Creative Responses to Grief: Part 2
Experiencing the death of a parent is life changing for so many reasons. There are various faces that grief may wear and many stages that don't necessarily flow in the most logical order as one might expect. Emotions ask us to be flexible and patient in finding a way through our personal grief.
I had not known what to expect when my father died and this seemed to only heighten the surrealness that hung around for a while afterward. I did experience great sadness and also moments of bewilderment however they were transient and almost fleeting by nature, coming and going of their own accord. I found a subtle deepening of roots in my identity amidst the shock and loss of losing my father. A settled feeling began to hold me as I navigated through each day, strengthening the heart of my character somehow.
In the wake of the void where my fathers life had been, seeds of mindfulness grew questioning what I could gather and learn from the loss. What were the strengths in my ancestry that could inspire me? How did I need to grow and mature as I traversed through this experience? What could I shed that did not serve me anymore that somehow I hadn't been able to whilst he was alive? Unresolved issues must be let go of and acceptance that is there not always a neat resolve in life, or in death.
Final and painful as it can be for loved ones grieving, the death of someone close is not just about loss. It is about forgiveness, honouring the past, holding hope for the future, learning about ourselves, letting go, being brave, being real, being human! If we can be present to the various elements and mixed layers inherent to grief, there are gifts to be found and fostered. Being present to what is real and how one is really feeling is the first step and this can be empowering and a way back to feeling centred.
"Early one morning...
I awoke after a dream where time frames and life events had flipped upside down. I was sure I had to call my dad and let him know I had arrived safe; he would be worried.
It seemed so real, then slowly it dawned on me that he was no longer here to call. I felt an urge of missing and a deep well of sadness rise up in my body. Who was I? A daughter still? How did I even belong now? I was transported to feeling like a little girl, one in need of nurturing, comfort and company.
Since I was the 'adult' and there was nobody to "there, there" me back to sleep, I quickly got dressed, picked up my pencils and sketchbook and walked down to the isolated beach. There, I let my heart and longing, my muddled mind and sense of missing flow onto the page.
This angel with her hearts and fish trinkets appeared on the page. The tilt of her head sky-bound is as if she is listening and watching, taking note of something that equally she is unsure of, that makes her feel vulnerable. Maybe she is praying, her hands together and looking up to the heavens. Such a simple an image can contain different meanings. The earthy tones ground the picture with a warmth and comfort. Little did I know this angel figure was to lead onto a whole creative journey for the next ten years of my life.
The drawing didn't take away the feeling of sadness and emptiness, but it did transmute them. I found a comfort of sorts, in moment to moment presence when the hand, eye, heart and imagination connected together in drawing.
After sketching for half an hour or so I started to own the grief a little. I felt rooted in the present moment, even though it was rather unpleasant. The images metaphorically held my feelings onto the page and I had witnessed my own story, so felt less alone in my grief.
Through the art making I had taken my own hand. Self soothed and listened to the emotional pain I was attached to.
'Honey Bee' was painted a few months after the original angel with trinkets sketch. As time rolled on I felt more and more inclined to lean into my ancestry and understand the collective experience birth and death dictates to us all. This painting seemed to draw together elements of my loss and what I may carry over from family history with hope and new beginnings for the future.
To me the honeybee and development of skulls in her dress allowed a conversation to open up about the death of a parent and what we may gain when we are grieving. Although this can seem controversial to some, for me it was part of my healing and something which afforded me a deeper strength and invitation to live more fully.
Indeed it was very soon after this time that I decided to become an artist full time and have been painting and selling work ever since. I still have "Honeybee" hanging in my home although I have been asked to sell her numerous times, she is certainly the only one of the Long Lady originals that is not for sale. This art was my healing and part of my sacred path. It offers me a window into meditations on life, death, renewal, the cycles of nature and the connectivity to all things.
Honeybee opened up a whole new chapter in my life and became the first of a series of paintings called Long Lady's which have been loved and bought by many people of all ages. These conceptual illustrations mirror a romanic and whimsical style that I found in the picture and story books of my childhood. They carry over symbolic messages of relationship to self and other, rites of passage and the soul journey if you like. I see them as reflections of the heroines journey, offering a map of the healing process throughout a lifetime that collectively so many of us can relate to.
Read more about "Pennies From Heaven" a commission for a son who was grieving his father. He loved Honeybee so much he designed his own Long Lady to honour and cherish the loss of his dad. The healing quality of art can be a like a balm to ease a weary heart and mind, whether its the making or the seeing, images can nourish us.