Art Therapy and Loss

When you lose someone you love deeply there are lessons beyond what you could imagine. Some painful and heartbreaking and some humbling and heart opening. Every loss is an opportunity for growth (within yourself and closer to others). No matter who you are you will experience loss in your life. A loss of a grandparent, of a parent, a sibling, child, pet, spouse, friend, or relative. Loss is inevitable and comes in so many forms- moving away from friends and family, loss of a significant relationship, divorce, loss of a job, changes in school, a loss of physical health, saying good-bye to someone traveling away, or having an empty nest. Life continually is in a state of change and loss is a part of the cycle.

So how can we live with grace and compassion and open to these experiences when we encounter them (rather than shutting down, hiding, denying, or minimizing these most important moments)? I don’t have the answers, but I am in the process of learning and this is what I’ve discovered.

1. Allow yourself to be in the feelings.

People are fearful that they will become overwhelmed with emotions if they allow themselves to feel deeply. The truth is the more you ignore, avoid, or try to push through these feelings the more they will drain you and overwhelm you. Embrace what it is you are feeling and what it is that you need so you may gracefully move through the experience.

2. Give yourself time.

There are stages of grief and loss and they do not unfold overnight. Please be gentle and kind with yourself and not to try to push though the process quickly. When you honor your needs and give yourself time to heal you will move forward with an open heart, knowing what is unfolding is in perfect time.

3. Allow yourself to detach from trying to control circumstances and outcomes.

We all know the Serenity Prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can;and the wisdom to know the difference.” There are many things beyond your control when experiencing a loss and surrendering to what you cannot control allows a centering back to yourself and what it is you truly need. Being still and focusing on the “here and now” allows you an opportunity to let go of what you can’t control and soften to what you can.

4. Support and love is the way through loss.

There is an opportunity to open your heart and be vulnerable with those in your life during this process. When you are honest and allow others to be there with you on your healing journey you create deeper relationships. This has been the greatest gift in my experience and I am grateful for all those who have lovingly offered support and understanding in this time of loss.

5. Find comfort in creating.

During some of the most difficult times in my life I have looked to art as a balm for my soul. Art allows a soft resting place for grief. I’ve used the art to honor those losses and those I have loved, as well as a gift for myself to help heal and nourish my soul.

Here are some creative therapeutic activities you can do to help you through loss. Knit, sew, or create jewelry. These activities allow you to assert control over the materials, provides a mediative or prayerful experience of repetitious actions. Create a photo collage or scrapbook as a way of processing and honoring memories. Create art from clay or cement by embedding special items in the medium, or glue items on a box or candle representing your memories and feelings.

I believe we not only need to learn from these experience for ourselves, but also model this for our children and families.