Creative Grief

Le vieux canoë rouge...!!! (7/9)

Recently I experienced an emotional overload that came upon me unexpectedly!  I actually was not aware that I was carrying around such a load of tears until I went to visit my precious grand-niece, who is my sister’s name sake.  My sister had passed away in April of 2009, after a swift tumultuous bout with ovarian cancer.  My grand-niece was born two years later, almost to the date of my sister’s passing.   In the middle of a visit with this beautiful little bundle of joy, I began to experience this welling up in me of emotion that was unaccounted for in any other way but a huge sense of loss.  Upon leaving, I lingered very long in the hugs and began to cry, and in my tears, I remarked that I did not know where the emotional burst came from.  As I left my sister’s home and her precious adult children, her husband and her grandchild, I realized that I felt the lack of her presence in that moment in time.  Fortunately I was aware of this emotional response and the depth of the loss, and was able to freely express this “strange” reaction in the presence of those who also were well acquainted with this loss of mother, wife and grandmother as well.  The love was overwhelmingly healing for me and was exactly what I needed in that moment and time in my life.  That reminded me of one of the blessings of the healing journey of grief, the sense of warmth and love that comes to fill up the big hole that is left in our life after we have experienced a loss. This loss could be when a loved one leaves by death, divorce, or something changes our lives traumatically such as a natural disaster or dealing with a family member who becomes physically or mentally ill.  We experience a sense of abandonment that rattles us to the core.  We long for wholeness and security that we are missing.

Over the past eleven years, I have lost both my parents, as well as my sister and my husband’s parents.  There have been countless other losses in my life, such as my children moving out to pursue their life goals, the deaths of grandparents, other relatives, and pets, most recently a beautiful calico kitty.  Other losses that have peppered my somewhat normal life have been business and job losses, losses of relationships and losses that come from moving around from place to place during my younger adult life, only to name a few!  I am sure that I am not alone in this journey as most people experience these same types of losses in their lives normally, and may not even realize that grief has visited them.

During the upcoming fall holiday season, if we have experienced a significant loss, we will more than likely experience memories and events that will trigger responses that seem “strange” in any other context.  The fall season and holidays carry with it a sense of change and new beginnings, as well as memories of places and times past.  If you have experienced a divorce, then the family routines and important traditions have been uprooted and disturbed, with a challenge of being in painful situations or having to deal with a change that feels uncomfortable.  Feelings of anger, confusion, sadness and anxiety may come to the surface, leaving you wondering how to handle family interactions and what to say, and feeling exhausted from the efforts.  If the loss was a death of a loved one, then the memories flood back at times, causing great wrenching pain remembering how different it would be if that person was still present in your life.  Even if the loss is not new, these feelings are always under the surface and can visit you afresh, in unexpected ways.  You may think you are “over it” but it will hit you again! That is because grief is a unending, yet changing, journey.  Grief is a fluid process that integrates into our lives, with the pain lessening in depth and frequency as time goes on.

Strangely enough, grief is an important process, leading us toward healing and a more balanced, healthy life.  This ancient, yet familiar journey occurs in everyone’s lives.  We cannot avoid it.  We can trust that God created our brains with the capacity to grieve.  By allowing this important natural process to occur as it comes to the surface, we will experience relief, peace and a settling of our souls. It is a purging process that helps us make sense of our lives in the present. This purging process can actually help to heal us during this memory-infused fall season that leads us into the holidays in November and December.

There are many strategies that can help us to grieve.  Talking to other family members and friends about our feelings, finding spiritual rituals such as time for meditation and prayer, staying busy doing things that we enjoy, finding time to journal and reflect, and allowing ourselves to experience the emotions and thoughts that come to mind, rather than pushing them down deep inside.

The busyness of the upcoming season can keep us from taking the time to “listen” to the things that well up inside that need to be heard to process grief in healthy ways.  We can instead get so busy that we do not notice, rather disassociate from, the emotions.  This only causes pain and repressed grief to come up more loudly at a later time, and has the power to affect our lives in adverse ways.

One way to handle grief that is especially effective is to find a creative outlet that is uniquely motivating to you.  Creativity is healing in and of it self, but especially if it is focused on your grief and loss.

Here are some suggestions of using creativity to help you as a way to grieve:  

  • Create a personal scrapbook of past holidays and events with your loved one or family.  Add special journaling with each page that speaks of YOUR heart and feelings during those special times.  This does not have to be shown to anyone if you would prefer, so you can be honest with your thoughts.
  • Create a visual journal that includes collage and doodles, quotes, pictures and memorabilia that expresses some particular theme that you feel a need to process such as Life with Dad or Mom, Fun at the Beach, and some historical references to your loved one or your family.
  • If you like gardening and landscaping, make a special arrangement outside that would be conducive to the season, in memory of the loss or loved one.  You can use all types of unique items, maybe sparked by a particular statue, bird feeder or nature object that reminds you of your loved one or the past.
  •  Create a wall hanging with a fish net that you can purchase (you can get them at Michaels).  You and/or your family can put memorabilia and symbols in the net that can memorialize your loved one or the situation that you have lost.
  • Write stories of memories that come to you during the season and decorate with art-making and photos.
  • Write poems, music or any other creative expression of your grief in a special journal.  Just recording ideas of creative expressions will get you started on this creative grief journey.
  • If you like to sew or knit, create a memory quilt or knit a prayer shawl.
  • Create an “altered” book that focuses on a memories that pop up during the holidays.

You can find instructions and ideas for creative projects in books, and online.  If you need some help figuring out something to do, consider my Creative Grief group described below or an individual counseling/coaching session with me to get you started.

Even if you do not feel like you have an “artistic” bent, you will have a creative side which is worth allowing to help you with this process.  The important thing is to have a simple, yet meaningful way that you can creatively express your feelings and thoughts during this upcoming season to contain your grieving process should it arrive on your doorstep!  By having this available for you, you will have a safe place to express yourself, which will help you handle the journey and grow stronger.  A sense of dread will be replaced with a new beginning of rest, hope and healing.  Try it!!

~Author: Dr. Susan Miller | Miller Counseling Services, PC

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