Question #11

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:

My Journey with Healing Art

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.

Here are just some of my healing art pieces related to the loss of my dad.

Here are just some of my healing art pieces related to the loss of my dad.

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.

My Father with Alex, the Alaskan Malamute member of our family.

My Father with Alex, the Alaskan Malamute member of our family.

with paint smears and longing,



About Courtney Putnam

I first came to healing work through art and writing. Creating collage art and poetry in particular allowed me to deeply understand the benefit of self-expression in the healing process. But, I also began to see the benefit of bodywork (manual work in the form of massage and energywork in the form of Reiki) as keys to unlocking the emotional stresses we hold in our bodies. I became a Reiki practitioner in 2002, received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2003, received my massage license in the spring of 2006, and became a Reiki Master in 2010. In my practice I bring together these three areas -- the body, the mind, and the spirit (or energy body) -- so others may experience profound and positive change in their lives.
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