Act on Your Grief

Joann is an actress. She is also a bereaved parent. She shared with me that when the emotions of her grief welled up inside of her she would act them out. She would become the voice of her anger or guilt. She created monologues of her emotions. She thought she was going a little crazy.

However, Joann was far from crazy. For some, she could actually be a model for handling grief. By literally acting out her emotions, she found a way to act on them – to vent, express and explore her grief. She used her creativity as a tool to help her grieve.

Not everyone can act or not everyone feels comfortable on a stage. But each of us possesses our own creative impulses. We can use this creativity to give expression to our grief.

When rock singer Eric Clapton’s young son died in a tragic accident, Clapton expressed his grief in a poignant song, Tears in Heaven.  Many singers and songwriters have created their own music as an expression of their grief or a tribute to a person who has died. Sometimes even listening to these songs can offer a sense of expression or even release.

Music and acting is just a couple of types of creative arts. Photography actually helped Tom. It had been a lifelong hobby and so it felt natural to use photos to express his journey of grief. Different black and white photographs captured emotions and characterized his mood. Bleak shots of winter showed despair. Anger reflected in his shots of waves beating against a ragged shore. Hope emerged in pictures of budding plants. Rhea also used photography. She created a photo montage for her father’s funeral. She found it therapeutic and later decided to create an entire album that would serve as a tribute to his life.

Poetry, painting, dance, storytelling, sculpture or any of the various creative arts can be effective outlets. Less formal outlets may also be helpful. Marcie, a therapist, shared the value of creating collages for survivors of violent and traumatic loss, noting that the random placement of newspaper clippings and photographs somehow seems to bring a sense of order into the chaos survivor’s experience.

Using these creative outlets has much value. First, they give expression to our deepest experiences. Sometimes we may not be able to find words for the grief. Sometimes there are no words.

More than that, creative arts are suited for every individual. Each of us has unique talents or abilities, our own interests, levels, and our own preferences. Some may use the creative arts to express feelings while others will use it to share fond memories or thoughts. Still, for others, the very act of doing something is therapeutic.

There is one last value. Producing or experiencing the productions of others gives a visual reminder that sometimes the worst experiences of life can be transformed into a tragic beauty. In its own way, that offers continued hope.

By Kenneth J. Doka 

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