The art of grieving in this article actually has a twofold meaning. Grief is a heavily emotional, fluctuating, non-linear, incredibly human process. As just that, it is an energetic journey that can be defined as an ‘art’ requiring intention, courage, compassion, and creative expression. As painful and disturbing parts of our lives, creativity proves instrumental in the art of grieving through solace, expressive outlet, and connection. Hence, we will explore how engaging with any art form supports us through the dynamic seas of grief and loss.
The Art of Grieving and Art through Grief
By accompanying me along this journey, I hope that you will gain an understanding of how you too can find reprieve through the art of grieving and art through grief. My intention is to encourage our readers to turn toward the pain of grief and loss. To that end, I hope to invigorate conversations about dying, loss, and the grief process beyond denial and fear, and toward acceptance and creative inspiration.
In order to talk about grief, let’s first talk about loss. Grief is a natural, common part of the life cycle. When we think of grief, we often connect it to the suffering experienced by someone who lost a loved one’s passing. Death unquestionably is one of the most challenging and impactful of losses. But we really experience grief far more regularly. And without risking sounding dystopian, this actually makes it normal!
Other ways we experience loss:
- Loss of a job
- End of a relationship
- A miscarriage or abortion
- Close of a day
- Death of your bank account
- Loss of family pet
- Giving up on a dream
- End of age or era
- Loss of mobility or a faculty (sight, hearing, etc.)
And I’m sure you can name many more! What’s integral to recognizing and honor in ourselves and one another is that all people respond to loss uniquely. In this way, it is empowering to normalize that grief does not need to look or feel one way, nor has a “right” pace, structure, or process.
Specifically, one incredibly helpful resource that came into my own processing of grief and loss and in the work I do with my clients is The Seven Languages of Sorrow. Check out this slideshow below for more information, or explore what comes up for you as you see this image synopsis below:
When we look at grief and loss through this expanded lens, it actually helps us. Because while our experience is our own, it is also universally messy, non-linear, and yet, shared. And, the more familiar you get with how you grieve, the easier it is to open your creativity and invite art, in any form, into your process.
The Art of Grieving
The art of grieving really implies how to grieve well. ‘Well’ may remain vague, but otherwise can be understood as ‘healthy’ or ‘balanced’ grieving. The first step to grieving well is to accept it as a natural response to loss. From acceptance, we can look more compassionately at why we feel so affected by this loss. Since life is full of connection, it seems natural to form a degree of attachment to people, pets, and experiences that reciprocate or bring joy to us. So naturally then can we make sense of why we grieve the perceived change or loss of connection?
As Buddhism preaches: “Attachment brings suffering.” Though this does not necessarily lead us to nihilist defeatism – that life is meaningless or not to be enjoyed and loved. But instead, it just serves to humble us to expect, to accept, that loss is part of life. They also remind us that “change is the only constant.” And let’s pair ancient philosophies with modern physics here: “all things are energy” and “all energy is in flux., neither created nor destroyed.” So quickly we are led to accept that all things come to an end, or more accurately, adapt, evolve, and shift into another energy form.
A major learning about grief is that there is no grief without love. My teacher Stephen Garrett quoted below, says they are two petals on the same flower. The intensity to which we love so often reflects the depths of our sorrow.
Changing the Lenses
Though grief is a unique and personal crossing, some aspects of this journey are common across humanity. So let’s work on changing the lenses of how we work with grief. The art of grieving is all-encompassing. It allows for all emotions to have space, to find expression. What’s most valuable and important about grief is that energy needs to move. And perhaps you’ve heard before that emotions = energy-in-motion? Well, now you have! And since the arts are expansive and unbound, we are not restricted in how many choices we have to find artistic outlets to express what we carry with us through grief.
Whether you reflect internally while dancing, playing an instrument, singing, or writing a song, it moves your grieving energy. Accordingly, those emotions are validated, acknowledged, and moved. Let’s explore a few ways in which we can bring art into the art of grieving.
Music of Grieving
Obviously, let’s consider some melancholy music spawned out of grieving in response to different losses. Overall this outlet is perhaps the most commonly reached for of all art of grieving. Consider some of the following examples, where the art of grieving stems from turning toward the naturally winding process of grief. Overall, what stands out for you about this way of processing loss?
Painting or Drawing
Undoubtedly painting or drawing can be invaluable to the grieving process. Significantly, taking or interpreting visual arts engages the creative, right brain where abstraction and more of the subconscious operate. While grief can often feel at the forefront of our minds, so much of our emotions necessarily reside in the subconscious. This is why art therapy, whether self-guided or with an art therapist, can prove valuable to help move emotional energy and support the art of grieving well.
Art therapy is especially effective when working with those struggling with grief and loss. Taking time to construct thoughts in a drawing or painting encourages an open connection to the grief in a way that talking alone may not. In addition, the art task creates a concrete entity that is separate from the self and therefore provides a distance from the overwhelming sense of loss that may be obstructing the healing process.
The following are some suggestions to consider:
- putting together a photo collage or scrapbook with your favorite photos of your loved one
- creating a wall of memories with framed photos of your favorite moments
- painting on a blank canvas, sheet, or wall
- improvising intuitive art using brushes, crayons, or paint and just moving freely through a canvas or paper
- creating or coloring mandalas from a book or printout
- decorating a meaningful object
- creating the art and getting a tattoo of it
- carving and decorating a wooden box to keep meaningful souvenirs close to you
- creating a memorial garden with colorful planters, wind spinners, and personalized stones or objects
- making a quilt out of your loved one’s clothing
Here is a little piece I did in 2019 after the passing of a dear friend:
Poetry or Creative Writing for Grieving
Poetry can include songwriting, can be recited in shared public spaces, or may remain in the privacy of one’s own journal. But poetry or creative writing for grieving is another powerful way to support moving through the cycle of grief after a loss. Here is an example that reaches my heart by Clare Harner (1934):
Do not stand By my grave, and weep. I am not there, I do not sleep— I am the thousand winds that blow I am the diamond glints in snow I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle, autumn rain. As you awake with morning’s hush, I am the swift, up-flinging rush Of quiet birds in circling flight, I am the day transcending night. Do not stand By my grave, and cry— I am not there, I did not die.
Dance or Movement for Grieving
In many cultures, dance is ritualized and the process is made sacred by shifting our state of consciousness and connection to souls passed on. As an example, to learn more about this in an Australian Indigenous context, see this article from the Milingimbi Arts Centre, or see below for a short speech on dancing’s power to move emotional energy encompassed in grief.
Final Notes on the Art of Grieving
I’ll leave you with some encouraging words from my teacher, Stephen L. Garrett. As we recognize the parallels between the grief and art process, perhaps, little by little, the weight of this inevitable, natural, and intensified journey we all experience finds reprieve through a new light, creation, movement, music, and meaning-making.
About the author:
I am passionate about making the best of life through cherishing relationships, exploring worldly experiences, and cultivating a creative lifestyle of art, music, dance, and fitness. I am a self-taught painter, inspired by the sublimity of nature, consciousness, love and universal transcendence that binds all of humanity and nature, together.