Emma Bee Bernstein

I can’t help thinking of the line, “When one door closes, another opens,” and what that has meant to me in the past few weeks. One door has closed, just as all my doors were opening, all my lights turning on. And now to go through those doors is going to mean something entirely different. My path was disrupted yet has not changed. My destiny will have a loss in its memory, to be the background of whatever my foreground becomes. But I walk the path just the same, learning to embrace the shadows that follow me. Emma’s writings suggested that one must be despite polarities. One such polarity, life and death, is something that will be hard to ignore. Yet I will persist in my loving of Emma. Our love was never constrained to life and death, anyway, and it won’t start now.

How artists around me have understood this demonstrates how coping requires you to find the process that means the most to you. I sang at the funeral –  “Everytime We Say Goodbye.” To the audience it may have been a comfort to hear a musical expression of their grief. To me it was a comfort to express my doors paradox: As I said goodbye, it was time for me to say hello, to announce myself as an adult to the over 400 people present and to sing in front of them: expose my destiny to them.

How much the door closes behind me I am not certain. After Emma’s death I was certain that she lived on in me. I told my parents to concentrate on her life not her death. I felt her strength being passed to me. Julie Patton told me of her sibling, a great singer, passing and of Julie literally being given her voice, suddenly being able to sing.

I like to think the beautiful room is not empty. That both Emma and I are mingling within it. Playing dress-up and discussing gender together, forever. That beautiful room, the one of my art and her art, my soul and her soul, is never destroyed by death. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one such beautiful room; in visiting with Toni Simon, I found it was quite alive and timeless. Nothing was more comforting then being surrounded by archetypal symbols of my suffering, giving me a perspective that changed my perspective.

Reading James Hillman’s Inter Views at the time of Emma’s death and finishing it after also helped me realize my place in a world of suffering and love. And helped me come to the conclusion that in many harrowing ways Emma’s doors have closed to all of us, we’ve been shut out.  But in many other ways the beautiful room is full. I can help make those sweet dreams of hers come true. I won’t ever give up on it: Finding a strength that she couldn’t and using it for her. In the tarot card Strength, which Toni gave me a week ago, an angelic white woman tamed a giant red beast. The card is my fate. I will be strong enough to help enliven and continue the work of my sister. We shared that room our whole lives and I am not alone in it now. I will continue to learn from her and be inspired by her and sing for her and write for her (and with her). Her death awoke this room to me more fully than ever before. And a part of me misses the days before her death when this room was trivial and all was easy. But the door is wide open now and as I walk into it, making the melancholy voyage into adulthood, across the bridge of uncertainty, into the forest of my dreams. I will never let Emma leave my side: that fashionable, smiling, wonder-woman, Nan Goldin-loving, Betty Boop, photographer, extroverted, lovable genius that she always will remain. 

— Felix Bernstein, January 4, 2008