Peterborough County artist works with palliative care nurse on new book about loss

·4 min read

Life, love. The gravity of grief and learning to let go.

Uncomfortable truths and raw realities are confronted and explored in the recently published artbook “Love and Loss,” a provocative and unflinching look into author Jocelyn Brown’s 16-year career as an oncology palliative care nurse.

Drawn from Brown’s insights about her day-to-day work supporting terminal cancer patients and their families — thoughts etched in journals and poured into her phone; stories expressing “despair, hopelessness, anger and worry for those left behind, as well as surprising currents of joy and peace” — the text is married with visceral artwork from Ramune Luminaire.

Based in Peterborough, Luminaire — an artist, drawer and sculptor who creates installation pieces from her studio near Big Cedar north of Burleigh Falls — met Brown during the pandemic, when the two crossed paths through Collaborate For Change, an initiative organized by Toronto’s Taboo Health.

As part of the program, people in the health field were put in touch with artists. Healthcare workers and creatives were given the chance to connect over Zoom to see if their storytelling objectives aligned.

“I was immediately attracted to Brown,” recalled Luminaire.

The feeling was mutual.

The two began corresponding over email, sharing ideas with each other.

“She is a palliative care nurse and wanted to talk about death and how people die. I found her very bright and articulate. I told her ‘I definitely know you’re the one I’d like to work with.’ (Brown) was also interested in working with me, so we were a match,” Luminaire continued.

The pair then set out to combine Brown’s years-long musings with Luminaire’s vibrant, medium-mixing artwork.

For Luminaire, who created large-scale pieces — employing everything from pastel, acrylic paint, graphite and charcoal on paper to coloured pencil, aerosol spray paint on plywood and photo transfers onto birch panels — her work was largely intuitive, borne from a natural, kindred connection between herself and Brown.

“For me, the practice of drawing, making photo transfers and linocuts, enables me to meditate on (the subject of death). To be with it in a nonverbal way. And — inevitably — to approach it with loving acceptance,” said Luminaire.

Working in tandem, Luminaire and Brown form a symbiotic synergy — Brown’s compelling words are complemented by Luminaire’s enthralling art.

“There can be beauty in death,” writes Brown. “Death is unrivaled in meaning and intensity. So much of it is unknowable, intangible, but it enlarges our capacity to witness life.”

In "Love and Loss," Brown documents the patients she’s met along the way, striving to normalize death by concentrating on love — not fear.

There’s Briella, the 34-year-old outdoor enthusiast and music lover, diagnosed with liver cancer, who danced by her hospital bed and sang in the shower — “happy right to the end.”

Brown is struck by her calmness and courage.

There’s Daniel, a husband and father to a four-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. Daniel is given 12 months to live.

He feels guilty about being sick. He refuses to accept the inevitable — and that’s OK, Brown realizes.

All she can do is let him know he’s not alone and that his family will be supported in their grief.

Brown guides — shepherding patients through the complicated maze of end-of-life care.

But she learns, too.

Each patient teaches her something about life — unbreakable spirits and the beauty that comes with vulnerability

With every passage, Luminaire’s art fills each page.

When Brown writes about the heartbreaking questions asked by children — “why is she dying?” Why can’t you make her better?” — Luminaire paints teddy bears and children’s boots, lined neatly in a row.

When Brown writes about letting go and the glorious moments “tucked within tragedy,” Luminaire fuses pastel, graphite and charcoal to create a cluster of wilting flowers set in a vase.

Like Brown, Luminaire has always been drawn to death; taboo topics that society shies away from.

Whether through art or words, she’s always been a storyteller. Born in Montreal, Luminaire moved to England at the age of 10, where she later studied art in London. She worked as a magazine editor and television script writer and researcher focusing on documentaries.

A "Love and Loss" exhibition featuring Luminaire’s pieces and excerpts from the book was held at the Rails End Gallery in Haliburton from April to July.

“It went amazingly,” said Luminaire. I can’t imagine it going better to be honest. It really seemed to touch people and do what we hoped — bring something out that isn’t often talked about.

“One guest said to the curator, ‘I’m not going to waste another minute of my life.’”

Proceeds of book sales go to support bereaved children through Camp Erin, Toronto. Brown and Luminaire aim to raise $10,000.

The pair are in talks with Artscape in Toronto and Toronto Public Libraries about creating additional exhibits.

"Love and Loss" can be purchased at https://ramuneluminaire.com.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner