I just recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Beth Morey of Epiphany Art Studio and I am so glad she is sharing the newness of her journey through loss with all of you today. After losing her precious baby only a few short weeks ago, she has turned to art to process her feelings on grief and life. I love the concrete ideas she gives today for incorporating art and creativity into your own loss journey and she’s graciously giving away one of her art prints here today too. ~beryl
Everything feels hard. Eating, breathing, waking up and laying down, shopping, showering, thinking, being – each movement of each day feels impossibly large.
This is grief.
This is where I am living – and, if you are reading this, chances are that you or someone you love is living in this place, too. Here we all are, each trying to piece our broken hearts back together, trying to stitch together a new life, because the old was shattered by the loss of a baby.
My baby’s name was Eve. On Friday, November 18, 2011, at 31 weeks of pregnancy, I realized that I had not felt her move all day. My husband and I went to the hospital and were told the worst – that she had died. I birthed her little body into this world on November 20. She had my dark curly hair and her daddy’s face. Even after an autopsy, no cause of death could be determined.
I can’t believe that this happened to me – or rather, that it is happening to me. Because losing a child is not a one-time event. Instead, it is a daily loss, an everyday accumulation of pain as a new aspect of her gone-ness is realized. Even though my faith in God’s promises is somehow stronger now than it ever has been, and even though I believe that there is always hope, I have a hard time seeing what my life could possibly become after this. Because I did not just lose Eve – I also lost a lifetime shared with her. I was supposed to start raising my daughter this January, but instead all I have are empty arms and an aching heart and a container full of ashes on my mantle to remind me that I was ever a mother at all.
I know that I am not alone in my pain, in this confusing emotional gamut of grief. So I must ask, for all of us – what are we to do now? How are we supposed to go on after experiencing what can only be described as senseless, horrifying death? How in the world are we supposed to heal?
Obviously, I have not been walking this path of grief for very long – only seven weeks at the time of this writing. In that time, however, I have discovered that there is profound comfort to be found in the act of creating. I had already known this to some degree; earlier this year I found that making art was pivotal in freeing me from a seventeen year battle with a disordered eating. After Eve died, however, I wondered if art would remain the same safe haven of healing and catharsis that it once had been. I wondered if perhaps art would become a source of grief, as it was something that I did “with” Eve when I was pregnant.
Shortly after arriving home from the hospital, newly bereaved and not yet adjusted to my un-pregnant body, I gingerly approached my art table. Although I did not feel much like making anything, I needed to try. I needed to know how creating would feel in my new grief-stricken life. Drawing a deep breath, I picked up a brush and began to paint.
I pushed paint across the page and realized with a rush of gratitude that art-making was not painful. Instead of reminding me of what I had lost, painting made me feel like I could breathe again. The heaviness of Eve’s death had knotted all of my muscles too tight, but when I was painting could feel them begin to unwind. It felt like I was bleeding my feelings onto the page, painting with emotions instead of paint. I felt like I was coming home to myself after a long desert wandering. I felt safe.
Since then, I have turned to creativity a number of times to help me navigate the new landscape of my life. I used photography to help me collect memories of places that I had visited “with” Eve during my pregnancy, and to remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. I collaged my way through numb evenings and normal-feeling evenings alike. I drew and painted sad faces that express the state of my heart. I started making a scrapbook honoring Eve’s memory. I learned to loom knit and let the simple repetition of the activity wring raw tears from me when I felt unable to cry. I journal and blog with brutal honesty. I surround myself with music that helps me to grieve, and sing along if I am not choked with tears.
All these kinds of creativity are helping me. Creating does not take the horror of Eve’s absence away, but it gives me something positive and nurturing to focus on. Some days it helps me to regain a sense of normalcy, and other days it helps me to face the pain squarely and feel the wild range of emotions that need to be felt.
Creating, in short, helps me to live. It helps me to find myself when I feel lost in the storms of grief. It makes me feel close to God, who is the first and greatest creator. It brings calm to my heart when my insides are churning and I cannot fend off fear and panic and every breath is acid. Creativity is a deep well of life in days that have been marked by death.
Perhaps you are wondering if creativity could provide similar nourishment to you. My answer is yes yes I believe it can! I pray that you will find the courage to pick up a pencil and draw, or a brush and paint, and discover what creating can do for you. It is not an easy out or quick fix for this pain that we are living in, but I continue to find it profoundly helpful and soothing. I believe that the same will prove true for you.
Here are some tips that I hope will get you started:
Do something you enjoy. The definition of “being creative” is not the same for every person. So find something that you love to make, and then make it. You can bake, sing, write, play an instrument, sculpt, finger paint, trace, sew, knit, build something, sketch, decoupage, scrapbook, stencil, take photos – the options are endless. Pick something you like and then do it – even if you don’t want to. Nine times out of ten, I am glad that I made myself dabble in something creative.
Focus on the process, not the result. Creative healing does not depend on artistic skill or ability. You don’t have to be able to draw a realistic face or paint a true-to-life landscape. All you have to do is enjoy the process. I don’t paint because I am a master painter working on a commission – I paint because I love how it feels to push paint across the page. I paint because it soothes me. The end result is secondary. Let yourself just be in the moment, doing whatever creative thing that you choose, and try not to judge yourself.
Let yourself feel what you are feeling. When I was younger, I was a master of suppressing my feelings. Anger, fear, pain, betrayal – everything I perceived as negative got pushed down, and eventually all that festering emotion manifested itself in an eating disorder. If I had let myself feel those emotions in the moment that they emerged, I might have avoided years of struggle and mental illness. So I encourage you to feel whatever emotions come up – whether that’s rage or jealousy or numbness or fear or disbelief or deepest sorrow or some painful combination thereof. Feel it all and don’t try to run from the emotions or squash them down – they will only come back later, and perhaps manifest in an even more devastating way. Emotions are meant to be felt, so let the vulnerability that creativity can bring help you to feel them all.
Take notice. What happens inside of you when you draw or cook or bang nails into wood? How does it make you feel? What does the action of your creativity feel like? Does it bring up anything new or surprising? I have found that when I am doing something that engages my mind, body, and heart – as most creative endeavors do – I experience small epiphanies about what is really going on deep inside myself. Perhaps I discover that the anger I feel toward my husband is really masking anger at God, or that the anxiety I feel about my future is really anxiety about my own mortality. It’s good to get to the root of your feelings, so don’t be afraid to let your own small epiphanies dawn.
Have fun. Having fun might seem not only impossible to you right now, but also offensive. And that’s okay. But it is also okay to enjoy yourself. If your creating brings you joy, let yourself feel that joy! You are not dishonoring or betraying your child by doing so. Look at it this way – if you had been the one to die instead, would you want the loved ones left behind to live the rest of their days without joy or hope or any kind of pleasure? Be gentle with yourself and embrace whatever enjoyment you experience. You and I both now know too well how fragile and precious life is, so do let happiness in as much as you can. It is a gift, and so are you.
- Leave a comment on this post: Which Epiphany Art Studio piece is your favorite?
- You can gain additional entries by following Beth on facebook ~ be sure to leave a separate comment for each one.
The contest closes January 17th and a winner will be announced January 18th on the facebook page!