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Nick Cave On The Death Of A Loved One


Do the dead visit us in our dreams? Can they survive in the world of the living? The Australian musician’s response upon the loss of his son...

The dead don’t leave this world. That is, at least not until they’re forgotten. Their presence, subtle and powerful, rounds out spaces, bewitches objects, and sometimes manifests itself in dreams. Such appearances have inspired some of humanity’s greatest works. For many cultures, the dream-state, beyond the implication that it’s a state of rest, is also a moment of susceptibility, and one which offers the possibility of seeing and feeling things hidden during wakefulness. Dreams are places where we may communicate with others, and sometimes with those no longer of this world.

Recently, on his website The Red Hand Files, Australian musician and writer Nick Cave wrote a short text on the death of his son Arthur (then 15 years old), after an accident in 2015. The website allows anyone to ask questions of Cave. He selects some from the many he receives and publishes his replies, one of the possibilities offered by the virtual world.

Some months ago, a woman named Cynthia from Shelburne Falls, Vermont, asked Cave this question.

I have experienced the death of my father, my sister, and my first love in the past few years and feel that I have some communication with them, mostly through dreams. They are helping me. Are you and Susie feeling that your son Arthur is with you and communicating in some way?

Cave’s response shines for its sensitivity, for the sense and power he gives to memory, to pain, and to the terrible quality of life, as deep as it is luminous in possibility.

Dear Cynthia,

This is a very beautiful question and I am grateful that you have asked it. It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.

With love, Nick.

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