A collage of two pictures. One of a young Ryan with his father and one of Ryan holding up his book.
A young Ryan with his late father, and then now with his book.Image by: Supplied
A collage of two pictures. One of a young Ryan with his father and one of Ryan holding up his book.
1 September 2023

Ryan’s story: Art from the aftermath of loss to suicide

Mo Bro, Artist & Author
Ryan Abramowitz
5 minutes read time

When I was 26, I lost my dad to suicide. In the initial shadow of my father’s death, I struggled to come to terms with his decision to take his own life.

Becoming an author and illustrator was part of my journey to repair and move towards acceptance. I created Elegy for an Elephant (EFAE) – a picture book for readers aged 7 and over – to help those who have lost loved ones.

While the book touches on suicide, it more universally addresses how we come to terms with grief and access shapes of healing after loss. It is in this vein that I hope it’s messaging about the timeless nature of love will resonate broadly.

Discovering the characters of the story

During the lockdowns of COVID, my imagination’s curiosity had time and space to wonder about how one could illustrate the spirit of our times through the language of animals – anthropomorphism. I began interpreting and expressing human experiences through animal allegories, from my family circle to the broader landscape of Australiana (including Dan the Donkey, Gladys the Goose and Scomo the Snail etc.).

Here I felt animal characters could be more accessible and relatable as they transcend many of the prejudices, tropes and stigmas human protagonists are subject to.

As a person with South African roots, I connected my father's gentle nature and large physical presence to that of an elephant. In the early sketches, I drew an elephant’s soul that chooses to walk away from its body – a subtle expression of suicide through the elephant’s decision to end his life (as opposed to floating away, which to me suggests an unchosen cause of death).

This drawing became a pivotal piece and stepping-stone to a much broader narrative about bereavement. I started visualising an elephant traversing the sky; its form manifest in the constellations. Between the sea and these stars in EFAE, a whale – my embodiment – and two birds – my twin sisters – go searching for their father's soul.

" This project has given me a way to fold my lived experience into learning, make a positive difference as an artist and create a lasting impact in the lives of those affected by mental health issues. "

Suicide can leave unique textures of feelings and emotions such as abandonment, confusion, betrayal and guilt in its wake. The characters are voices of children affected by suicide, grappling with the complex grief that can accompany such a loss. Each child asks questions that grievers may feel seen by, and offered support through.

Recognising the lack of accessible resources for those processing the aftermath of suicide, I turned to the picture book format (which can connect with younger and older readers alike). Combining words and artwork in a narrative provided the suitable medium for exploring these complex topics, through accessible metaphors of the natural world. I passionately believe in the healing power of nature, and the interplay of the words and the artwork creates another system of storytelling beyond the sum of their parts.

Creating a healing place

Throughout this process, I sought input from experts in the mental health community, including children's psychologists, grief counsellors, and suicide and bereavement researchers. Their guidance and iterative feedback helped me navigate the sensitive subject matter and ensure that the book would be a healing piece for readers. Countless revisions and peer reviews allowed me to refine the manuscript to ensure it was non-activating and sensitive in its treatment of this complex subject matter. And, in doing so, create a safe space for readers to explore and find solace.

Why I Mo

As 18 symbolises life in my faith, 18% of profits from this book will be split evenly between Movember, Lifeline and Support After Suicide Services.

Participating in Movember has been an important part of my advocacy journey. It's not just about growing a moustache - it's about raising awareness and funds for men's mental health issues. Ever since my father passed away in 2016, I've been a dedicated Mo Bro driven by the tragic impact of suicide and the devastation it creates within families and communities. I actively fundraise and support initiatives that address mental health disparities (particularly in underserved communities) and am a vocal advocate for mental health awareness.

Through Movember, I strive to break the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide, fostering conversations, expanding paradigms and supporting research. It's a way for me to fold my lived experience into learning, make a positive difference as an artist and create a lasting impact in the lives of those affected by mental health issues.

Sharing my work with the world

As I reach the culmination of this heart-opening and layered project, I am filled with a profound sense of connection to my dad, and also the frequencies of our shared humanity that connect all people. This book has allowed me to make sense of my experiences and find comfort in the knowledge that our loved ones never truly leave us. Their presence lives on in our living. They exist within us, and through cherished memories we can be with them.

To celebrate the launch of the book, there will be an art exhibition at Brightspace Gallery (8 Martin St, St Kilda from September 13 – 23). The exhibition titled The Elephants Migration Across Picture Book Plains, will showcase the artwork, storyboards, and the process of creating the book. Additionally, a short film capturing the opening of the advances and the making of Elegy for an Elephant will accompany the exhibition.

It is my hope that all those who view the art or turn the book’s pages will feel seen, supported and carried in their healing journey.


Ryan Abramowitz is a passionate Mo Bro, using his story to support others coping after the loss of a loved one. Get your hands on a copy of his book, Elegy for an Elephant, and support his work at https://narrativesofnature.com/.

If this story has brought up strong feelings, please consider reaching out for support using these support links. To speak with someone immediately, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.