we want to be. 

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