Body of work allows artist cope with grief of losing her son

Dearbhail Connon worked intermittently following her son’s death, writes Colette Sheridan.

Body of work allows artist cope with grief of losing her son

“I don’t want to sound too dramatic but I don’t think I’d be here if it wasn’t for the art work,” says Kinsale-based artist, Dearbhail Connon.

She lost her 14-year-old son, Leon, in a tragic accident in 2014 when his head got stuck in railings near his home and he died from a heart attack as a result of the freak accident.

Leon had been an only child. His mother had broken up with her son’s father before the accident.

Connon has an exhibition opening at St Luke’s Crypt in Cork which is a response to her grief.

As a way of trying to cope with her loss and as an artist, Connon began a body of work three weeks after Leon died and worked intermittently at it over the years.

This exhibition is like me entering the world again. I feel like I’ve been on a retreat for five years. I’d like the show to travel and I really want to open up a discussion around death.

The exhibition includes a sea of Prussian blue, representing transcendence and infinity. There are photographs of Leon taken during his lifetime which are woven into the exhibition.

They explore “how we use photographs after someone has passed as an attempt to re-experience that relationship, to try and find a continuing relationship through memories which are captured, but frustratingly, are in the past. Time becomes something we want to control, manipulate, or return to, and we find ourselves wanting.”

Connon, originally from Dublin, is also a qualified art therapist. Long before her son died, she had “always used creativity as a way to process and understand myself”.

The main lesson that Connon learned from art therapy is the potential for creativity to transform the self and to heal trauma.

She has practised as an art therapist, an area that is still only becoming established in Ireland.

Connon is trying to get a book she has written published. Its working title is The Space Between Us.

It is a companion to the exhibition.

It’s about what I call the continuity of consciousness. It might sound strange but it’s about how I continue to communicate with Leon since he passed. I feel his presence all the time.

Connon believes there is a reason for her son’s death.

“I believe in a thing called the soul plan and I believe that before we incarnate, we have an idea of what is going to happen in our lives.

"Sometimes, we experience that as déjà vu, a feeling of having been here before. I always had a knowing that something might happen.

"That’s quite common. I’ve spoken to people who’ve lost a child. Sometimes, they just had this sense it would happen.”

Dearbhail Connon.
Dearbhail Connon.

But such beliefs don’t make the loss of a loved one any easier. Connon says she was not only dealing with grief but also, with trauma.

“Certainly, for the first year, I was in shock. I think I had a gradual process of coming back to myself, releasing the grief, trauma, shock and sadness. The Buddhists talk about the ocean of tears between here and Nirvana.”

Connon felt she was “in a sea of emotion, trying to connect with my son”.

Asked if she experienced anger, Connon says she went through a phase “of being angry with the powers that be for letting this happen. The anger didn’t last that long but I have to own it. There’s an image in the exhibition called Beyond the Pain Barrier. I felt I was being pushed beyond what I could endure.”

Does she see her art continuing down the road to be influenced by the tragedy?

“The communication with Leon will always be there but it will evolve and change. That’s because of the power of healing. I didn’t get stuck.

I keep moving through it, just knowing that consciousness is eternal and that we’re both connected.

Business woman Norah Casey will launch Beyond Form at St Luke’s Crypt on July 12.

Workshops dealing with ideas around death will be given by Dearbhail Connon in the venue. Details: there is a Beyond Form Facebook page; email: dearbhailconnon@gmail.com

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