Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Art of Loss

It was November of 2012 when last I visited the home of Barb and Ray Flunker. I recall thinking how nice it was to be invited to someone’s home for the express purpose of art and conversation. I had visited with Barb at the “Carts & Cocktails” fundraiser event at Laumeier Sculpture Park just a few days prior. She was the official docent outside Jackie Ferrara’s site specific sculpture that night. She is a wonderful guide and loves to engage people in dialogue.

But this time, I am among the friends and family coming to the Flunker’s house to pay respects and celebrate their son Joe who died in a house fire. Barb and Ray are surely dealing with unimaginable grief. No-one should have to lose a son or daughter. It isn’t supposed to happen that way. Yet both Barb and Ray heroically demonstrate strength and gratitude for the time they had with their son Joe. Their son was taken
and likely passed peacefully. His two dogs managed to get out of the house. These dogs (one of which is a beagle sleeping on the kitchen floor) are now in Barb and Ray’s home.

Through the docent program at Laumeier, I have come to appreciate the Flunkers as patrons of the arts, maybe a little philosophic and genuinely nice people. Barb shares the wonder of a near perfect “last visit” with her son. She says this while admitting she is avoiding eye-contact with so much empathy. It is with a mixture of joy and sadness that she recognizes those moments in hindsight. Ray says the emotions come and go. “It’s the little things that trigger it,”  he says. He knows that the (seemingly trite) advice we often hear “to cherish those little things in life before it is too late” is too painfully true. Barb is happy to have guests arrive but matter-of-factly notes, “All these wonderful people are here because Joe is no longer with us.” Barb is a rock as a receiving line forms. She is gracious and proudly wears glassworks on a necklace, of which were recovered from the rubble of Joe’s charred house.

It is times like these in which we look for meaning. Symbolism abounds. A practice portrait, a study for a painting that was lost in the fire is on display by the circle drive. Barb’s painting is an expression of Joe and his dogs jogging into the horizon. The composition was collecting light rain as if tears. As friends and family queued up and filled the foyer and front hallway the sun began to shine. The rain returned later in the day, as that joy and sadness would surely do.

Until we die, we cannot know that death is not the greatest joy.      

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