Unwilling grief

Yesterday the Richmond Art Center had an event to celebrate the life of Kato Jaworski, their education director, who passed in December from ovarian cancer. There is an interesting obituary online, and a gorgeous slideshow, and I’ve also mentioned Kato multiple times on this blog.

Celebration in Honor of the Life of Kato Jaworski, 1957-2014, at the Richmond Art Center

I wrote last month about how much I already miss Kato; the feeling seems to be universal to everyone who knew her. The memorial was filled with activities she loved: taiko drumming, tai chi, life drawing, unconventional art materials, with more music and food and poetry.

Sketch of Tatsumaki Taiko, by Lisa Hsia

It felt very strange to arrive at the center and know that Kato was not there to greet me. I could usually count on her to pop up at some point during my visits, with her characteristic smile and genuine warmth. In retrospect it was very thoughtful that there was a young woman at the door handing out programs (with Kato’s self-portrait); in that way Kato was still, as usual, one of the first faces I saw upon entering the building. But at the time I mostly felt lost. I went to the painting studio, as usual, and Suzanne came to me with a sad face, and set up a drawing horse for me. Signe was on the platform. There were speakers set up around the center, broadcasting the remarks made in the main gallery; although I had arrived late I was just in time to hear Kato’s partner’s eulogy. I felt as if I had to draw to keep all the wrongness at bay. Maybe the others felt the same way. I was not the only one crying as I sketched (or posed, in Signe’s case).

Sketch of Signe seated, by Lisa Hsia

Sketch of Signe with braids, by Lisa Hsia

Sketch of Signe at Kato's memorial service, by Lisa Hsia

I’ve written before about the cleanness of mourning someone whose time it was, but this was my first experience of grieving in community for someone whose time it shouldn’t yet have been. It felt entirely different. There is a jagged edge to my sadness that I’m almost afraid to touch. I didn’t hug anyone yesterday, I almost didn’t draw for the guestbook. I felt distant from everyone and everything. The point is, I guess, that I didn’t want to be there because I didn’t want the reason for the event to have existed in the first place. And I think I also didn’t want to let go and just cry and cry and cry, because of all the people there, I knew Kato so little, and if they were holding themselves together I thought I should do the same. Maybe it is always true that when death is unexpected, grief becomes more private? I don’t know. It was a lovely event and yet it all felt hollow because Kato wasn’t there and will never be there anymore, and there really isn’t any consolation for that.