Eileen Miller, from Color Therapy says, “Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.” I dare to say this is true of all art forms. The arts provide an opportunity to explore our feelings as we embrace the magic and mystery of a painting, song, sculpture, poem or a live performance. The arts can be a meeting place for our grief, a place that offers momentary peace or permanent healing.
While wandering through the Uffizi museum several years ago, I came upon a painting that depicted the Flight of Mary and Joseph into Egypt as they escaped the infanticide Herod the Great ordered in hopes of killing their son. While I was familiar with many depictions of this narrative, this painting fueled an entirely new understanding of the historic event, arousing in me the pain of Mary and Joseph’s grief. In the picture Mary is riding a donkey, Joseph leading the way and Jesus is laying in Mary’s arms on her lap, while Mary shields Jesus from seeing all the dead children along the side of the road. As many times as I heard this story or saw it in a painting, the depth of Mary and Joseph’s sadness never entered my mind. Imagine the joyous birth of your child instigates the death of so many infants and toddlers. I stood by this painting for the longest time, just letting the sadness sink in. Art provoked a deep sense of grief in me and provided a new experience of the story.
No less an impact was made in my heart the first time I attended a New York theater production of Les Misérables. The performing arts is a perfect genre for evoking grief and bringing loss to the front of our hearts. The moving death of Jean Valjean with Cosette and Marius by his side and the death of Inspector Javert whose despair leads him to drown himself in the river Seine, each solicited sobbing sorrow from me. A skillfully executed performance with grief as its message, like a painting, raises our tightly held pain to the surface, opening a path to healing our heart.
Last year, I conducted a grief seminar structured solely on musical selections that addressed different aspects of grief from a death-loss. There is no more perfect or moving description of a woman’s death-loss of a husband than Amanda Holden’s With You. Music’s capacity to make us happy or sad, melancholic or reminiscent can play a huge role in our healing. Not merely the lyrics, but the tone, pace and melody impact our feelings. I know so many people whose most cathartic moment at a funeral was listening to a song. Indeed, many people play the songs from their loved one’s funeral over and over as they walk the path of grief. The songs become part of the journey, offering comfort and healing.
Come Unto Me sculpture by artist Jerry Anderson, Spilsbury Mortuary, St. George, Utah |
Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News
Beautiful sculptures have a way of making a reality come alive through an inanimate item. A good sculpture brings some idea, message, or vision to life to expand our mind and heart. A photo of a sculpture by Jerry Anderson, Spilsbury Mortuary in St. George, Utah so startled my belief in what the moment of entering heaven will be like that I bought a large photo of the sculpture and made room for it on the chapel wall in the nursing home where I was chaplain. So many depressed and lonely residents in the nursing home sat and stared at that photo, as it lifted them from fear to hope. I would love to see this sculpture up close and imagine it would be like my experience at the Uffizi.
The art form which has most impacted my healing from grief is poetry. For years, my most favored poet for healing grief was Phyllis Wheatley. Two years ago, all that changed when poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer begin writing daily poems relating to the death-loss of her son who took his life. Rosemerry’s many poems have the deepest dive into grief ever taken, both its insidiousness and potentially healing hold on us. Rosemerry’s poems usually advance the get-better not bitter work of healing. Reading her poems helps me mourn deeply and heal hopefully. I have many favorites, so it is hard to share only one. I chose one in which Rosemerry describes what it means to grieve, what it feels like and what it takes to get up every day without the one you love.
For the Living by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
It is the work of the living
to grieve the dead.
It is our work to wake each day,
to live into the world that is.
It is our work to weep,
and it is our work to be healed.
Some part of us knows
not only the absence of our beloveds,
but also their presence,
how they continue to teach us,
how they invite us to grow.
It is our work to be softened by loss,
to be undone, destroyed, remade.
Wounded, we recoil,
and it is our work to notice how,
like crushed and trampled grass,
we spring back.
It is our work to meet death again
and again and again,
and though it aches to be open,
it is our work to be opened,
to live into the opening
until we know ourselves
as blossoms nourished from within
by the radiance of the ones
who are no longer physically here.
They have given us their love light to carry.
It is our work to be in service to that light.
Can the arts help your grieving, can pictures, songs, the performing arts, sculptures and poetry heal? I say a resounding yes and I encourage you to add a healthy dose of the arts as often as you can while you walk the path of grief.