At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source.When you are an artist, you are a healer;
a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.
Creatively Expressing Grief
Whether a singer, a writer, a dancer, a playwright, a storyteller, an actor or actress, a quilter, a seamstress, a gardener, a builder, a cook, a woodworker, a poet, a "rapper," a painter, a teacher, a musician, a sculptor, a photographer, a composer, an advocate, or a volunteer—each of us possesses our own special talents and creative gifts. Creative endeavors following a loss can be very therapeutic and help the grieving find a means of expressing grief or remembering someone lost—whether in writing, song, or a variety of artistic media. Often the grieving do not know the words, or the words do not exist, to adequately express the emotion of grief—so they turn to other means of expression. Creative expression can to help lift one’s spirits; it can also help the grieving bring to the surface the inner chaotic emotions deep inside and find original ways of expressing the deep emotions generated in grief. Creating expressions of grief or experiencing the unique endeavors of others is reminder of the recuperative power of humans—the ability to create beauty or find hope in tragedy.
Various Ways of Expressing Grief
Singers, songwriters, composers and musicians create their music often as an expression of their grief or a tribute to a person who has died. Eric Clapton composed "Tears in Heaven," following his son’s accidental death from a fall as a poignant expression of his grief. The song "Fly" sung by Celine Dion described her emotions and feeling surrounding her niece’s death, Karine who died from Cystic Fibrosis. Paul McCartney wrote "Here Today" in memory of John Lennon, following the tragic shooting. Elton John wrote "Empty Garden" following the death of John Lennon, and rewrote "Candle in the Wind" to remember Princess Diana following her tragic death. Tori Amos wrote about her own experience as a survivor of rape, in her powerful songs, "Me and A Gun" and "Silent All These Years." Many women, also silent for years, profoundly responded to her songs resulting in the formation of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) the only national sexual assault hotline (1-800-656-HOPE).
Many of the classic books on grief have been written authors dealing with their own grief—as a way of coping with the loss. C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed as his way of dealing with the death of his wife Joy; this book has spoken to thousands about grief. Writer Martha Whitmore Hickman penned Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief following the death of her sixteen-year-old daughter in a riding accident. Margit Esser Porter wrote Hope is Contagious as her way of helping other women diagnosed with breast cancer. Safe Passages: Words to Help the Grieving Hold Fast and Let Go was written by Molly Fumia as her way of belatedly mourning the loss of her first born son. Rabbi Harold Kushner faced a crisis of faith when his son Aaron died. When Bad Things Happen to Good People was his reaction to this personal tragedy. The Gift Of Peace was written by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin during his last two month of life, on his reflections as he found peace at the end of his life before dying from pancreatic cancer.
Margaret Edson's recent Pulitzer Prize-winning play WIT (W;t), later made into an HBO special, is an example of using theater and film to deal with issues of loss in dying. This play chronicles one woman's final few days as she comes to terms with her end-stage ovarian cancer. Another example is video. With the help of Emmy-winning co-producer, Lori Hope, the relative who adopted him, Brett Hardy Blake created the touching documentary "How I Coped When Mommy Died" as a way of coping after his mother died from breast cancer.
Poetry is another common way of expressing grief. With poetry very complex feelings can be distilled into a few lines of pure emotion. Poets throughout the ages have expressed their grief in verse. WH Auden’s "Funeral Blues," Edna St. Vincent Millay’s "Time does not bring relief," William Wordsworth’s "Grieve Not," Christina Rossetti’s "Remember," John Donne’s "Death Be Not Proud," Cannon Henry Scott Holland’s "All is Well" and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s "Grief"are all examples of using poetry to aid in the grieving process. More recently Paul McCartney returned to his poetic roots to help process the death of his wife Linda—this year publishing a collection of his poems and lyrics in Blackbird Singing. In her book Holding On: Poems for Alex, Cathy Sosnowsky a college English Instructor turned to writing poetry eight years after the accidental death of her only birth child. Mike Bernhardt found poetry to be a therapeutic healing tool following the death of his wife. He collected other poetry from grieving loved ones to create Voices of the Grieving Heart. Inside Grief is another collection of emotional poetry compiled by Gerontology Graduate Student and Poet, Line Wise that helps one to explore the impact of grief.
Perhaps one of the best known creative expression of grief is the AIDS Quilt. The quilt started as a memorial with each panel commemorating the life of someone who has died of AIDS. The AIDS Quilt has also helped the public visually appreciate the devastating impact of the disease through the displays of the quilted panels, now too large to display in one single location.
Memorials using a variety of media are other ways of remembering. Many of the memorials in Washington DC—Arlington National Cemetery, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Including The Wall, The Vietnam Women's Memorial and Three Servicemen Statue), Women in Military Service for America Memorial, The Korean War Memorial or the Eternal Flame marking President Kennedy’s grave site are beautiful, moving tributes to our fallen soldiers. The Albert Memorial, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal and the Memorial at Althrop for Princess Diana stand in tribute to loved ones lost. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was built to honor the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were changed forever after the Bombing. We have seen the use of music, video and the unifying red, white & blue ribbons used to remember the victims and the missing of September 11, 2001. Who knows what types of creative expression will be used to aid in the healing process from this tragedy.
One of the more difficult losses faced is the loss of a child. People have turned to many creative endeavors to help cope with this special type of loss. Each year in December, the Compassionate Friends holds a Worldwide Candle Lighting in memory of the lives of children lost. As candles burn down in one time zone, they are lighted in the next, creating a 24-hour wave of light that encircles the globe in a worldwide remembrance. Jan and Jules Broom after losing their daughter, Shannon in a car accident discovered her gratitude journal. Using Shannon's artwork and thoughts they created bookmarks, Shannon’s Gift of Hope or "Angel Whispers." The bookmarks are given away as part of their "Bookmark Therapy" to help them face difficult times. In "The Christmas Box" a woman mourns the loss of her child at the base of an angel monument. In response to grieving patents seeking out the angel as a place to heal their own grief, the author Richard Paul Evans commissioned an angel sculpture. To date more than 20 "Christmas Box Angels" have been dedicate around the United States.
Loss can be an meaningful instrument for change, activating a strength many do not know they possess. In tragic situations and those where the death may be viewed as preventable, many people find that investing their energies to create change or form advocacy organizations can be a positive way of channeling the intense energy experienced in grief. There are numerous examples of various organizations and causes that had their origins as a response to a tragedy, a personal loss, or a death. Several of the most notable include: Parents of Murdered Children, MADD, the Polly Klaas Foundation for Missing and abducted Children, the Million Mom March, America’s Most Wanted, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Gilda’s Club (For those living with Cancer), Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Montel Williams MS Foundation (Multiple Sclerosis) and Oprah’s Angel Network (Originated after the death of Princess Diana).
Crafters Express Grief
Crafters of all types have found ways of putting their hands to work by working on a variety of projects. Participating in these types of projects can also help with the grief process giving idle hands something to do. "Afghans for Angels" is a volunteer organization that makes and distributes baby blankets at local hospitals to be given to parents who have suffered the loss of their infant through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death to use when holding their infants for the brief time when "hellos" and "good-byes" are said. The parents then keep the afghans as a token of remembrance of their baby. Project Linus "blanketeers", create new, handmade, washable blankets—quilts, tied comforters, fleece blankets, crocheted or knitted afghans, and receiving blankets—to be given as gifts to seriously ill and traumatized children around the world to "in need of a big hug." Snuggles Project is from Hugs for Homeless Animals. "Snuggles" are security blankets which can be sewn, knit or crochet for use by animal shelters for the homeless, abandoned animals. The Snuggles project provides each animal with a Snuggle to cuddle up with to feel warmth and comfort allowing the animals a little reprieve from the cold pens. The blankets also give physical comfort and psychological comfort for the animals and the people around the world who make them for the animals.
Suggested Creative Ways of Expressing
There are no limits to the imagination in finding creative ways or endeavors for expressing grief. Creativity can be expressed by using a variety of media e.g. molding clay, photography, fabric, collage. Several methods of expressing grief have already been mentioned—song, writing, poetry, statues, ceremonies, memorials, and advocacy. The following list is a sampling of suggestions for unique ways of expressing grief.
Write in a journal or diary
Write a letter to the lost loved one
Write the lost loved one’s story
Write a poem
Write lyrics or music
Write a memorial for the local paper
Write a play or an improvisational acting piece
Choreograph a dance
Film a video or a movie
Tape recollections of favorite stories,
old memories, or a conversation one might
have with the lost loved one
Compose music to sing or play
Play an instrument—alone, with others
Creating - Larger Projects
Resources & Organizations:
Doka KA. Act on Your Grief. Journeys May 2001.
Fry, VL. Part Of Me Died Too: Creative Strategies for Grieving Children and Adolescents, Chapter 8 in Doka KJ (ed) Living With Grief: Children, Adolescents, and Loss. Washington D.C.: Hospice Foundation of America, 2000.
The creative use of grief. The Compassionate Friends, 2000. Available at: http://www.tcf.org.uk/lecreative.html
Dyer KA. Volunteerism Projects, Journey of Hearts, 1999 http://www.kirstimd.com/volprojects.htm
Books Mentioned in this Article:
Bernardin J. The Gift Of Peace. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 1997.
Fumia M. Safe Passages: Words to Help the Grieving Hold Fast and Let Go. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 1992.
Hickman MW. Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief. New York, N.Y: Avon Books, 1994
Kushner H. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York, N.Y.: Avon Books, 1984.
Lewis C.S. A Grief Observed. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1994 (Reprint Edition)
McCartney P. Blackbird Singing. New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2001.
Porter ME. Hope is Contagious. New York, N.Y.: Fireside, 1997.
Sosnowsky C. Holding On: Poems for Alex. Vancouver, BC: Creative Connections Publishing, 2001. Available at: http://www.creativeconnectionspublishing.com/profile/holdingon
Wise L. Inside Grief. Incline Village, NV: Wise Press, 2001. Available at: http://www.wisepress.com
Websites and Organizations Mentioned in this
Afghans for Angels - http://www.angelfire.com/ia2/AforApage2
The AIDS Quilt Memorial - http://www.aidsquilt.org
The Arts and Healing Network - http://www.artheals.org
Christmas Box Angel - Richard Paul Evans - http://www.richardpaulevans.com/statue.html
Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation - http://www.apacure.com/
Compassionate Friends - http://www.compassionatefriends.org
Gilda’s Club - http://www.gildasclub.org/
MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) - http://www.madd.org
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research - http://www.michaeljfox.org/
The Million Mom March - http://www.millionmommarch.com
Montel Williams Multiple Sclerosis Foundation - http://www.spotlighthealth.com/multiple_sclerosis/ms_overview/mwmsf.html
Parents of Murdered Children - http://www.pomc.com
The Polly Klaas Foundation for Missing and abducted Children - http://www.pollyklaas.org/
Project Linus - http://www.projectlinus.com
Oklahoma City National Memorial - http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org
Oprah’s Angel Network - http://oprah.oxygen.com/uyl/uyl_landing.html
RAINN Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network - http://www.rainn.org (1-800-656-HOPE).
Shannon’s Gift of Hope, Angel Whispers - http://www.angelfire.com/va2/Angelswhispers/bookmarks.html
Snuggles Project. Hugs for Homeless Animals - http://www.h4ha.com/snuggles
The Survivors Arts Foundation - http://survivorsartfoundation.org/aboutSAF.html
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation - http://www.komen.org/
Last updated December 6, 2001
This article is a shorter version of an article that is part of the syllabus created for the Professional Course on the Somatic Aspects of Loss & Grief offered this summer through the University of California Berkeley Extension.
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