My cousin, Shawn, was always more of a brother to me than anything. We were nine years a part and lived our lives very differently, but as we grew older, we realized we were more alike than we were different. We had morphed into something deeper. We were more like siblings. In fact, he made me promise I would stop introducing him to friends as my cousin and instead, as my brother. I was officially his “little sis” as he liked to say.. always with that giant grin of his. We texted all the time. He was always down to hang out. I cut his hair in my kitchen every month for years. He was the guy you could call at any time of day because you had a bad day, needed a ride or maybe even needed a cool chair picked up from the thrift store because you didn’t have a pick up truck. At the end of the day, I always knew I could depend on him. He always had my back.
In the spring of 2016, he was in a terrible motorcycle accident that, ultimately, after a week fighting for his life, ended with his passing just a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday. I was in total shock. Nothing prepares you for watching someone you love die.
I had just seen him a few weeks prior when he came over for his monthly haircut. He surprised me when he said he wanted to cut his hair shorter & shave his long beard off to reveal that familiar face I had known all my life. “I’m at a point in my life where I feel more at peace. I want to feel more like me,” he told me. It was true. I felt the change happen in him as his hair fell to the floor. He took me out to a late lunch with his new fresh-faced look. We talked so long he ended up ditching the rest of his work day. The last thing I said to him was, “I’m so proud of you. I love you. Please be careful.” His response, as always with that grin of his, “ You worry too much, sis. I’m always careful. I love you too. Let’s hang soon.”
Loss is something I’ve come to both fear and expect. I’ve lost quite a few people in my life. The aftermath of tragedy & the effects of trauma still lead me into deep bouts of depression. After his passing, I retreated from being the very outgoing, warm, & approachable person I had worked so hard to become. I began working on a local farm in town so I wouldn’t have to be around people. Being in nature had always provided me with tremendous healing. This time, it was a necessary step in searching through the hollow depths of despair for the one thing that could ease this pain. Was there a even a glimpse of light to be found in the middle of all this darkness? Would I ever find it again??
The art of natural dyeing found me late that winter, when I was perhaps at the lowest point I had ever been. I poured myself into it—desperate to find a way to process the pain. To release it; get it out of me. To put it somewhere outside my body; to not just feel it, but to see it. I got to be messy, letting the anger come out without worrying about appearances. The plant dyeing process is long, not to be rushed—Through this it slowed me down. I was more present. I learned to be gentle with myself; as I would a precious flower not yet in bloom.
Through this art I am able to preserve, in color, the life of a once-living organism. Every color is one-of-a-kind & truly unique; just like ourselves. The way the plant continues to give its color much longer after its “living life” has ended reminds me of those lost whom we still carry around with us. Ultimately, after its color extracts have exhausted themselves, its time to release and let go. And so it goes back into the earth… As do we.
Through HONOR | OF, I am honoring all of those I’ve lost; the color they imprinted during their life here on earth now lives on in my work. Through this creative outlet, I am able to appreciate the bittersweetness in all cycles of life while at the same time have found tremendous healing, necessary solitude, endless inspiration, as well as the appropriate space and medium to practice mindfulness while working towards reducing my environmental footprint. The art of natural dyeing has strengthened my connection with the natural world while helping me understand my place in it. The pain is still there, but I can now see it. That tiny spark of light is bright more times than it is dark. And that, somehow, makes it all a little bit easier to live with.
Written by Jessica Robertson, Owner + Designer of HONOR | OF .