Ruth Kestenbaum Ben-Dov

Paintings and Words

Ambiguous Loss: Drawings of My Father

Mourning post no. 2
May 8, 2017

In honor of my last day saying the mourner’s Kaddish prayer for my father, I decided to share some of my many drawings of him.

The drawings were created during my visits with my father (often while he napped), over a number of years in which his dementia progressed. Sometime during that period I learned of the term “ambiguous loss,” coined by researcher and therapist Pauline Boss, to describe the situation in which a loved one is physically present, but psychologically absent (or the opposite, such as in the case of a missing person). There is a kind of mourning for such a person, even before his death.

Now that he is unambiguously gone (though bereavement remains complex), I look back at the drawings. Some of them are quite straightforward, while others seem to suggest some of the loss taking place within him, and experienced (and feared) by me. They also remind me that he was never completely absent: every visit included real contact, not only through drawing.

(with Mark)





The drawings were created during the years 2011-2014. I pray that showing them is respectful to his memory.

After my father moved to a nursing home, I couldn’t work in charcoal on large drawings (but kept drawing him in my sketchbook, in pencil, not included here). I end with a painting that has a drawing quality to it, and includes an image of the two of us, based on an old photograph.

Daddy, 2011, oil and charcoal on canvas, 110 x 90 cm

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4 Responses to “Ambiguous Loss: Drawings of My Father”

  1. Ann Windsor

    I knew you, your dad and mom and Connie when I spent days and nights sleeping over Naoimi’s house. I remember your whole family and especially your parents with great fondness. Your father had an infectious smile and you captured his essence in your lovely works. Best to you and all of the Kestenbaum family.

    Ann Karen (Windsor-married name)
    Columbia, Maryland

    Reply
  2. Dan Segal

    These brought tears to my eyes. Despite your dad’s condition at the time, they somehow convey what a gentle, good-humored and special person he was and how he somehow conveyed that specialness to each member of his family. My love (and Sheila’s) to all of you.

    Reply
  3. Ann Michael Rosenberg

    I don’t know that we’ve met; our Daddies did not resemble each other, yet I still caught my breath when viewing these images. I could still see my Daddy, and feel the loss anew. Absolutely phenomenal work. A side note-as the years have passed (he’s now gone five years), in my mind I begin to see the vibrant Daddy again. I wonder if, as you work through your grief, you will again draw him as he was in his prime? Thank you for sharing. Ann Rosenberg, Harrisburg, PA

    Reply
  4. ruthkbd@gmail.com

    Dear Ann, Dan and Ann, I am so moved by your comments. Thank you

    Reply

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