Wednesday, February 23, 2011

work in progress

I was 18, almost 19, when Jaime died. A few weeks after the horrible news, the emotionally draining progression of events, the return home of my exhausted mother from the front lines of tragedy, the rocking of my little teen-aged world, I had to return to Berry College for my sophomore year. I didn't quiet know how to handle the kind of grief I was feeling. I had experienced death before, the loss of a grandfather and of a young friend to cancer, but I had been much younger and somehow their deaths, while profound and terribly sad, had seemed farther removed from me. I wrote bad poetry, I slept a lot, I cried even more. I had dreams about Jaime almost every night where he would come and tell me that it had all been a mistake and we would laugh about how dramatic everyone was together. And then I would wake up and start all over again. I went through what I see now as a pretty normal progression of grief: the anger and denial, the wistful nostalgia, the draining sadness and exhaustion. What helped me finally move forward toward acceptance was the very thing that had brought me to Jaime in the first place: dance. That March I was given my first opportunity to choreograph for Berry's annual dance concert. I couldn't imagine doing a piece that was about anything other than my feelings about Jaime's death. I threw myself head and heart first into my choreography, moved by the lyrics of the song I chose and relieved to finally have an outlet for the torrent of feelings I had been unable to articulate. I chose a dear friend to represent Jaime and three strong and beautiful women to portray the stages of my grieving process. I tearfully explained the story to them and they responded by working diligently to make the piece come to life. I cried every night watching from the wings, holding a picture of Jaime clutched to my heart.

This year I was struck by the desire to bring the piece back to the stage. Seven years have passed and I knew that I had enough time and space from the events to be able to focus more on the dancing itself. I also had students that I trusted to take the dance and do with it what my friends had done years before. I felt that there was potential in the work and I also felt that I needed to "finish" it.

Explaining the story behind the dance to my students was very different from telling it to my friends the first time. I didn't cry this time, although I did find it difficult to look at their sweet, shocked, innocent faces as I told them the hardest parts. But I also told them what Jaime had meant to me, how fun and funny he was, what a talented and inspiring man he had been not only to me but to an entire community. While the dance was about the hardest part of my relationship with Jaime - the end of it - it was also about all that had come before. And in the end, it was about moving on from grief. I don't think I realized that the first time as I sat with a mascara-stained face in the wings of the Rome City Auditorium. Only seven months removed from the loss of one of my dearest friends, I felt that the intensity of my grief would be a permanent fixture in my life. The dance was a small outlet for that intensity, a release. But this time, as much as re-staging the dance was cathartic for me, it was also a gift to Jaime's memory, an homage to the joy we had shared in dancing together. And while I don't know that I will re-stage this dance again, I have learned that my grief is as much a work in progress as this dance was. I know I will probably cry watching my students perform this weekend, and part of that will be out of sadness for what I have lost. But another part with be pride; pride for making beauty out of sadness, hope from hopelessness, and finding creation even in loss.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully heartfelt. We will never forget that day.

margsellers said...

That's really great, Greer. I'm sure they will be beautiful this weekend.

Red said...

I distinctly remember the six hour car ride back to Augusta right after I heard the news. I went to the first place we always went with something big (good or bad): the Smith living room. God Bless those roomy couches.

"Always believe there is a wonder to this world and a magic that makes it worth living in"-JB.