Tamara Grand is a painter, fibre artist and mother of three. When she’s not in the studio playing with colour and line, you’ll find her teaching fitness classes at her local community centre or hiking the sea and mountain trails near her home in Port Moody, British Columbia. You can also connect with Tamara on Instagram.
In 2015, I lost my 13-year-old daughter, Clara, to a combination of cancer and congenital heart disease.
In 2016, having never picked up a paint brush before, I began making art.
While it might be tempting to draw the conclusion that the first led to the second, that’s not quite true. I didn’t turn to art as a way of dealing with grief. I have never been one to ‘paint my feelings’. I didn’t make a conscious decision to create as an antidote to destruction. Or to use art to chronicle my grief journey.
I began painting simply because a friend asked me to accompany her on an adult watercolour class offered by our local art gallery at a point in my life when I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with.
Looking back on that time and what’s transpired since (more art courses, a home studio, an art website and the sale of paintings to others), I am starting to see the threads linking Clara’s death to the birth of myself as an artist. But they are subtle, and have as much to do with personal growth and the challenge of identity many women experience in midlife as with grief and loss.
After Clara died, I struggled with issues of identity. I wasn’t ready to fully return to work and the simultaneous loss of one child and emerging independence of her teenage brothers left me feeling isolated and without a sense of purpose to my days. If I was no longer a ‘mother of three’ or a busy fitness and health coach, who was I? Stepping back into my ‘regular’ life felt impossible. In part because being a good coach requires making an emotional investment in your clients (an investment I wasn’t capable of making at the time), but also because almost everyone who was a part of that life knew my story.
Trying something completely new was a way for me to distance myself from that life and away from the people who knew me as a woman who’d lost her daughter. In addition to allowing me time away from my grief, I was free to be ‘just Tamara’.
As my art developed, so did my confidence in showing it to others. I started an Instagram account to share my paintings and quickly found a whole new community of friends. The relationships I formed with both in-person and online artists were based on a shared love of painting, rather than feelings of sympathy or shared loss. It was liberating and helped me to move forward in my life.
Recently, as part of an exercise in an online membership group I belong to, I was challenged to create a list of five feelings I’d like my art to evoke in the viewer. My words were ‘spacious, infinite, untethered, alive and joyful’; the way I feel when looking out over the Pacific Ocean and from the viewpoints of coastal BC mountain hikes. Coincidentally, these are the places where I feel closest to Clara.
I also see that choosing to make art honours Clara’s memory. She was a wonderfully creative soul, filling notebooks with short stories, poems and drawings of animals and her favourite anime characters. Those notebooks, and her hand drawn birthday cards are some of my most treasured possessions.
Lately, I find her favourite colours creeping into my paintings; vibrant pinks and purples, vivid turquoise and sunshine yellow. And I’m playing with the idea of incorporating some of her writings and drawings in my work. A new way to include her in my adventures and carry her in my heart. Weaving the threads of the past with the future.