For Question #11 in my CoAnQuMo project, I am going to address the next question in parts, spread over a few blog posts. These questions are complex and deep and ride my heart waves, so I want to address them carefully, thoughtfully, and gently.
Here are the questions:
These are my questions about grief: what is your grief story? how did/do you work with grief? how has it changed you? what grace have you discovered living with grief?
Such marvelously important questions and ones which I want to answer gently and mindfully, each in their own time.
For today, I am going to answer, in part, the question, “how do you work with grief?”
One of the ways I work with grief is through art-making. I am going to take an excerpt from my website to begin this:
I have been creating art for most of my life, and more intentionally for the past 15 years as I delved into collage, mixed media, and encaustic painting. More than benefiting from the art techniques themselves, though, I have found myself most impacted by the healing effects of art creation and of the transformational power of a process-oriented focus.
My own personal journey with the loss of my father in 2008 led me to create art as a way to cope with my day-to-day life. Art was my lifeline — not only to express my pain, but to remember my father. I began to create art journal expressions of my grief process and altered art pieces with my father’s image. In doing so, I could express the ineffable and also re-imagine my father in ways that helped me heal, but also deeply remember him in a whole, dynamic way.
Art has been (and continues to be) my salve when it comes to grief. I keep an art journal and create mixed media collages regularly, expressing through imagery (and a few words) what my grief is teaching me. I am highly visual and kinesthetic, so it’s as if I am sort of hard-wired to create art as a healing and coping mechanism. For me, without art-making, not only would my grief have gotten stuck more often — constricted like a dam in my body, heart, and spirit — but I wouldn’t have had the chance to understand the profound and essential lessons of grief. I wouldn’t have seen the beauty that grows from grief.
Today is a perfect day to be writing about this subject because November 11 is my father’s birthday. Every year on 11/11 I create a mixed media art piece honoring my father’s “would-have-been birthday.” Perhaps some day this ritual won’t be as integral and important to me, but for now, I need this way of expressing my grief.
I celebrate my father in these art pieces, but there is also a complex and deeply sad sense of time passing without him — of time passing without my witnessing him grow and change and vice versa. As Naomi Shihab Nye writes in her poem “I Don’t Know” about the loss of her own father: “The man he was can hear the daughter I am.” This juxtaposition of stationary time (of the dead) and progressive time (of the living) is hard to wrap around my heart sometimes. I yearn to know my father at what would be 68. That just is.
And so I honor this day by doing my own healing art-making. Here is my “Would-Have-Been 68” mixed media collage. Happy Birthday, dad.
with paint smears and longing,