I have been reflecting on the importance and meaning a work of art can take on when we are grieving. I like to believe that the right work of art finds us at the right time.
For instance, when my Mother died, a friend of my brother’s, who is an artist sent me a simple water colour of a small hillock, above the hill there was a grey foreboding cloud which she had drawn with pencil by making hundreds of figures of eights. The cloud just sat there, unmoving and it beautifully echoed my own feelings of grief and heaviness I felt at that time. Every day I looked at that picture, which I kept at my desk and felt understood. It was very comforting. Her painting spoke to me in a way words couldn’t. Then one day I looked at the image and thought to myself that I didn’t feel like that anymore, and I didn’t want to have it sitting there looking at me, reflecting something I no longer felt, so I put it away though I couldn’t part with it entirely because it held history now.
In the wonderful book, Saturday Night Widows, by Becky Aikman, she talks of trying to arrange a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her group of fellow widows. The idea she had was to have one of the museum guides organise a tour around works of art which would speak to their loss and and importantly, their recovery.The contact at the museum didn’t understand the concept of what they wanted, but eventually they did find a young guide from a private art tour company who picked a few works to show them.The first being a series of Chinese water colours of lotus blossoms, because they bloom in the mud, the second a gilded statue of Diana depicting feminine, delicate strength as well as women helping women, the third was the water lily painting by Claude Monet, (a young widow himself which was meaningful) and lastly a terracotta sculpture of a man keening in his mourning, reflecting their need to take care of themselves.The visit was a great success because each found something to relate to their feelings.
Have you ever found yourself listening to a song or piece of music, over and over because the music and the words appear to reach into your heart, settle there and attach themselves to your loss and grief. Perhaps you play it on repeat in the car when no-one is with you? After my Father died, I played the beautiful composition Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations by Elgar. It transported me back to the poignant moment when his coffin came down the aisle. It felt like a connection to him but also a way of invoking my grief that felt good in a very private way!
Nowadays, lots of people enjoy the short quotes which often come with a picture or photograph. They are numerous. The reason is because they make sense of our feelings, whatever it is we are going through and they often offer hope and inspiration that it can be different, that we can move forward, we can change and we can heal our hearts. One I particularly like is:
I don't grieve just for the moment my loved one passed. I grieve the past, the future, and the now. A human being is more than just one moment in time. - Angie Cartwright.
My main inspirational work of art during grief was from The Invitation by Mountain Oriah Dreamer. She says,
‘I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.’
Those words gave me something to hold onto. I immersed myself in the practicalities of life and care of children and my grief came along with me. It gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning.
Films are another source of comfort and acknowledgement of grief. My particular favourite is, ‘PS. I Love You.’ Yes, I know it’s a Chick Flick but, the scene when she stays in her apartment, unable to leave because she isn’t functioning is such a visual reflection of raw grief. She needs to be alone with her grief, because it feels right to her and it also means she is surrounded by her husband’s belongings and feels close to him. A couple of other films I recommend on the theme of grief are ‘Things We Lost In the Fire’, ‘The Descendants’, and ‘Truly Madly Deeply’. In the end though, films are deeply personal so you might try a few before you find one which speaks to you directly.
I can never forget the actor John Hannah reading W H Auden’s poem, ‘Stop All the Clocks’, in Four Weddings and a Funeral.That heartfelt poem talks of the anger people feel when life goes on as normal all around them in spite of their suffering with grief and loss. It is a common experience, for example when people go to the supermarket and see people shopping together in the aisles on a Saturday, when their own life is in tatters following the death of a loved one. There are so many stunning poems which talk of grief to be discovered and found. My own favorite is, 'In Blackwater Woods, by Mary Oliver', which ends with the lines:
‘To live in this world you must be able to do three things,
To love what is mortal,
To hold it against your bones knowing your life depends on it,
And when the times comes to let it go,
To let it go’.
It may be that you choose to reach out in your grief towards the Arts for comfort, for inspiration, for understanding but perhaps like me, a wonderful piece of art finds you at just the right moment, offering consolation just when you need it the most. Becky Aikman says,
‘Art helped me find order and meaning at a time when I couldn’t find them elsewhere’.
In counselling it can be meaningful to share the art that speaks to you, with your therapist and explore it more fully, for deeper understanding. If you would like to do that or to speak about your own grief and loss, contact me here.
If you have a work of art that has helped you, share it here for others to explore too.