Alexander Sylvester

Introspective Musings

On Grief

June 28, 2020

Our experiences, stories and introspective journey's are most powerful when shared and discussed. It is here that I want to share an intimate, personal experience with others instead of clawing through the noise of social media feeds. Couple with the visual art I've produced over the years, Introspective Musings is the bridge between audience and artist; a written account of how these visions come to be.

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On Grief

Terminal, ink on paper, 2020. Dedicated to Joakím, our recently passed albino bristlenose plecostoumus

How do I find the words, the strength, or the volition to trudge through the mire? For I know that the only way out is through, but I am paralyzed. 

How do I bring myself to lift my head from the muck where I’ve fixed my gaze? There’s a comfort in feeling as low as the ground beneath my feet. 

How do I navigate through the trenches without a map? It seems as if I am lost.  

How do I know when it’s over? The process feels timeless, as if bending between past, present and future. 


To grieve is to experience contrast, the ugliness that sloughs its way off of life's effervescent beauty. We navigate the pain of loss with a roadmap broken up like a jigsaw; the scattered pieces of our whole self and who we can hope to one day return to with open arms. But that puzzle is elusive, unlikely to ever be finished. Morphing and shifting with each new experience.

So come what may, allow the pieces to fall in place as they will. It’s a worthy fight, but not one you can force your way through. Progress is non-linear and has no deadlines. It requires effort without strain, patience without submission. 

If our perception of linear time is a fabrication due to the limits of our conscious minds, then grief may be a window into the trascendental. I wonder if maybe the sense of dread we experience through nightmares is a gentle nudge from times gone and soon to be; a warning and reminder to prepare, fortify and shape ourselves for the inevitable loss or pain we cannot escape. For if we are to embrace what is to be human, we must accept what is most painful alongside what is most comforting. We must not fear grief, it is to be embraced as a tool for the spirit to rekindle the fire of our humanity. Without it we may not be able to truly appreciate those who are most precious to us; what makes life worth living. 

As I write this, I am undergoing these pains, this process, this grief at the loss of our furry companion, Rorland. A runt of a calico cat who had no teeth and was a ray of light in our condo (that admittedly doesn’t get very much sun). I am left within the torrents of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but never in that order and sometimes all at once. She was the first cat to ever touch my life in an impactful way, choosing me as the human she would spend 6 years of her life bugging for pets and occasional attention. She was my work from home buddy and art companion. 

And now our home is a little quieter. A little emptier. Having to let her go has left a 5lb and 13oz hole in my heart. It’s incredibly painful, as she was an anchor to whenever I felt I began to drift. Bad days would always at least be met with the howls disproportionate to her size. But now, without her, I have to learn to live without that anchor, to find a way to go about my day to day without her. It’s hard. I am profoundly upset. But I know I will make it through. Because, at least in this case, the size of my sadness is equal to the happiness she brought to my wife and I. This is the contrast. This is why grief is worthwhile. It’s the best reminder you can get of what is most important in life; Love. 


The above drawing was inspired by an instance of this preemptive grief. My wife, who has a deep affinity for her fish tanks and the scaly friends she takes care of. For years now she has dealt with horrid nightmares where her fish tanks lay barren save for dead, rotten fish. She had asked me if I may be able to do an illustration for her, which led me down a similar rabbit hole of thought to the one above. Unfortunately a few months after completing this piece, we lost her favorite freshwater friend Joakím, an albino bristlenose plecostomus (coincidentally the reference for the fish you see in the middle of the drawing). He had somehow managed to escape the tank, something we never thought in a million years would happen given there is no easy way for a fish to just...hop out. He was more than just a little fish to her, he was a beloved friend we expected to live with for another 10-15 years. So this one is for you, Joakím, you ferocious vacuum of a fish. You were one of the good ones.

In Memorium of two lost friends

Joakím just hanging around

Our big girl in her final moments.
Testing some ideas for a future piece, in respect for our beloved friend


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