Art as an aid to healing, especially from grief

I have a couple of people in my life who have suffered the loss of someone very close, one from a violent accident, the other from a late diagnosis of a brain tumor. Both people have been artists all of their lives.

The thing that triggered the question I’m asking is when the second person wrote to me that she had not been able to paint since the death of her daughter four years ago because she felt numb, blocked, no sense of direction. A friend suggested she ask for God’s guidance by reminding Him that He made her an artist and to help her return to using her gift again (the grieving mother is a Methodist minister, so this suggestion was appropriate). She found a way forward and has started to paint.

I’m asking the board if any of you (or people you know of) have found solace, meaning, a way out of the shadows through the practice of some art-- painting, singing, poetry, sculpture, quilting… whatever you consider to be an art.

Note: the example I gave happens to have a religious context, because of the person. I’m not looking for religious/God-centered answers unless that happens to apply to you. Please, no anti-religious snark (or any other kind of snark, for that matter).

How/when did you/they pick up the brush/instrument/pen again? Please tell me how that worked, or how it helped. What kind of subjects did you choose- related to the deceased person or the event of the loss, or something completely opposite? I don’t even know exactly what questions to ask, and I know that this kind of grief never completely goes away, it just gets to be a manageable fixture that will always be part of your life. How did the practice of an art help you (or someone else) get through the days, find a way to go on, even find meaning in living again?

If this question isn’t clear, please ask me to clarify.

There’s a whole branch of counseling called art therapy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_therapy

That’s a bit different from artists feeling blocked after an emotional blow. But it speaks to the process of working through one’s issues via art.

Have your artist pals find a local art therapist. They’ll be able to speak a common lingo & probably get unblocked.

Thanks. I’m not exactly asking a research question. I’ve googled on this topic and found a wealth of information. I’m interested in hearing if anyone on this board can relate their personal experience/journey with this process.

My only experience with it is that I’ve known an art therapist for years and have had many long conversations with her about the process and results from her POV as the provider / facilitator.

The results are all over the place depending on the person seeking help. But in general the more emotionally in tune the person was before whatever happened, the better.

I write about things or talk them through with friends. Conversation is arguably an art, but I think the whole point is to express your feelings as fully as possible through whatever medium works best for you.

This, I believe the act of being creative can be healing. I know a lot of artists, many of them who are chronicaly depressed. Hard to say if they would be worse without the art. I have a several creative outlets that have helped me through divorce and deaths of people close to me. In my case it has been a godsend.

When my daughter was fourteen months old, we began to try for kid #2.

Two years, five early losses, three incidental diagnoses, and one elective surgery later … we gave up. We were already parents. We weren’t willing to force a child to be here, especially with the increased risk of multiples and other problems that come with fertility treatments.

It was crushing. Actually, my experience giving birth to my daughter and failing to breastfeed her were the start of being crushed–secondary infertility was just kicking me when I was already down. I had always seen myself as a natural mother. I’m one of those wide-hipped, big-breasted sort of women, and if I can’t have kids easily, what the hell am I here for?

Not two weeks after we officially gave up, I sat at my computer and began to write. Two months later I had the first draft of my first novel. I haven’t stopped since.

I think for me it’s fairly straightforward: I can’t be the mother to a lot of children, so I am writing a lot of books instead. It keeps me busy and thinking, and gives me a sense of purpose in life. Infertility and lost babies are, without a doubt, an echoing theme in my stories. I’m about half through my fifth novel right now. That’ll be one book for every baby I’ve lost.

(And I have an agent! And that first novel is on submission now! Woohoo!)

Sattua, thank you for sharing your poignant story. That’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, especially this: “It keeps me busy and thinking, and gives me a sense of purpose in life.”

FIVE novels and now an agent! I’m dazzled! :slight_smile:

Do your themes/topics touch on your losses and sadness? (Not asking for details, just in a general way.)

Thanks for the reply. Would you mind saying a little more about this? Are these tactile activities (like sculpture, crafts, quilting) or more cerebral (fiction, poetry)? How did these things help you with your grief? As a distraction only-- or was there some sense of “digesting” the events?

After my husband died, I wrote and wrote in my journal. The only thing that made it possible for me to crawl into that empty bed every night was my journal waiting under my pillow like a trusted friend who would listen for however long I wanted to pour out my heart and my tears.

I’m a professional artist; art has always been my therapy. I guess it’s in my DNA; both of my parents were artists.

But last May I suffered excruciating pain in my hip and lower back which took months to diagnose. I lost 40 pounds in the first six weeks. I live with pain every day of my life, in addition to chronic depression.

I need to be standing to do my art, and I can’t do it with this pain. So I haven’t done any art in ten months. That has caused a mental/emotional pain that’s worse than the physical. But soon I’ll be having surgery, which hopefully will get me literally back on my feet to do my art. The prospect of that happening gives me hope.

Thanks, panache45. Hope the surgery goes well. What is it that you do standing up? Not challenging you, but curious-- there’s no designing, planning, or preliminary work that you can do sitting down?

As I said, pregnancy loss and infertility do come into play in my stories–often enough that beta readers who don’t know about me have commented on it. It’s never been the crux of a story, but frequently happens along the way. I tend to write romantic adventures starring women in worlds without reliable birth control … so honestly, it’s a plot device as much as anything. A plot device I happen to know a lot about.

And I’ve been criticized for not making my heroines shattered *enough *when it happens. What-evs. I don’t want to watch people mope. I want to watch them overcome.

The *major *themes/topics I keep coming back to are trust in relationships, the burden of power, and breakdown of the body. Very different stuff :stuck_out_tongue:

I’m not a parent, but I imagine that infertility would feel like the ultimate betrayal by one’s body.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but once you’ve managed to swallow it, you can move on. Unlike chronic pain or disability, it doesn’t stop you from doing other things, you know?

Of course, we do have a daughter. I’ve said many times that if we hadn’t had her first, it would have been a whole different ball game for me.

Today is the birthday of Robert Frost. An article in The Atlantic online notes:

My bold.

Read the Dickey article for a Frost unlike the one you probably (think you) know.

I used to write fiction constantly (easily 8 hours daily) up until I graduated high school. College for some reason resulted in less consistent writing. I pieced together 75% of a novel when I was 23 but abandoned it just as quickly.

In September 2014, after longing to be a parent for six years and finally getting pregnant, I had a miscarriage. It didn’t process naturally so I had to have a D&C procedure after carrying my baby’s corpse around for a week. This was one week after I quit a very stressful job so I found myself completely socially isolated in an unfamiliar state, jobless, and extremely hormonal. I plunged into a really bizarre state of mind, really a sort of numbness to everything, a depression where I actually didn’t care that much that I was depressed. I remember thinking I could be homeless and divorced and as long as I had my laptop to work on my novel, I’d be happy. I honestly did not give a shit about anything except that book.

I started writing again. And it became an obsession again. To be perfectly frank, my obsession with my book nearly destroyed my marriage. I used it to avoid dealing with a lot of difficult things.

With time, though, that changed. I was able to find balance and use it as a tool for healing – in a BIG way. My book wasn’t about having children or being a parent. It is, however, about a woman whose entire life has been turned upside down and who is struggling for a new sense of identity in a world that is foreign and dangerous to her. It’s also a book about trauma, sexuality, consent, guilt, and a number of other issues I didn’t even know I had until I wrote about them. It matters to me because I feel like getting pregnant changed me forever, it radically changed what I thought I wanted out of life. So like my protagonist I was being pushed out into this world and forced to make a new way in it. I can relate to her on that level.

Now we are settled back in my original home state, I have a part time job doing something structured and useful that brings in a regular paycheck. But I also have two days a week off now to work on my fiction (currently revising second draft of the novel.) Not only am I writing more, I’m sharing the writing. I have connected with other writers in the area and we trade critiques of one another’s work. I am starting to develop enduring friendships based on this passion.

So it was a roundabout way of getting here, but art definitely saved me. I didn’t get to give birth to my baby, but I gave birth to something else. And it’s a thing that is every bit as meaningful and permanent as a child.

Thelma, my primary hobby is building what is known as primitive archery bows ( All wood). I became quite obsessed with it and hold several flight shooting world records (distance) I am a published and well received author and have also done several TV shows for the discovery channel.
Writing and tinkering with small mechanical inventions are my secondary hobbies.

Wow, you people are incredible. Thank you for sharing those personal experiences. Still dazzled…

I think the creative processes do help greatly with grief. Many years ago I suffered a loss so great, I thought I would die. I was depressed, had no appetite, and was barely going through the necessary motions of life. Then one day I watched a spider as it hung in my window. It captivated me, and led me to a mentally pleasant place. I was inspired to write a poem about a spider. I had never written a poem before. I found that the time I spent focused on my little project, were moments I was not in pain. My poem isn’t grand or wonderful, but I will forever remember it as the first of many steps, out of my dark place.

A lovely anecdote. Thank you for that. Hope things have improved for you. :slight_smile: