Image Credit: Highwater Press, 2020
Lisa Boivin’s I Will See You Again thoughtfully and carefully carries readers through her oldest brother’s death overseas, and shares her personal story of bringing him home. This is an illustrated children’s book, a visual letter-poem, rooted in family, love, and healing through the author’s Dene traditions.
Boivin’s artwork transcends the narrative with colour, shapes, and patterns. Her visual aesthetic pops with vivid colours against a black background, and reaches out from the page and takes root in your body, mind, and spirit.
In the dedication of I Will See You Again, Boivin writes “How did it get so dark?/ How did you get so dark?/ How did you get so far away?/ I will fly over an ocean./ I will wrap you in cedar./ I will carry you back into day.”
The book takes on the form of a letter-poem. “Dear Big Brother, Our farewell journey began with a phone call from our mom. She told me that you had died. As mom and I cried together, I decided I would travel to England to bring you home.”
The narrator boards the plane to England with her mind and heart filled with thoughts of her lost sibling. When the airplane lands, she bursts into tears at the realization: “Our family would never be the same because you would be gone.” As a reviewer who recently lost her mother, a grade school teacher who bestowed a love of children’s literature, I deeply relate to this heartbreaking truth.
Boivin navigates the stark realities of death with moments of connection through her fusion of story and art. With an image of a woman seated holding a box of ashes, her brother’s spirit covered in flowers and foliage, hovers watching over his grieving sister.
“It felt so strange to hold your body in a small, heavy box. A box that once was a man,” she writes. “A box that once was my brother. A few minutes later, the strangeness was gone, and I felt you near.”
Boivin speaks to the spirit world, and how it feels to hold the box of ash that was once your loved one. She gracefully and tenderly rewrites the relationship to her brother through the form of a letter, a literary device that befits the narrative.
Letters, like dreams, can cross time, place, and realms.
The narrator dreams of her brother, whose spirit comes hovering above her in the night. The accompanying artwork is of a woman’s body sleeping on a bed of leaves, while her brother’s spirit is above her, with leaves falling from his spirit towards her.
“I dreamt of our childhood, and then traveled with you to places I had not seen. The dream made me feel anxious. I knew that you would not hurt me, but I still had a long journey ahead of me,” she writes.
Through dreamwork the sister remembers cedar, and how it helps a spirit rest.
Upon waking, she decides to go for a walk in the forest near her brother’s house, and finds joyful connection wandering amongst the trees. Walking where her brother walked, she meets a cedar tree at sunset. “I told the tree why I needed her and she moved towards me. I knew she understood. I thanked her for her generosity and then hurried back to your home,” Boivin writes.
Wrapping her brother’s ashes in cedar, the narrator feels the presence of her sibling, and regains her strength to carry him back home, where they “are always safe with Mom.” Boivin’s I Will See You Again reminds readers of all ages – we are made of love and earth – and forever connected as a family.
LISA BOIVIN is a member of the Deninu Kue First Nation. She is an interdisciplinary artist and a PhD student at the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. Lisa uses images as a pedagogical tool to bridge gaps between medical ethics and aspects of Indigenous cultures and worldviews. She is currently working on an arts-based thesis that address the colonial barriers that Indigenous patients navigate in the current healthcare system. Lisa strives to humanize clinical medicine as she situates her art in the Indigenous continuum of passing knowledge through images.