after a long silence ….

drawing of Louis, SAC

At the start of March I travelled to Mexico to teach again in Guadalajara. On the way I was re-reading Gulliver’s Travels.
I was much affected by his description of a sudden storm at sea, and the singular details of how the sailors dealt with weathering it. The intensity and the language in one short paragraph left me breathless. Here’s a little extract:

We reefed the foresail and set him, we hauled aft the fore-sheet; the helm was hard a weather. The ship wore bravely. We belayed the foredown-haul; but the sail was split, and we hauled down the yard, and got the sail into the ship, and unbound all the things clear of it. It was a very fierce storm; the sea broke strange and dangerous.”

At the time, this detailed account of the urgent and many actions taken to mitigate the disaster of a sudden savage tempest echoed my own desperate attempts at dealing with the tumult of my feelings.

Hokusai , a wave

As some of you know, my son Louis died unexpectedly, suddenly, at the end of January. I was pitched into the churning ocean of grief. The turmoil has subsided a bit, replaced by sudden tsunamis of sadness, anger and great regret; when they come I can only give in, let them wash over me and carry me where they will. Luckily I have the life-raft of family, friends and my work to cling to.

Louis was a person with much charisma, charm, cleverness and humour, but heartbreakingly he also housed an army of destructive devils who seemed ready at any moment to undermine and overwhelm his better nature – to turn good to bad, trust to suspicion, positive to negative, truth to lies. For the last few years he and I did not, could not, safely meet. But ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds’ and I always believed we would come to heal the breach between us one day. Very sadly with this profound loss, that chance has gone.

sonnet scarf, exerpt

When we came to go through his possessions I found two pieces of cloth which he had kept with him throughout his many moves and changes, and despite our severe and severing differences and difficulties: a Tibetan window curtain that we’d bought together in Lhasa when he was ten, and a piece of old silk Kente cloth that we’d found in Kumasi a few years later. I am so moved by this – I know they’re only pieces of cloth, but cloth is the stuff of my life, and it seems those threads still wove us together despite all.

kente, tibet curtain

In the family tradition, and with Juana’s help, I painted his coffin (cardboard) with bright colours, references to his Ghanaian heritage (he was our adopted son), and with these lines from William Blake:

‘Joy and Woe are woven fine, Clothing for the Soul Divine’.

Louis' coffin on black

Of the many people who came to his funeral – thanks in part to social media – only a tiny handful had managed to keep up with him in these last very troubled years. We shared love, sadness and memories, some of them difficult. His dad Alastair, Juana and I put together a simple sequence of pictures, music and words for him – we chose to have neither celebrant nor commentary. Sophie wrote and read her poem ‘An Elegy for Louis’, the youngest of his three wonderful sons read The Cherokee Story and his half-sister read Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’. The Remembrance Programme is available to read and listen to here  .

boys in pool, spain

After so much uncertainty, disturbance and tragedy, the happy and secure future of my three brave and lovely grandsons (now 10,12 and 17) is my, our, main concern.

For myself, I have of course lost momentum during these last few months, but I am very thankful that the familiar, welcome and provoking habit of enquiry remains more or less undaunted: I can, and do, still reach inside myself and haul out the dear old spirit of invention lurking there. What a blessing to find solace in a doodle, delight in a painted line, life in a pattern.

patterns on paper

And now – back to the future: my next blog will be following on soon…

Central Park artwork, detail of man & dog

With thanks to Juana and her three sons, Alastair Campbell, Vanessa Morton and Sophie Herxheimer 

Sophie: handpainted elegy book

from Sophie’s little hand-painted book – one made for his family, one for me.

80 thoughts on “after a long silence ….

  1. Pingback: …looking forward…looking back… | Sarah Campbell Designs

  2. My dearest Sarah, whilst away with two of my also three sons, my youngest randomly asked about Louis. I had spoken of him many times over the years. He said he was going to look for him on social media, I said he wouldn’t find him on there as he ‘wasn’t that sort of person’
    After describing his physical appearance “like Ice Cube but prettier, the same colour as me” He sat scrolling through and then stopped and turned his phone screen towards me. “Is this him?” He asked, holding up a pencil sketch. The shaved under-cut and thin twisted dreadlocks unmistakably Louis. “Yes! That has to be him” It was then he read the narrative and told me of his passing. I stopped eating. We all did. A tumultuous wave of emotion hit me. Louis and I hadn’t spoken in over 20 years but he was someone I considered invincible. Our relationship
    as you know was volatile and crazy at times. We were young and aloof and sometimes from an outsiders perspective, our life looked a little like a hip-hop video. We looked cool, lived well and were seen out and about in the Corvette Stingray. On the surface, Louis played up to this persona but behind closed doors was very different. The evenings spent discussing Aleister Crowley, the Knights Templar and Masonic influences on British he architecture were very far removed from the gangster outside. I knew Louis with lots of unresolved issues and questions which troubled him greatly. His admission of not really feeling he ‘belonged’. I also knew how much love he had for you Sarah, when the dynamic of your family changed and you continued to raise him by yourself.
    We fought quite famously, and it was to our detriment. We went our separate ways acrimoniously and never spoke again.
    In spite of the negative elements, I remember my own Mother expressing she could never dislike Louis whatever happened between us as he saved my life. That awful night I ended up in the hospital suffering a heart attack, it was Louis who carried me to the car and raced me to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. My mum’s birthday was the 31st March, Louis the 30th. We never forgot.
    I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child, or the pain of you losing your precious Louis. I’m so happy you have three beautiful grandsons to honour their Father and to continue to bring light to your darkness. We are sending so much love and healing energy to you Sarah. I know that for all the bad times, you have a wealth of happy memories to override the negative.
    With all my love
    Karen x

  3. Sarah, about grief – a powerful and strange monster whose sole purpose appears to be destruction but is actually a vaccine [no laughing, please, I’m trying to be serious]. Words are useless at such times, with the odd exception I guess. You will know this example but here it is because it’s less doleful than that other elegy on loss by Auden from Twelve Songs [stop all the clocks]:
    ‘tis a fearful thing to love what death has touched
    to love, to hope, to dream, to be, to lose
    for your life is lived in me
    to remember this brings painful joy
    ‘tis a human thing to love what death has touched

    Welcome back.

  4. Dear Sarah,
    I was so sad and shocked to read about Louis. Nothing could be worse than the loss of a child. We expect our
    children to out live us. Please accept my deepest sympathy on your loss.
    What wonderful tributes from you and the family. It must have been a solace to find the cherished two pieces of cloth that Louis
    had treasured. It moved me to tears.
    Despite such sad news I am pleased to once again receive your creative posts which are always appreciated. Keep on creating Sarah as it will help you during this difficult time of grief as well as bringing much interest to others.
    Thinking of you.
    Love Pat

  5. A very powerful posting Sarah, very moving indeed. I read all the poems and reading of the service and listened to the music, it must have been beautiful farewell for your son. I too have a son who struggles with life, adopted too only I am the brith mother,
    Creativity can pull us through so much and how wonderful for your grandchildren to have such a creative grandmother

  6. I’m so sorry and devastated to here of your loss! I was a close friend of Louis at st Chris school and for some years after. I was only recently trying to get in contact with him through school as I missed him. What happened I’m so upset I didn’t try harder to find him. My thoughts are with you always .

    Matthew Jaworski

  7. Oh Sarah, how I recognise that description of charisma, charm, humour and cleverness living alongside the destructive devils which also took my daughter at age 26. It’s completely heartbreaking, and so frustrating for we parents who are unable, even with unending, unconditional love, to compete with those powerful devils. What a beautiful tribute to your Louis and how moving for you to find the cloth you collected together during better times, still kept close despite the turmoil. We are indeed lucky to be able to find solace in our creative endeavours. Sending you my warmest wishes as always. Carol xx

  8. Dear Sarah, thank you for sharing the saddest news anyone can experience. I remember yours and my joy at our young sons, just 2 weeks apart in age when I first met you in 1977 at Soieries Nouveautes. We all make our way in this world looking for, and mostly finding, different things to fulfil us. If such tragedy hits us we need to allow time to organise the turmoil in our minds. Louis will be in a good place I’m sure – my youngest, aged 6, once said: ‘I believe in miracles. We are here, that’s a miracle.‘ So Sarah, there also has to be a life beyond this one. I hope you find much comfort in the knowledge that Louis lives on, in another life, in your memory, and in his sons.

  9. Dear Sarah.. our Louis will be in my heart forever. We were each others strength for many impressionable years growing up. There were days where he held me up and there were days when I held him up. My soul will be tightly woven to his for eternity. Im deeply sorry Sarah.

  10. Sarah. My email was sent as I was paralysed with sorrow by the words ‘Louis had died’ and I had not read your moving and beautiful tribute to him. Your grandsons are blessed by your love and guidance and you will be a great comfort to them – and they to you

  11. Dear Sarah I was so sad to learn the reason for your silence. You let us learn of your sorrow with such gentleness. Lovely that he kept the pieces of cloth linking himself to you.
    Your workshops are always a joy. Love Grania (Morley)

  12. Hello Sarah,
    Your return to my airwaves is very welcome. I feel for your loss and would like to say how I love your work for its absolutely wonderful colour and joyful designs as support for those gorgeous moments of creation you mention that I recognise too.

    Jane. (hat)

  13. Dearest Sarah
    This is so courageous and beautiful and tender, very touching that Louis held you close with cloth, and such particular cloth! All our love to you xxxx

  14. Gracious Sarah I had no idea. What moving eloquence and beauty in your careful words. The metaphor with Gulliver is so fitting with the turmoil of grief and how to deal with it. Even though I didn’t know him, I salute Louis – humans are so complex and some have such inscrutable souls. Sending you much love and sympathy from the deep. Looking forward very much to seeing you. x

  15. My goodness Sarah, what a post. Am totally moved to tears. You radiate such positivity when we see you. Sending you big love and thank heavens for your busy life for distraction when you need it!

  16. Dear Sarah Thank you so much for your blog. You are a brave and wonderful woman for sharing so personally about Louis. So many emotions there. Sending you love and peace, colour and endless curiosity. Stephanie xx

    Sent from my iPhone


  17. Dear Sarah,

    You write so movingly, expressing so much, so well. Your spirit shines through all the turmoil and grief about Louis. I am so sorry to hear what has happened.

    Your creativity is remarkable, I love reading about. No need to reply to this, I just wanted to send Love and understanding when the us of us is a different us.


  18. Sarah – so sorry to read this. Like others, I had missed your blogs and was so pleased to suddenly see their resumption. I’m thinking of you John (NT)xx

  19. Dear Sarah, I was shocked and very sad to hear of Louis death. I remember him as a beautiful boy in every respect. Very much love to you and all the family, Barbara. X

  20. Dearest Sarah – So shocked and saddened to hear of Louis death. Such sadness
    Have been thinking a lot about you recently -thinking it was time to meet up.
    Yes I had noticed an absence of your wonderful blogs – See you very soon until then hugs and kisses. Christina xxxx

  21. Sarah,

    Your words are so moving and heartfelt, I admire your strength and honesty so much, yet even at the end of Louis untimely departure you have the courage to share your most inner feelings.

    You are so beautiful and I’m so proud to be your friend!

    Fred Xx

  22. Beautifully put Sarah, as always. Such a loss can never be ‘got over’ as I know myself, but, as you say, joy is still to be found in the things we treasure, particularly cloth in your case and mine – reminders that tie us to our lost children through abiding memories of times spent together. Thank you for a beautiful tribute to your son and to your loss of him. Sending you lots of love 💕

  23. Dear Sarah- I was so sorry to hear about your son, selfishly, I had noticed I hadn’t received one of your beautiful blogs for ages, so on the one hand I was pleased to see it in my inbox, but of course hugely moved and saddened by your news. Thank you for telling us
    with much love

  24. Dear Sarah
    I’ve just read your sad news and I send you my heartfelt wishes for your loss. These seem to be such troubled times and many people are experiencing grief on so many levels… I have no answers but all I can say is that I hope you’re able to keep fond memories close to your heart and cherish those around you.
    With love
    Sue 💗

  25. Such a sad loss. The crashing waves are a good analogy. I hope the inner storm will abate and the colour in your life sooths you. xx

  26. Dear Sarah, I’m so sorry for your loss, I understand your pain, I know it is unbearable to lose. I lost my gorgeous husband John after 27 years together to unexpected suicide just before Christmas. My whole life is completely bound by infinite layers of loss, turmoil and regret. I’m trying very hard to find some joy and strength to keep going, I hope you can too. Sending huge love & hugs, Tracy (Coats Viyella) ❤️❤️❤️xxx

  27. Sarah, your wonderfully woven/painted words have released my sad emotions. I am hiding in my bedroom so nobody sees but I know I will be a clearer minded person when I emerge…..for a business meeting at 1 o’ clock.


  28. I am very sorry to read of your loss but so grateful to read your thoughts on your grieving process. Thank you.

  29. Sarah, I was so sorry to hear about your sad loss. I am sure you will find comfort in your creativity.
    Best wishes, Lesley Thomas

  30. Dear Sarah,

    This is so moving and painful; life is so complicated.

    The paintings at the end offer hope, joy and colour.

    Thinking of you.



    Sent from my iPhone

  31. Beautiful Sarah. Wishing you strength to focus on your lovely grandsons. We all make our mark on this earth in one way or another. The warp and weft of life. Xx

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