The dancing flames light up the dark yard. The cracking sounds of firewood echo through the night. The light reveals the drawings I’m holding on my lap: the images from my dream—my husband and me sitting under the palm trees, his straw hat, rice paddy, my long hair spreading over his body.
I get up from the lawn chair and take a few steps to the fire pit. I then throw the drawings into the fire one by one. I watch them wrestling with the flames, slowly conquered by them, and finally fusing to the radiant power that purifies everything, including his pain and mine. I stay at the fire pit until all the flames are gone and flickering lights illuminate the remaining char: it concludes the second death anniversary for my husband.
Art has played an irreplaceable role in his death anniversaries. Haiku poetry, drawing, origami, collage — I used art expressions to give outlets to my grief. I then performed rituals to honor my feelings and pains: I buried my origami cranes with a prayer and made a bookmark that featured my haiku and matching image. I incorporated art activities into not only his death anniversaries but also my everyday grieving and healing.
Grief needs to be expressed. Art gives voice to sorrow, regret, anger, fear, and other painful emotions. The beauty and creative power of art soothe and inspire us. Grief art moves us forward.
You don’t need artistic talent or skills to use the art for healing, inspiration, discovery, or guidance. There are many art mediums you can enjoy without techniques or financial investment. Grief art is personal work (no one will see it unless you want to share), so don’t worry about how others think about your artwork. In grief art, the creative process is more important than the finished piece. It is where you open your heart, feel the wound, receive healing and nourishment, and empower yourself.
Here are some art ideas that will help you consciously mourn your loss and walk toward the future.
Drawing Pick up a pen, pencil, crayon, marker, colored pencil, or any other drawing material available. Let your hand freely express whatever is in your heart. Your drawing may be abstract or realistic. Trust your gut feeling: one line will lead to another, then the next one. Use coloring materials to enhance your work if you want.
I like to draw images from my dreams. I usually start drawing with a vague memory of my dream and recall more details as I draw. I often discover the deep meaning of the dream in the process, which can be healing, inspirational, or empowering.
You could give yourself a drawing theme such as my sorrow, my most loving memory with (the one you lost), loneliness, and my life. If you have a friend also in grief, you might want to draw together or draw alone and later share your drawing with them. Having a witness for your grief art adds more healing power. Ask them just to witness, not to give any advice or opinion.
Collage Have a large sheet of white paper (I like to use a 22" x 28" white poster board) and magazines ready for this activity. Like drawing, you can experiment with automatic collaging by flipping pages of the magazines, cutting out any images that speak to you, and freely pasting them on the paper. You may want a collage theme such as the memories of my loved one, my life, and my future (vision board). If you have a printer at home, find images online, print them out, and paste them to your collage paper.
Once I created a collage that featured the people I loved. I printed out the photos of my deceased husband, current partner, son, parents, and best friends and pasted them on the board. This process made me realize how their deep love had supported me through the ups and downs of my life. I felt grateful and empowered. The collage art I posted on my office desk sustained me through the tough time in the workplace.
Mosaic If you are full of creative juices, mosaic is a fun art to try. You don’t need to buy expensive materials. Collect a lot of egg shells (a good activity after making a frittata!), color them, and crack them into pieces. Put Elmer’s glue on the paper and place colored eggshell pieces in any way you want.
Like drawing and collage, you can intentionally create patterns or enjoy abstract designs. You also have options of automatic mosaic making (free expression of your inner world) or having a theme for your art.
Floral arrangement Flowers have the power to nurture, heal, and evoke joy. No wonder they are part of important rituals and celebrations such as funerals and weddings. Arranging flowers calms the mind, and the floral decoration emits positive energies for days.
You can learn and practice classic flower arrangement styles or do it your own way. Flower shops, supermarkets, and farmers markets are not the only places for sourcing materials. Walk through your yard or a nearby park and pick up wild plants to complement your floral arrangement.
Nature is healing: it absorbs your pain and embraces you with unconditional love. It has all the answers to your questions. Tap into the power of nature through flower arrangement art.
Origami Origami paper folding has been popular in eastern Asia. It is a mainstream art activity in the Western world now. To enjoy origami, you need only one material: square paper. Collect paper — copy paper, wrapping paper, or any other paper not too thin or thick — and cut it into square pieces. 6” x 6” is a good size to start. You can also pick up origami paper in assorted colors at a local arts and crafts store or online.
The most iconic origami model is the crane. According to Japanese myth, cranes carry the souls of the deceased to heaven. The crane is also a symbol of healing and peace. Folding a thousand cranes for a sick family member or friend is a treasured Japanese tradition.
After my husband was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma, I folded a thousand cranes for him with my son and dear Japanese friend who had lost her husband a year ago. Folding cranes every day gave my son and me much-needed focus and comfort during the chaotic and heartbreaking time. It also helped my friend deal with her grief. When my husband passed away six months later, I laid some of the cranes in his coffin and shared the rest with the guests at his memorial service. The rituals I created with origami cranes brought me solace. You can access the instructions for the origami crane here.
There are many other art activities you can try in the time of grieving. Open yourself to the healing and inspiring power of the art. Let it guide you throughout your journey.