Your way back will happen very slowly. Almost like a whisper. You will be OK. Not the same. But OK. Not you. But still you. - Christina Rasmussen
Sometimes talking about our grief isn’t enough. Maybe our words don’t fully say what we want them to say. Or they don’t capture the depth of what we feel. This is why creative expression is such an integral part of the human experience and an excellent way to process the painful feelings we encounter, especially during times of grief. For many, participating in creative self-expression can help bring deep-rooted, complex emotions to light.
As part of your grief journey, you might consider taking up an activity that allows you to express yourself creatively. For many of us, painting comes to mind first, but you don’t have to take up painting if you don’t want to. There are many ways to express yourself creatively and tap into what is hiding below the surface. For example, you could: draw (pencil, pastels, ink), paint, sculpt, scrapbook, keep a grief journal, take photographs, garden, write poetry or prose, cook, bake, take up calligraphy, compose music, restore a car, woodwork, or create a memory quilt or box.
In the end, the final product doesn’t matter. The healing value is in the doing. You don’t have to be good at something to take it up as a vehicle for healing. In other words, you don’t have to be a writer to keep a grief journal. You don’t have to be a painter to use watercolors or oils. You don’t have to be a photographer to take beautiful pictures. All you need is the motivation and the desire to see if creative expression will help you.
Here are a few reasons why delving into your creativity may help you deal with loss.
1. It helps you express things you might not be able to put into words.
We all know how it feels to be at a loss for words. Creative expression allows us to become more aware of how we actually feel. In the creative process, we slow down a little and think about our emotions, actions, moods, and behaviors. There may be something going on inside that we don’t realize is there until we take the time to explore it.
2. The creative options available to you are wide and varied.
As mentioned above, you aren’t limited in what medium you choose as your creative outlet. An Australian woman did choose to paint and is now exhibiting her work, while another woman created works of art made from the clothing left behind by the son she lost. Eric Clapton, a musician who lost his young son in a freak accident, used music to help him deal with his grief. No matter what form of expression you choose, the results can contribute to the healing and reconciliation you come to regarding the death of the person you loved.
3. It’s a safe way to express your emotions.
Grief can bring out a myriad of emotions. Some of your emotions may even make you nervous or afraid. Using your creativity to deal with loss is a way to safely express yourself. No other person needs to be around when you create, unless you want them to be. It’s a time when you can choose to be alone to constructively explore what’s in your heart and mind. Your work is as private as you want it to be, and even if the emotions that reveal themselves are ugly, it’s better to get them out than to have them bottled up inside, waiting for a moment to burst.
4. It’s something you can control in a world that may seem out of control.
When we lose someone we love, our world is rocked. Things that felt safe and secure before may now feel shaky and uncertain. Depending on the depth of the loss, it may feel like everything is spiraling out of control. By taking up a creative habit, you create an opportunity where you can exert a certain level of control over at least one aspect of your life. It’s your work, and you make the rules. Throughout the process, creativity may become a reliable friend – a means of self-support during a time of confusion and pain.
5. It provides you with an opportunity to engage with others who are grieving.
Some will choose to engage in solitary creative expression. Others will take the opportunity to participate in collective creative expression. If you decide to paint, you might join a group of other painters who are going through loss. If you decide to write poetry, you could join a writing group focused on grief. You are not alone in your journey – so many others are also dealing with grief in their own way. You may find a kindred spirit in a class who will come alongside you as you grieve.
6. It is beneficial to your health.
It has been discovered that self-expression, particularly the arts, can actually help relieve feelings of stress, fear, and depression. The body calms during the activity, which, in turn, contributes to reduced blood pressure and even releases chemicals in the brain to decrease some types of depression. By allowing the emotions building up on the inside to find outward expression, you are actually allowing your body to relax, resulting in less strain and better health.
7. It helps you remember that there is still beauty in the world.
No matter which medium you choose to interact with – photography, journaling, woodworking, painting, etc. – at some point you will make a realization: there is still beauty in the world. The flowers are still delicate, the mountains are still impressive, and people are still worth knowing and loving. Even in grief, you will have good moments – days when you remember that life can be good. When those days come, don’t reject them. Embrace them. Remember that life can be good again…not the same but still good.
A brief note regarding creative expression and children in grief: Creative expression activities (most often arts & crafts) are very helpful for children experiencing grief. Children have a difficult time identifying what they are feeling, much less putting it into words. Arts & crafts allow them to communicate without words and provide an opportunity to release their emotions and express their thoughts.
If you’d like to give creative expression a try, you first need to pick an activity that appeals to you – even if you don’t think you’re good at it! Then, for three or four consecutive days, spend at least 20 minutes a day doing your chosen activity. After a few days, evaluate how you feel and if you’d like to continue. Fully embrace the activity during the trial phase and express yourself fearlessly. Your emotions are important, and they need to be expressed so that you can move forward.
We have been lucky to be blessed with three sons. They have each brought us special joy with their individual personalities, but our middle son, Billy, is fondly known as the “eternal optimist.” I wish that we could take credit for this attitude, but it’s something he was born with! For example, he had always been an early riser and liked to get in our bed at 5 a.m. As he would crawl into our bed, we would admonish him to be quiet and go back to sleep. He would lie on his back and say in a falsetto whisper, “It’s going to be a beautiful morning. I hear the birds singing.” When we would ask him to stop talking to us, he would reply, “I not talking to you; I talking to me!”
In kindergarten, he was asked to draw a tiger. Now, while optimism is Billy’s strong suit, art is not, and his tiger came out with a crooked head and one eye that appeared to be shut. When his teacher asked him about why the tiger had one eye closed, he replied, “Because he’s saying, ‘Here’s looking at you, kid!’”
Also, when he was five, he got into an argument with his older brother about whether a man on TV was bald. Billy said, “He’s not bald. He’s like Papa. He’s only bald when he looks at you. When he walks away, he has lots of hair!”
These memories and many, many more led up to the ultimate optimistic statement. Our third son, Tanner, was stricken with hemolytic uremic syndrome on a Tuesday and died the following Sunday. Billy was seven. The night after Tanner’s funeral I was putting Billy to bed. I often used to lie down beside him to discuss the day. On this particular night, we lay quietly in the dark with not much to say. Suddenly, from the dark, Billy spoke.
He said, “I feel sorry for us, but I almost feel more sorry for all those other people.” I questioned him about which people he was talking about. He explained, “The people who never knew Tanner. Weren’t we lucky to have had Tanner with us for 20 months. Just think, there are lots of people who were never lucky enough to know him at all. We are really lucky people.”
The Information Age has complicated the process of end-of-life planning. Not only do we need to focus on planning the funeral and dividing up our estate among our loved ones, but now, we also have to decide what we are going to do about the abundance of online information that we possess. We have accumulated enormous amounts of online assets. When we pass away, a portion of our identity is left floating around in cyberspace, where it will wander aimlessly for a while before it is shut down by online companies that clean up their sites.
For this reason, you may want to start outlining your plans for your digital estate plan. Below are some general tips and guidelines that can get you thinking about how you might want to arrange for the distribution of your digital assets.
Create an inventory of your digital material.
Before doing anything else, make sure that you are aware of all of your online material. This seems obvious, but can be a lot harder than it sounds. Social media accounts, email information, blogs, pictures and videos…there is a lot of information out there, and you want to make sure that you acknowledge the entirety of your digital estate before you go any further.
Consider using an online resource or app as a tool to organize your assets.
New apps and websites are available that allow you to store all of your assets in a digital space. They function as a sort of bank for your digital assets. This is an easy way to compile all of your material so that it can be easily accessible to loved ones. While this can be a useful tool, be sure to do some thorough research on the company you choose to make sure that it is reputable.
Construct a list with all of your user names and passwords and store it in a safe place.
You may even want to create two separate lists, splitting the username and password information and storing them in two separate locations for greater security. Another option is to use a code that you and your next of kin both understand, but that would be difficult for a stranger to decipher. Be sure to update these lists every time you update your passwords. Be sure to keep this information out of your will because the will ends up in the public records, which raises safety concerns. Don't forget to include your computer and phone pass codes! Many people overlook the fact that their devices (and all the information and photos stored on them) are often inaccessible to loved ones after they die without those very important codes.
Begin looking at individual companies' policies.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of legal gray area concerning the distribution of digital information after the death of an individual. Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn... all of these companies have different policies for dealing with the material of a person who has passed. Familiarize yourself with the individual polices so that you can determine the best course of action.
Once everything has been planned, appoint a representative who will act on your behalf and follow your instructions regarding your online information. Though username and password information should not go in the will, you can designate your representative in the will and provide general instructions. Be in contact with your representative to make sure that he or she knows where and how to obtain your personal information.
Make sure that loved ones know to act fast.
Many companies have a legal right to the ownership of your account after you die, and often the account is merely shut down and the material lost. However, if your family members act fast to access the material before the company deletes the account, or if they contact the company, they can find a way to use the material. If it’s a social media account, they can post a final tribute or retrieve some precious photos. If it’s an email or an account with important personal information, they may be able to access the account to transfer some of the information before the account is terminated.
Check your state’s laws.
As with so many legal issues, digital estate planning may vary based on the laws of your state. Some states have specific laws for handling the online material of a deceased person. Other states have no such laws regarding these issues. To ensure that you’re doing things according to the book, look into the guidelines of your individual state.
With an ever-increasing portion of our lives dedicated to cyberspace, it’s important that you begin to think about the management of your online content. By developing a plan and organizing your thoughts and wishes, you can make things a little bit easier on your loved ones after you pass.