Sunday 30 October 2011
Stuart and Sue Pryde and Nushi Khan-Levy Finished Paintings
A Graceful Death Exhibition
St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham B5 5BB
Friday 4 November - Tuesday 29 November
Opening Event Thursday 3 November
2pm - 4pm
Poetry Workshop with Penny Hewlett
Poet in Residence at St Martins
from 2.30 - 4 "Facing Loss"
All Very Welcome and Tea and cakes for all
I have finished the paintings of Stuart and Sue Pryde. Sue committed suicide on 7 August 2008, leaving her husband Stuart bereft, confused and devastated. Stuart has worked with Eileen Rafferty, photographer and co-producer of the A Graceful Death exhibition, and me to produce these images and allow me to reproduce some of Sue's words and her suicide note. I have not used Sue's suicide note to Stuart, just the one she left for the police.
The image I have used for Sue is an image that Stuart came upon by accident, it was taken without her knowing only a few days before her planned suicide took place. The photo shows Sue without artifice, as she truly was at that moment with the knowledge of what she had planned and set up taking up all her thoughts. No one knew of her decision, and the photograph was just a quick snap of a friend on an uneventful afternoon. What it actually captured is evident in hindsight. Sue was withdrawing from the world, setting things in motion for her death and most of all, keeping it deeply secret. Who could have known? Taking this photo was the last image ever taken of her. Who could have known that within a few days she would have arranged her own death in a deeply thoughtful and precise way. Sue left no space for failure, she wanted to die and killed herself with gentleness, peace and deadly thoroughness.
Stuart loved his wife and loves her still. Eileen and Neill have both filmed him when he came here to discuss this work for A Graceful Death, and we were all struck at the depth of his love for her and for her love for him. But Sue had too many terrible demons in her mind, and nothing it seemed, could still them. Her own death was the only way out. Here are the paintings
Both Stuart and Sue loved gardening and these are the flowers that Stuart suggested for the paintings. The deep blue sky is a memory of the skies of Sue's childhood in Tanzania. Below are three smaller canvases that go in between Stuart and Sue
The words are Sue's suicide letter, some words from Sue's diary, and finally Sue's wonderful letter to Stuart on their wedding day. The text is set out below for you to read. It is very important that you read these words, Sue was articulate and amazing.
To whom it may concern
I have taken 40mg of diazepam to decrease my anxiety, and some more (crushed) to depress my breathing and decrease my likelihood of convulsions. Some Tramadol simply because it makes me dizzy; around 6 units of alcohol and 30mg zoplicone. The helium is self-evident. There is no cry for help here; I do not intend to be found; I intend to die.
My plan is to have taken enough drugs and alcohol to fall into an unnatural sleep. Before I do so, I plan to turn on the helium in order to suffer oxygen deprivation and die. I am afraid of pain and do not want to suffer. I think and hope that this will be a peaceful way out for me.
I do not have a mental health problem, and I feel that I have made the decision to die as a rational choice given the nature of my life for the past 40 years. I have decided that I can’t tolerate my feelings of helplessness and disgust (for myself and the rest of the world) any longer.
I am not afraid of death
but I am afraid of dying. I have been waiting for the right time to do this for many years, and now it’s here, I look forward to just not being here anymore.
Should I be found alive, this will be a mistake on my part, because I intend to die. I ask that no attempt be made to resuscitate or treat my condition. I request that I be allowed to die. Should I end up unconscious and in hospital being treated, I request that I do not be treated in any way other than by being given
oral care. There is a Statement of Values attached here, and this document specifies the conditions under which I would like to live and die. If necessary, please revert to that document for guidance. I know it is unlikely that my organs will be of use, but I’m on the organ donor register all the same.
I offer my sincere apologies to the staff of Premier Inns, and in particular to the staff member who was unfortunate enough to find me. I hope that the anonymity that suited me
will help them to keep what has happened as an abstract concept that does not intrude too heavily on their life.
I would like to add that I did this entirely under my own steam. Stuart nor any other person has any knowledge of my plans. No person helped me in any way. No person or organisation that supplied me with equipment had any knowledge of my intentions, and I took great care to act in an appropriate manner when making purchases.
If I could somehow do this with making no impact on anyone’s life, I would. I am more sorry than anyone can know that I will make people look inside themselves to see what they did to drive me to this. I truly hope that those who know anything about suicide (either from experience or study) will know that this was a decision I made all by myself, and that nothing anyone could do was enough to keep me from this path.
The people I love most in this world are Stuart, Maureen and Tara. The rest are irrelevant to me.
If life is sacred, then we shouldn't have to drag it around like a death thing all our lives.
This is such an alone place to be. I don't choose to be here - I choose to be someplace else that no one else can understand unless they feel suicidal. It's cruel that ther is nobody to help me simply because suicide is such a taboo. A dying cat or dog can be cradled in its owners arms.
I see myself as being stuck with these terrible feelings for the last forty years, and when I think of just how long that is, I want to lie down and sleep forever because I'm so tired of it all, day after day of loathing. It makes me choke and vomit in the morning, each time I awaken and realise I'm still here. And that it won't end, and witll be the same until I run out of steam.
Sue’s statement on our wedding day, 26th June 1998.
When we are done, and they see the pages of our life, bound and nestling together, I want them to turn to each other and say: “Theirs was a good book – such characters; what a story.”
Some will see the life and laughter; some the pain and death. Some will see God and love. But they’ll all know a good book when they see one.
And when I read our book, I want to read about all the laughter and all the pain; all the life and all the death; all the God and all the love, because a good book has it all.
We have built our castles and planted our trees, and I thank our God for what we have done together. If one of us dies today, we will have had a beginning, a middle and an end, and if we live to be a hundred it will be the same. I know that had our pages, our lives, not been set this way, we would not have found this love: Circumstance and coincidence have long ceased to explain our magic.
Re reading Nushi's notes taken when we discussed the painting, I realised that I had not painted Nushi's love of cherry blossom. I have taken out the yellow patterned halo, taken from a Hindu Goddess painting, which did not really suit Nushi, and replaced it with a softer more sympathetic cherry blossom halo. Nushi is still a goddess, she is warmer and softer with this pink colour and style. I have improved her eyes, and I have painted in the lower right hand corner, the small cut glass perfume bottle that she talked of. If, she said, she could distill all the moments of love and understanding, the close and intimate moments of empathy and kindness, shared with her husband during her illness and treatment, she would put them into a beautiful perfume bottle so that when she is better, and life has returned to normal, she can dab a little of that perfume on each morning to remind her of how close they were.
This image below, is taken by Eileen Rafferty, the official photographer and co producer of A Graceful Death.
So now, come to the exhibition if you can. You are all welcome, and write in the Memory Book all that you want. I will be there for the opening on Thursday and for Friday morning, and then on the 28 and 29 November for the closing prayer and poetry workshop with the amazing Penny Hewlett.