grief is messy & highly caloric.

I lost my Dad in the early morning hours of August 30th.  He was a generous, loving, humorous and complex man.  He also was in a great deal of pain. Thankfully he no longer is.  But, damnit, he isn’t here anymore either.  Now, I’m in pain and I would like to talk with him about what bullshit it is to lose someone I love.  He knew this pain, he lost his baby brother, my Uncle Tom, almost exactly one year ago.  

I flew home to South Dakota from Vermont the morning Dad died.  I wept through both airports—Burlington, Vermont and Chicago’s O’Hare. I had a light blanket wrapped around my shoulders that dried my tears as needed.  I walked to my gate in Chicago, blanket draped and carrying a garment bag.  I caught the eye of a few people who offered nods of acknowledgement and held my gaze, maybe understanding that grief is messy.

Oddly, I kept hoping I could tell someone, anyone that I just lost my Dad.  I now understand what to do if I see someone else in the shape I was in.  To hell with privacy.  I will offer a hug.  Or I will buy them a coffee.  Or I will ask them why they are crying and listen, even if I only have a minute before my flight.

I arrived mid-afternoon.  Flowers, casseroles, baked goods, fruit baskets, cheese and meat trays had already begun arriving at the house.  The doorbell was ringing.  The landline was ringing.  Our cell phones were ringing and pinging.  Hugs and tears filled Mom’s back entryway and helped eased the weight of it all.

I knew the process of the “business” of death wasn’t going to be easy.  However, writing the obituary, picking out Dad’s casket and clothes, making phone calls and so on—these things kept us busy.  Busy is needed those first few days.  Making arrangements gave us something to focus on with a deadline, providing a little scaffolding to a messy emotional process.

There were times before the prayer service and funeral, I wanted the whole world to just leave me alone in my sorrow, because I just lost my Dad.

Thankfully the world didn’t.

I’m now keenly aware of how I didn’t give nearly enough attention to the loss of other people’s parents.  I’m sorry if I seemed cavalier.  I just didn’t know how much even a small gesture could mean.  I always thought of grief as a private process.  I understand better now what’s necessary to get through it all.

I’m so sorry for your loss, no matter how many years it’s been for you.

The outpouring of love, time and culinary talents from the good folks in Burke, South Dakota made it the whole process a lot more bearable.  No one would’ve loved having all of those goodies around more than John.  Right, Dad?  Although I think he would’ve hidden the bag of Dorothy’s famous peanut butter cookies in the freezer and pretended they were already gone.

I’m grateful to you all.  Thank you so much.

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PLEASE NOTE:  Is there a metabolic trick that helps burn the calories (mostly from homemade baked goods) that are delivered to the family during a time of loss?

grief + baked goods + casseroles + visiting + crying + fatigue = COMFORT

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John Lowell Lillibridge lived 79 years, 3 months & 21 days.

Rest, in peace, Big Guy.

You will be greatly missed.

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when wanderlust whispers…

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The prairie has a lot to say.

The photograph of HWY 18, a South Dakota two-lane hasn’t let me go yet.  My apologies if you’ve had enough.  Actually, not really.  I write and create art for me and my hope is that something I write maybe resonates for you too.  If not, well, that’s OK.

I created this series while thinking that the imagery of the road is both going AWAY from somewhere and TOWARD someplace else.  For the early part of my life the road represented away from someplace and now it’s shifting.  This image is my childhood home in Burke, South Dakota.

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When I started working on these images I was trying to tell a lot of different stories.  Why kids leave small towns.  Why they should go back (I’ll still write about that).  Why I left South Dakota.  Why, at fifty-years-old, I would now consider going back to South Dakota.  How small towns or wherever our upbringing was shaped us as adults.  I’ve created so many images all telling different stories.  I had to narrow my message.  So, I decided to get more personal and less about rural development.

I’ve lived in Vermont since New Year’s Day 1990. I moved to Burlington with a friend, Melissa from my Sioux Falls College days.  Three weeks later I met my husband, Jeff.  Now, almost twenty-seven years later I’m deeply rooted here in New England.  I never expected to be here this long.  If had put a limit on my time in Vermont, well, it wouldn’t have worked.  I was in love and adaptable.  Isn’t life wonderfully unpredictable?

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I understand the rhythms of the sea, and yet…South Dakota just won’t let me go.  The ocean and its vastness gently reminds me of the expanse of the prairie.

I’m longing for spaciousness, freedom and simplicity.  I crave all of this more now in middle age.  As the poet e. e. cummings wrote, “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.  I had to allow myself to get quiet enough to listen to my inner voice.  As a younger partner, mother and artist, I wasn’t such a good listener.  I’m grateful the prairie won’t let me go now, she clearly has a lot to say lately and I’m listening.

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vermont-lillibridgeThis image is the backyard of my home in Burlington, Vermont.  We’ve lived in this house since August 1991.  It holds many memories and has been through numerous renovations.  I love the house, but I’m restless.  I desire some change.
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This piece is layered with one of my paintings. My need for change isn’t always easy on my family.  I’m trying to be more understanding about how they feel.  They are trying to do the same.  Inevitably though, things will change and we will all adapt just fine.  I know that my work is to keep listening and trying to understand what messages I’m receiving.

Herrick, South Dakota

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The week before Thanksgiving I was in South Dakota visiting my family.  I had an afternoon to drive around and shoot some photos.  I headed to Herrick, just east of Burke, listening to korn country 92.1. I love Keith Urban’s song; Blue Ain’t Your Color.  If you don’t know this song, it’s a damn shame.  Here’s the video.

I spent a lot of time in Herrick growing up.  I “worked bees” two summers. That was highly educational, messy and sometimes painful work.  I got stung 17 times one day (my forearms looked like Popeye’s). I played softball in the field behind the truck.  I think I might’ve even knocked back a few beers at parties in the outfield on occasion. I had a friend who lived on a farm in Herrick and since I was a “city kid” riding the bus to Anita’s farm was a grand adventure.  We could drive at fourteen.  We didn’t have to ride the bus too long.  So, I had a blast driving around Herrick in beautiful, autumn, late afternoon light and thinking about my Herrick Days.

Next time, perhaps a whole series of photos devoted to Bernie’s Inn, the historic watering hole in Herrick.  Would that be a possibility?  Let me know.

prairie stories.

My family and I are heading to Burke, South Dakota to see my clan this week for our April break.  My days will be filled with my family, the Ponca Creek Bull Sale, hopefully a new baby, old friends and some meandering drives on the prairie roads I adore.

My camera is being cleaned so this trip will be all heart and memory.  It feels a little weird to me but there’s nothing I can do.  I will have my phone however.  I may need to borrow a camera at the bull sale and if my niece’s baby does arrive while we are home. I’m really trying to be “in the moment” and not as concerned with getting the shot.  It’s a tough habit to break though.

Here are a couple of old photos I layered this morning while my daughter Lucy was packing.

The first image is main street in Burke layered with a prairie sunrise image from my parent’s back porch.  Having coffee on the porch with my Mom is always one of my favorite parts of my time at home.

The second image is a country road layered with a sign I saw in the Las Vegas airport years ago.  I’m not sure what “burke in the box” is, but I thought it was interesting.

I hope you find yourself “at home” within yourself whatever your life demands of you this week.

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give us land, lots of land

When Elizabeth Bunsen and I were hanging her latest work we wondered what it would be like to project different images onto her eco-dyed scarves.  I couldn’t wait to work on this idea and began making collages with her textiles and my photographs in Adobe Illustrator.

Our “prairie stories” collaboration is starting to take shape as Elizabeth and I continue to discuss memories, identity and the geography that has most shaped who we are as adults.  It’s no wonder we have a short hand about our childhoods.  Elizabeth grew up in Lodgepole, Nebraska (population 319 as of 2013) and I grew up in Burke, South Dakota (population 601 as of 2013). Also both of our grandfathers were bankers.  We both have twenty year old sons. And our art and process can provide deep sorry and remarkable joy at the same time.

We’re artists and our storytelling is in the visual realm.  Our conversations have been wonderfully insightful, however, if we were only sharing our ideas in a written form, I believe it would feel like we’re only telling you half of the story…or perhaps even less than half.

To me these layered memories feel like I’m looking through the curtains of one of the many farmhouses of relatives and friends I visited as a kid.  These memories are readily accessible but also a little hazy like the yellow tint of an old faded Polaroid photo.

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The words will come as our ideas evolve, right now the images are coming first.  We’d love to hear your ideas about how the interior geography of your youth has shaped who you are today, your choices and what direction you would like move into.

Elizabeth and I are gaining some understanding of how big of a role it’s played in our own identities…give us land lots of land.

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