Love, Grief and Loss Build Community at Elephant Gallery in Nashville

“Tracey’s death, 13 years ago now, is still one of the most important events in my life…The awareness of my own mortality and the loss of Tracey changed everything: how I viewed myself, the world, time, the time I have. It drove me to commit to art making; it connected me to other people who had experienced loss like this.”

Elephant Gallery in North Nashville has put together an unusual show on one of the most taboo topics left in our culture. But you won’t have to keep the kids at home, because it’s not about sex or violence but something even harder for some of us to talk about, grief and death.

Grief can be devastating and isolating, and it can also lead to incredible creative transformations and a sense of community. You’ll see this clearly at their local, multi-artist show, “To Get to the Other Side: Death and Time Travel.”
Alex Lockwood, Elephant Gallery’s owner, and co-curators Paul Collins and Becky Blevins created the show to connect with others who have experienced the loss of a loved one.

“The theme of death and grieving has been on my mind for years. The gallery was closed for more than two years, and this seemed like the right time to put it together. The numbers of people who died during this pandemic seem too hard to wrap your brain around. I think about how painful and difficult and long lasting the process of grieving is for the dozens of people (at least around) each of those 700,000 who died of Covid knowing that the isolation was most painful for me.”

The show has an even deeper meaning for Alex who lost his beloved partner, Tracey Baran, when they were only in their early thirties. A fast moving, undiagnosed cyst in her brain took her from her loved ones unexpectedly. One day they were at a friend’s wedding. The next Tracey was unconscious in the hospital, never to reawaken. For three agonizing months, she remained in the hospital. Then her family decided it was time to remove her feeding tube and bring her home to die as peacefully as possible.

“The first moment of peace that I felt was when the hospice nurse met us at home. She had Tracey in bed and taken care of. She let us know that she was there to help us. I didn’t know what that meant before we met her, and I am so incredibly thankful for her. During those two weeks Tracey was taken care of, and we were taken care of and made as comfortable as we could be with no added suffering, besides the tragedy of what was happening. It was so, so important to me and her family that we were taken care of so well. We didn’t get that in the hospital. I slept for the first time in 3 months, so hard and not worrying.”

“The day of her dying is not a tragic memory that I struggle with nor the two weeks she was dying. I have wonderful memories, including sadness, but I was prepared for what was happening. I had never seen a person die, so just to be informed of the actual last moments and what that is like – what comes next – was incredibly important and I am so thankful for it.”

The experience changed Alex permanently, in ways he never could have expected.

“Tracey’s death, 13 years ago now, is still one of the most important events in my life. It still drives me and affects me in all kinds of ways. The awareness of my own mortality and the loss of Tracey changed everything: how I viewed myself, the world, time, the time I have. The relationship that I developed to death has made me a braver human being, and it has made me live my life better. I am less fearful, I am thankful that I got married, and I wouldn’t be committed to my work without her death.

“It drove me to commit to art making, it connected me to other people who had experienced loss like this – being in our thirties, unmarried and no kids in NYC – most of us had not experienced loss like this, and I felt extremely isolated and depressed. The first experience I had that gave me less isolation was a grief group of people who had lost others, and that connection was incredibly important to me. Since then, I’ve found a lot of joy in the feeling of connection I get with other people who have experienced loss.”

This sense of connection that Alex found in a time of isolation and grief inspired the show.

“I thought about this show as a grief group – a way to find comfort, solace and even some joy in sharing grief…hearing about and understanding the grief that others have gone through and are going through.”

“We wanted to see how it came out in other artists with their work. A lot of people I never met before submitted powerful personal work. I’ve been so happy to meet them and hear their stories. I also learned the story of peers I didn’t know before. It’s amazing and sad and beautiful to see and learn about their own relationships to death and grieving and how those experiences have influenced their work. Sometimes  artists that I have been following for years, yet I had no idea death and grief were an integral part of what they were making.”

Tracey’s death anniversary is in November. Each year, Alex marks the date by sharing Tracey’s talents.

“I miss her always this time of year very much. Tracey is a wonderful, inspiring photographer, and I share her work each year and introduce other people to her.”

“Some people immediately change the subject when they hear about the show and say, ‘That’s too intense for me.’ They are so afraid to even talk about it. Part of what the show is about is – it’s not hard, it’s sad, but not hard, to talk about Tracey and even the worst parts of her death.”

“In some ways I feel like I did coming back to our apartment after she died, it’s so confusing still. I remember walking in the first time and saying over and over to myself, ‘What just happened? To talk about it is the only comfort there is in this kind of tragedy, and it’s real comfort. It really, genuinely, seriously feels good to share my grief and share my sad story of the end of this love that I had.”


Show hours: Until 12/31. Friday and Saturday 3-6 p.m.
Elephant Gallery: 1411 Buchannan St Nashville.

Are you experiencing grief? Alive Grief Center can help. Join us for Hope for the Holidays November 17 and December 1.