Art Therapy and Loss

When you lose someone you love deeply, there are lessons beyond what you could imagine. Some painful and heartbreaking and others humiliating and heartbreaking. 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. The loss of a grandparent, parent, sibling, child, pet, spouse, friend, or relative. Loss is and comes in many forms: estrangement from friends and family, loss of an important relationship, divorce, loss of a job, changes in school, loss of physical health, saying goodbye to someone who is inevitably leaving, or having an empty nest Life is continually in a state of change and loss is part of the cycle.

So how can we live with grace and compassion and open ourselves to these experiences when we encounter them (instead of closing off, hiding, denying or minimizing these very important moments)? I don’t have the answers, but I’m learning and this is what I’ve discovered.

1. Allow yourself to be in the feelings.
People fear being overwhelmed by emotions if they allow themselves to feel deeply. The truth is that the more you ignore, avoid or try to overcome these feelings, the more they will exhaust and overwhelm you. Accept what you are feeling and what you need so that you can gracefully move through the experience.

2. Give yourself time.
There are stages of injury and loss and they do not develop overnight. Please be gentle and kind to yourself and do not try to force the process quickly. When you honor your needs and give yourself time to heal, you will move forward with an open heart, knowing that what is unfolding is at the perfect time.

3. Allow yourself to separate 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 you experience a loss and surrendering to what you cannot control allows you to refocus on yourself and what you really need. Being still and focusing on the “here and now” gives you the opportunity to let go of what you can’t control and soften 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 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 me support and understanding in this time of loss.

5. Find comfort in creation.
During some of the most difficult moments of my life I have looked to art as a balm for my soul. Art allows a soft resting place for injury. I have used art to honor those losses and the people I have loved, as well as a gift to myself to help heal and nurture my soul.

Here are some creative therapeutic activities you can do to help you work through the loss. Knit, sew or create jewelry. These activities allow you to assert control over materials, provide a mediating or prayerful experience of repetitive actions. Create a photo collage or scrapbook as a way to process and honor memories. Create art with clay or cement by embedding special items in the middle, or stick items on a box or candle that represent your memories and feelings.

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

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