Today marks 30 years since my dad passed away. He died whe I was 3 years old and he was just 27.
My dad was on his way from LA to Canada with his brother when he had a massive heart attack and died on that plane somewhere over California – over 5,000 miles from his family in Fiji.
1982 was a tragic year for my family – my dads brothers son died weeks before him, as well as my bubu (maternal grandmother).
1982 was also a year of celebration of life, with the birth of my cousins (two of them), a nephew and my sister who was born 7 months after our fathers death.
We rarely talked about him when I was growing up, I guess our grief cut deep.
For years I use to get emotional and upset when someone asked me about him.
It wasn’t until 2006 when I went to an exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery and saw Writing the Unspoken by Lee Mingwei that I was able to acknowledge my grief fully and begin to emotionally heal.
Writing the unspoken 1999 | Lee Mingwei| Installation comprising wood, steel, light fittings, glass, writing paper & implements, envelopes, cushion | Dimensions variable, components: 3 structures: 290 x 170 x 231cm (each) | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
The artist says: ‘How often, when we encounter another person, do we leave things unsaid, often the most important things, the things we will carry inside for years afterward, things which are insistent and haunting, yet which remain unexpressed until the ears they seek are beyond reach?… My goal is to give visitors a deep and unexpected experience of certain inner experiences which they share with others, of feelings which are deeply and commonly human. The outer form of those experiences is only a device, albeit a beautiful one, for making this possible. It requires no faith, only the willingness to read, to write, to participate in an unnamed ritual of release.’
Writing the Unspoken provided space and opportunity for participants to express these verbal ghosts. The three booths invited visitors to reflect and write on three different things — gratitude, insight, and forgiveness.
The first asked the visitor to write about something for which s/he feels grateful. The second asked the visitor to write about something which has led to an important insight. The third asked the writer to ask forgiveness from someone the writer has injured, or to offer forgiveness to someone who hurt the writer and still feels guilty about this.
For years I was angry with him for leaving us, for dying.
I sat in this booth that day and wrote a letter to my dad. My letter was later burned with other unaddressed envelopes in a special ritual by the artist.
I have no memory of what I wrote but I do remember the tears that flowed, I remember the release of my grief and the healing that began.
Lawrence James Stewart (1955- 1982), I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) ~ e. e. cummings