Today I am honored to introduce you to Angie from the Still Life With Circles blog. Today she share with us the story of her daughter Lucia, and her healing through careful scheduling of writing and art time into each and every day. For more ideas and inspiration with Angie be sure to visit her blog and check out my favorite projects from her: Right Where I Am & the Spoken Word blog round up. xo. ~Beryl
I always admired people who followed their passions. Before my daughter died, I suffered from terminal self-consciousness and an acute case of perfectionitis. If I couldn’t master something immediately, I abandoned it. I loved art and painting, but I didn’t want anyone to pick out my flaws, notice my mistakes, laugh at my shaky lines, or comprehend the depth of my insecurity. Art felt like vulnerability to me, because I was so earnest in my love and passion for it. Even though as a child, I went to art school, repeatedly told I was a talented painter and a creative soul, sharing my art felt something akin to walking through town naked.
Lucia Paz, my second daughter, died on Winter Solstice in 2008. The grief overwhelmed me. I thought I understood suffering and grief and pain before her death, but I knew nothing. I began writing as a way to navigate the labyrinth of grief. When my husband was slated to return to work, I scrambled again. What was I going to do with myself and my twenty-month old daughter Beatrice? I couldn’t write during the day. Writing is a solitary, isolating experience. I felt lost. I felt I would never be whole again.
I decided the best thing to do for Beatrice and myself was to create a schedule for our day. From this time to this time, we would brush our teeth. From this time to this time, we would walk. From this time to this time, we would eat. It seemed the only way to find some path to normalcy. And in that schedule, I wrote this:
1p-2p Art Hour.
It had been years since I had consistently done art just for myself. I traded an hour of grieving for an hour of painting. I bought some watercolors and a book that read, “How To Do Watercolor.” I bought washable paints for Beatrice and set her easel up next to my own. We painted. When Beatrice painted the wall. I made the decision not to clean up her mess, or teach her how to paint. I just let both of us paint without limitations or rules or self-consciousness. When I stopped focusing on either of us painting “correctly,” I found the first moments of peace since Lucia’s death. The first painting I did was of an apple. It wasn’t miraculous in terms of technique or talent, but it was the most beautiful painting I had created. It represented an hour of peace–something that seemed impossible to me even three hours earlier. Painting, and later craft and sculpture, were my way to meditate, to pray, to remain present in the moment, to sit still. Painting helped me feel human again, maybe even a little normal.
It wasn’t long before my still life paintings changed and I began painting my emotions and my grief. My hour of painting became two, three, sometimes more. Grief oozed into every part of my life when Lucia died, and months later, art seeped into every part of my grief. Creativity and art became intertwined and entangled. Art became my way of life and my language. In 2010, I started a website called still life 365, where I posted a piece of art, craft, film, music or poetry every day of the year by a family member, mostly parents, grieving the death of their child or children through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Connecting with other grieving parents, experiencing their art, sitting with their grief felt right, important and desperately soul-soothing. We were sharing our stories in a new language.
There is this liberation of my soul, a kind of creative freedom, that I had never felt in my life. It’s not that I feel at all liberated by Lucy’s death. I feel absolutely fettered to grief, but accepting that grief is part of who I am now, I felt a creative freedom to express that truth in whatever way it needed to come out. It’s not that I am more secure. It’s not that I am more confident, but I just don’t care about being the best anymore, or even being mediocre. That is not the point of art for me anymore. I do not want to master the art. I just want to connect to the grief and to Lucia. I try to express the universal experience of suffering. I don’t care about my technique as much as I care about the meditation of painting. Lucy’s death gave me the permission to just be myself through art, writing and craft. She gave me a confidence in the authenticity of my feelings. It is her gift to me, and my way of mothering her, which is truly mothering myself too. Lucy gave me courage, not to go on without her, but she gave me courage to make a fool out of myself. Showing my art or having it rejected was a drop in the bucket of heartbreak, I now know. A criticism of my technique was not the death of a piece, but only one vision of the piece. I just stopped taking it all so personally.
My daughter died. I need to paint.
During those early months of grief painting, I explored mizuko jizos, a Zen Buddhist bodhisattva for stillborn and miscarried children. After Lucia’s death, I searched for myth, folktales, stories, religious stories about the experience of birthing my dead daughter, child loss, and stillbirth. Mizuko jizo became a way for me to channel my erratic grief energy. I meditate and then paint mizuko jizo. They have become an expression of my deep love, my compassion, and the shared experience of grief. Today, in honor of Faces of Loss and International Creativity Month, I am giving away one of my mizuko jizo meditation paintings. This is a 4″x 6″ watercolor painting on 140 lb. cold-pressed paper.
To enter, please leave a comment to tell me how art has played a role in your grief, whether it is looking at or doing art.
Entries will be accepted until Tuesday, January 31st and a winner will be announced on the Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope Facebook page on Wednesday February 1st.
–Angie M. Yingst