By Emalyn Remington
Without a doubt, Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting is Starry Night. It was Rob’s favorite for sure, and while I do really love it, I prefer Cafe Terrace at Night or Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette. The first time I experienced Starry Night it was a re-creation that Rob had made. It didn’t even occur to me that this wasn’t an original idea, it just looked like everything else my dad created with his hands: a masterpiece. For the whole of my childhood, I thought that my dad was an artist. I thought that he was the best painter who had ever lived and no harsh critique could have proved me wrong. I think it was because I loved it when he painted, how I loved seeing him create beautiful things, especially because real life was filled with so much chaos. When I was seven years old, my dad moved out of our apartment after a tumultuous marriage to my mother. They were young, Rob struggled with sobriety and fidelity and holding down a job. Of course, I didn’t see that side of him. I just saw the man who painted and danced around our living room and watched Studio Ghibli movies with me. The truth about one of the most recognized paintings in the world is that it captures the artist’s view of his room in the asylum of Saint- Paul-de-Mausole. The truth about my father is, while I loved him, I took care of him a great deal more than he took care of me.
Vincent Van Gogh took his own life on July 29, 1890. Van Gogh is said to have had manic depression, anxiety, and even bi-polar disorder along with a multitude of other severe mental and physical health complications. He died impoverished. He died in a body plagued with health problems that were further exacerbated by alcohol abuse. He died as he lived: a genius troubled and affected by the way he saw the world around him. My father was born in 1978. He suffered from anxiety, depression, and bi-polar disorder. He was a severe alcoholic. He died alone in a bleach scented hospital room in Florida. To me, my dad was a great artist and one of the smartest people I have ever known. But he was also one of the most damaged and selfish.
Throughout this process of creating Good Grief, I have shared wonderful memories of my father. Because that’s what you do when someone you love dies. You share the highlight reel instead of the whole game. We love looking at Van Gogh’s art but the reality behind these pieces is one that is heartbreaking and riddled with alcoholism and mental illness. In reality, my father was a man who moved to Texas when I was twelve and saw me three times after that. He was a man who would call me late at night when he had been drinking and talk to me like I was his therapist instead of his daughter. My father was a man who I constantly had to check on whether that be on his sobriety, his health, his living situation. But mostly, my father was human. I’ve discovered a great deal about my dad and myself while working on this blog. When I first began this apprenticeship, I was already taking sixteen credits and had a work-study job. I was trying so hard NOT to grieve. To move on. To not experience these feelings of intense pain and anger and loss. Twenty credits, a work-study position, a nannying gig, and some therapy later I am able to admit that you cannot avoid sorrow. It is inevitable. But I have also discovered that pain doesn’t have to be debilitating. Sometimes we can discover so much about ourselves and those around us just by allowing ourselves to feel and experience emotions in a healthy way. I’m so thankful that I have had this platform for the past several weeks. I would encourage anyone who is experiencing grief in a time when the whole world is grieving to be gentle with themselves. Creative expression can do so much for you if you allow it to. If you have been reading this blog since the beginning of my journey I thank you. Rob, I know that somehow somewhere you’re reading this. I hope that I can continue to make you proud, daddy. Love, Sweetpea.