Eleanore Menke: On Love, Loss, and Acceptance

Eleanore Menke is a graphic designer and artist. In her honest and profound story, she shares on how losing her mother stirred  her own gift of story-telling through art. Eleanore touches upon coping, grief, healing, and support, and how she ultimately found a new way to preserve memories of her beloved mother.

So much of me has struggled with change, especially recently. Everything in my life is changing but everything holds the potential to grow. I am a recent college graduate working at navigating that special hallway between one door and the next. In that gap I am finding new ways to share myself and learning that I too have my own place in this world.

I am an artist. In college, I spent four years making art, building relationships and learning about myself. I am blessed to have found the gift of telling my own story through pieces that capture the experience of loss. In a lot of ways, I’ve re-approached death to further give both my work and myself life.

My senior art thesis was designed to tell my narrative. That story was visually achieved through a digital composition that started in short beats of images, climaxed at loss and picked back up through a love letter. I suppose the hardest part of accepting that thesis was that it directly exposed the parts of my own life story that I never would have written in had I had the opportunity.

Everyday I am consciously aware of the fact that my mother is missing from my world. It’s like a wound that keeps growing and stinging and failing to heal. In spite of the pain, anger and frustration this loss creates, I have chosen to seek healing and peace through my art practices. I have decided that this will teach me something. I will learn patience and gain the opportunity to practice a new kind of love. And I will come to support the belief that love never dies.

My mother was so much to me. Growing up, I learned that my mom was one of the only people who truly understood who I was. And now, I feel it’s my duty to learn more about her. I’ve observed her world; I’ve learned so much that I wish to share. Her story gains a new voice; that voice belongs to me. My visions mesh with her journey to create something rooted in love.

There is so much that I love about her. She was a teacher by trade; she brought patience and kindness home with her. She was excellent at reading body language and she was always quick to resolve conflict.  Dating back to my earliest memories, her advice was always the advice that won over in my heart. Now that she is gone, I seek it more than ever.

I want people to know her. How can they do that?
Know me. Know that I love talking about her.  I love when people ask questions about who she was and what she was like. Let me share myself, but also the pieces of her that I have come to love so much.

To be her daughter is special. It is a collection of beautiful and heartwarming memories that collide in my heart, and then overflow into a plethora of feelings. I am a person of strength because she helped to make me strong.  She made me beautiful. And because she made me those things I wish to continue being them. I wish to still know her exactly as she was. Even if I am different now.

In owning my thesis, living it and sharing it I have found that the walls I once built up came crashing down. I no longer needed to isolate the devastating feelings of vulnerability and loss. I had no reason to hide behind what death did. Instead I had my work to show that. I transposed messages from journals and diaries that I wished I could tell the world for years. I grew the courage to put myself, and this loss out there.

Choosing to acknowledge that this loss has changed me lets me more fully appreciate who my mom was and who I can become because of her. Incorporating my own reflections on navigating this world without her allows viewers to connect as I do with her, through words of love, a language that exists beyond death.

I miss her so much. She was everything to me.  Living apart from her seems hopeless sometimes. There are days when the pain of not having her here makes my life feel less. But I’ve tried understanding that I am more because she gave to me. She gave me life and love. Because of her, I have everything I need to find myself, whoever that is.

I need to work at finding where memories and innovation intersect. I need to use that space to continue to create compositions that bring her life forward to others. To do this, I collect memories. I recall them and I jot them down. I scribble them on napkins and bookmarks. I tab them in a note on my phone. I carry her with me always. Through these things, she can become a part of my art; inserted into new narratives and compositions. Her story and our story beats on in the most beautiful of rhythms.

I’m lucky. I had people who stayed even if I shut them out. I found new friends begging for me to tear down the wall. They waited patiently to be let in. Becoming vulnerable wasn’t easy. It hurt to let people in at first. Then I found healing and support in each of them. And I found that the space that I needed to be in was where loss and art met. And I found happiness. It’s changed me. Ultimately, I’ve created something that has allowed me to feel close to my mom again. And that’s everything to me.

Choosing to continue to approach the universal theme, yet personal experience of loss in a directed and artistic composition creates an open dialogue for viewers. From that dialogue comes the understanding that we all carry those that we lose with us. Through understanding comes the knowledge that we all need support. We owe each other our kindness and our love when they are in need. No one should have to grieve alone, and it’s my hope that no one ever will.

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