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Dealing With Grief After Death

Heart Island 
(dealing with grief after death)
5″ x 7″
oil on canvas panel

Today, I decided to write a new kind of post. A much more personal post. One that I think – I hope – shows a deeper level of just how I manage grief using art, in this case, painting. Dealing with grief after death is different for everyone and I know I talk a lot on this site about using creative ways to manage it. Sure, I can post some art activities for you to try, which is one thing I do here obviously. And I write about ways to cope when friends ghost you or family members treat you like crap in subtle but still hurtful ways. But lately, I was feeling like doing something kind of personal and to really show some of my emotions around the ongoing grief that I often experience.

I recently painted this painting. It’s not very big, just 5″ X 7″, and is oil on canvas panel. Before this, I had been painting a lot of regular landscapes, interspersed with animals at times, and this has been going on for quite awhile. You know, just normal stuff. Nature is typically pretty soothing for me so capturing it in some form, some peaceful way, was helpful to me. Also, I noticed that painting normal stuff is received better among friends and family, so in an attempt to connect in some fashion, painting “normally” may have been some of my motivation.

But lately, I have felt…well, I can only describe it as “unsatisfied”. Like I’m just pretending to be normal. Sometimes, this is just being blocked artistically. That does happen, of course. And it may have happened here to an extent. All I know is that I wanted to express something more specific, maybe even abstract, to really show what it was I was experiencing. And that has nothing to do with “normal”. At least not by what I view to be the general societal outlook.

Loneliness in the Wake of Loss

Okay, so as you may already know, grief produces a whole hell of lot of loneliness for a lot of people. And this is an enormous part of my own personal grief. Yes, I am lonely. Sometimes so much so that my soul actually aches in a way that can be physically painful. I am surrounded by people but I am still lonely.

Lonely for what? After all, I technically have a family, right? I have a husband, I have children. This should be enough even after losing three very important people in my life, yes? So, why then, do I still have this lonely feeling in my heart?

That’s the feeling that I sought to convey in my painting, Heart Island.

I have realized over and over in the past 10 years that I really don’t have anyone to share my family with. Not in that cozy, let’s get super excited, exchange all kinds of pictures and videos kind of way. The people that I could have done this with are gone. My late spouse will never see his children grow up. My mother will never get to be a grandmother. My own grandmother, who was enormously interested in anything and everything even remotely connected to me, is now gone as well.

So, now what?

Yes, I still have some extended family as well as friends out there. But I can’t exchange family pictures and videos very well with them in the same way. They have their own families, their own parents, their own grandparents, their own people that they do that with. And I’m not really one of them. Yes, I’ve reached out and attempted to connect over and over with many of them, but with some, getting any kind of response, much less a genuinely interested one in my family too, is few and far between. My kids are growing up and they have to do it without any of the experiences that so many other families get to have. The people that would have loved them most and put their pictures up everywhere are gone. The family experience that I so longed to have is mostly lost to me and my kids at this point.

I think all that mix of grief and loss that hovers somewhere inside of me is pretty much what inspired my painting, Heart Island. People often look at surreal or abstract art and wonder, okay, what the hell is this and what does it even mean? Or they might just say, uhh, I like the colors (if I’m lucky). And that’s about it. And some artists can explain their work and others like to say it speaks for itself. Well, I can explain it. This is the meaning behind my painting. How my heart feels trying to navigate, sometimes completely alone, in what can be a beautiful world. And is the heart sinking into the depths of that sea? Or is it rising from it? I suppose only time can tell.

This heart island even looks upon other islands, which seem to be rooted and blooming, which is also how I often feel. I have to watch others have their lovely parental experiences and watch their grandparent experiences. And realizing, once again, that I, and my kids, lack what so many others take for granted.

Adjusting to a New Normal When Nothing Feels the Same

If you are a fellow griever, in any way, shape or form, you probably understand the feelings and thoughts and intense emotions that arise from loss and how it would make me produce a painting such as Heart Island. You, too, may know, that nothing is the same. Someone watching from the outside may say, well, of course, nothing is the same. But you don’t get the full effect of this until after it happens and even more so as the years go by. It can really hit you hard as you watch the rest of the world go along their merry way while you have no longer have any clue as to how to fit into it.

We discover other losses that come with death. We lose the future. Now, we can only live in the past where our departed loved ones are concerned. We can’t go to them and share anything anymore. It is physically over. And while we can remember and have our memories fondly, there is always that pain that there can be no more memories.

That is probably another aspect that I felt in creating this painting. Though, perhaps the fact that nothing is the same anymore, is more hidden than the other things I talked about, such as loneliness.

Is There Hope for Us Grievers? Are We Stuck on Heart Island Forever?

Well, there’s always hope, I like to believe. Maybe one day, things will change in such a way that my heart feels less lonely, less isolated, less like it may be hovering over an ocean, not sure if it is sinking or rising.

I do think I put some glimmer of hope within this painting, just by showing some sun and some light and some warmth. Some of that even shines on the top edges of Heart Island. I didn’t do that part on purpose, actually, it just sort of happened, which is another way visual art, when used in this intuitive manner, can tell us what’s deep within our souls.

I can honestly say that yes, some things are better than they were ten years ago, or five years ago, or even one year ago, where grief is concerned. But most of those things are small. Little things that add up over time. Occasionally, there is something larger and more noticeable. But usually, everything is baby steps.

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