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Public grieving provides a community of support for Alberta musician

Art Bergmann has found solace in posting about his wife Sherri's passing, and hearing back from friends, fans--even strangers.

Some say grief is the price we pay for love.

For Alberta-based musician Art Bergmann, the death of his wife triggered a series of public declarations about the deep loss he felt--on Facebook and in a song he wrote and released online, called Death of a Siren.

Sherri Decembrini died last March after the couple had been married 31 years. She was 58. Bergmann, 69, has been publicly grieving since.

"I always thought I'd be the first to go," Bergmann said in an interview. "No such luck."

His Facebook posts contain a touching mix of thoughts, memories, poetry and lyrics paying tribute to who one friend described as Bergmann's "companion of inspiration." One post in April weeks after her death states simply: "Sorrow." Several days later another post advised: "Tell the person you love every waking moment: I love and care about you."

There are pictures posted of Sherri and their home, a farm they have rented for years near Airdrie, including photos of flowers she planted over the years.

"Her flowers everywhere," says one July post. Adds another: "It's on days like these/Working in the yard/I almost forget she's gone/The rains have greened/Her precious plantings."

Bergmann avoided posting much on Facebook prior to his wife's death. Though he says he was in denial a first, he later felt the need to reach out about his feelings and was moved by the response from friends, fans of his music and even strangers.

"Just beautiful reaction from all kinds of people," he said. "They told me their own stories, their grief and how they dealt with it.

"It's been an amazing experience," Bergmann added. "I found a beautiful community of support there."

Bergmann says he started writing Death of a Siren shortly after his wife's death. It contains a lyric that responds directly to a song written by the late Canadian poet/musician Leonard Cohen about "a crack in everything" where the "light gets in."

Bergmann's song refutes that optimistic message, reflecting his dark mood in the immediate aftermath of losing his wife. It says: "There is no crack/That lets the light in/There is no light/To bridge the dark divide."

"I think he (Cohen) had it wrong. When you are faced with grief like that there is nothing but absolute blackness," he said.

The punk rock trailblazer of the 70s and 80s and front man with the Vancouver band, The K-Tels (which became the Young Canadians), Bergmann has been called Canada's Lou Reed, winning a Juno award for best alternative album in 1996. He also received the Order of Canada in 2021, where he was praised for "indelible contributions to the Canadian punk music scene and for his thought-provoking discourse on social, gender and racial inequalities." And earlier this fall, music writer Jason Schneider released 'The Longest Suicide: The Authorized Biography of Art Bergmann'.

Donna Wilson, a University of Alberta nursing professor, says she relates to Bergmann's desire to reach out on Facebook to express grief. Wilson's own husband died suddenly of a heart attack three years ago.

"Whenever someone loses their spouse it's a pretty lonely kind of thing," said Wilson, who has done studies on death and bereavement. "We're pretty isolated. There isn't somebody to give you a hug, so the next best thing is Facebook." 

Wilson says in the past, people tended to live closer to family and friends and have readily available support from neighbours. Now, using social media to express grief is "a perfectly normal" alternative that can send "a beautiful message" about a person's love and respect for someone. It also provides an avenue for others to weigh in with their feelings.

"It's like opening the door so people can say: 'I knew your wife passed away and I didn't know if I should call. But you put that on Facebook so I'm taking a chance to let you know I'm thinking about you, and is there anything I can do to help?" 

Wilson cautions not all responses to a public message of grief are guaranteed to be sensitive. She cites an example of posting when a beloved pet dies, possibly triggering a reaction like, "Just go out and get another one, it's no big deal."

"So, there is some risk to being so open about your grief," she added.

As for Bergmann writing a song in tribute to his late wife, nothing could be more natural for a musician, Wilson suggests.

"Writing a song about someone you love; that goes back to Cleopatra, or probably Adam and Eve."


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