After having a miscarriage in Detroit, Frida also understood life and death on a different level. Her experience of death diverged from mine in significant ways—she was physically and emotionally connected to her unborn child who never had the chance to experience life outside the womb, whereas I was physically separate from my father, who had lived a long life, as I helped him make this emotional journey from a physical being to a nonphysical entity. Yet, what I think ties all deaths together—albeit with varying degrees depending upon the specific circumstances—is the way in which a person’s death wakes you up to the circle of life, this interplay that always exists between these two seemingly distant realms.
As a friend said to me: “Birth is an intense process, so why would we expect death to be any different?” Of course, with birth, you end up with a child, someone you pour your energy into, and with death, you end up with nothing. How does human consciousness make sense of this profound change? Your loved one is with you one day and the next s/he is gone.
I’ve certainly been struggling with this new “knowledge” that my father’s physical being no longer exists. I understand what’s happened on a logical level, but it still doesn’t seem real. To provide an outlet for my myriad of emotions, I’ve been writing about my father, but Frida, the budding artist, transformed her ideas and feelings into an amazing work titled, Henry Ford Hospital.
In it, we see a naked swollen bellied Frida lying in a bloodied bed with a large teardrop on her left cheek. The steel framed bed and hard looking mattress placed within a barren landscape intensify Frida’s physical pain and emotional isolation. There is no one there to comfort her; she is merely surrounded by six objects, all tied to red strings. On the ground beneath her, we see the skeletal remains of a pelvis, probably a reference to both her injuries from the bus accident when she was eighteen and to an important part of the female body needed for the birthing process. Next to it, we see a purple orchid that Diego brought Frida in the hospital and on the end, an autoclave for sterilizing medical instruments.
Floating above Frida, we see a snail, symbolic of the slow nature of the miscarriage and at the opposite end, the side view drawing of a pelvis, including the spine, as if to show us her anatomy, connected once again to her previous pelvic injuries from the bus accident and the parts of her body implicated in the miscarriage. In between these two objects floats Frida’s unborn male child. A red string is attached to the child’s belly button, mimicking an umbilical chord; however, he floats in the air separate from Frida—the only connection between them comes in the form of the red string held in her hand. The lack of nourishment from Frida and the baby’s closed eyes reveal the child’s death.
Visually, Frida shows how her unborn child’s potential for life never manifested. Instead, he hangs in the blue sky above her hospital bed and Ford industries. Nature and industry continue on even if the child’s life does not. In this painting, Frida reminds us that within life, death is always present and within death, life is always present.
Another friend said to me as he was leaving my father’s memorial, “Life goes on.” “Yes,” I thought, “but it will never be exactly the same because I’m not the same person I was before my father died.” Frida’s painting poignantly portrays how life does not merely go on after enduring a miscarriage, a profound experience that has historically been minimized. When most people had no clue what a woman felt after losing her child in utero, Frida made it perfectly clear.
© Celia S. Stahr 2015