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.

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4 responses to “Unwilling grief

  1. I always think of grief as a private thing, and never allow it out in public. But here in your words I see how grief could be when shared not only with people, but in art. Thank you for the bravery of sharing your grief in this forum.

    • Thank you, Lisa. There are a lot of things I process better by talking or sharing, and certain (but not all) experiences of grief seem to be one of them.

  2. I know grief, and this one is different, but just as much grief, nonetheless. In a community of artists, grief takes on many dimensions – the loss of ongoing, new work from the artist, the vibrancy of their art in comparison to their struggle with very real circumstances, including illness, their absence amid said community. I remember feeling some of this when Bebe Moore Campbell (NPR Contributor and author of “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine”, “72 Hour Hold”, “Brothers and Sisters”) made her unexpected transition from this physical place. I always want to know more about her, as a person, her vulnerabilities and humanity as writer, mother, wife, and activist – and her management of all of that – but will have to be comforted by only what evidence she’s left of her being here. I even read her work differently – more introspectively, I mean.

    I instantly wanted to learn more about Kato Jaworski – her art, her contributions to the world, her family – when I saw this post. I clicked on the link you provided for her obituary, but for some reason I don’t think that is the same person. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Thank you for your courageous sharing as you process your own grief.

    • Thank you, dear Empress. This reply is so late, but you have to scroll down on the obituary I linked — she’s the third or fourth one down. ❤

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