How I use art to cope with loss

Art is healing. It allows you to express yourself without judgement and it’s a safe way to let out strong emotions. When I decided to create this piece I had no idea what to expect. I used a smaller canvas because it’s all I had. IMG_1305I wanted to explore some different textures this time so I pulled out the big guns. Stucco paint, lace and some material I saved from a belt. IMG_1320IMG_1312IMG_1313IMG_1317Prisme paint gives a really neat effect. When I use these paints I like to use a “dripping” effect which basically means I use droppers to drip the paint onto canvas. I like to make a mess with it!IMG_1346IMG_1356As I created the textured layers I started thinking about it being Father’s Day. Grief is a strange thing for me. My step-father died a year after being treated for cancer. He was actually in remission when he went back into the hospital and never came out. That was in April of 2011. Three months after my step-father (Lowell) died, I went to a therapist to find out why I was still grieving. It seemed ridiculous to me that I was still so sad after three whole months.

In my Master’s Program I took courses about death and dying and I learned about loss. I learned the best way to work with those who have experienced loss but nothing had prepared me for the loss of a parent. Like, nothing at all. It was the most painful thing I ever experienced.IMG_1354IMG_1355For you to truly understand this piece I need to tell you a little more about my grief story. My step father raised me since I was about seven years old. I remember seeing my biological father, Randy, a few times as I was growing up but it was never enough for a kid who felt rejected by her own flesh & blood. There were a lot of years that I felt hurt and lost. I tried to connect to my father as I grew older but my resentment kept me very distant. Eventually I told my father to not call me anymore because he’s never been anything other than a disappointment to me.

Fast forward to me being in therapy after me thinking 3 months was too long to be grieving my loss. I decide to contact Randy and see if we could heal our relationship. He happily agreed and we began our year-long path to healing. We were even able to see each other (he lived in North Carolina) after not seeing one another for about six years. Randy died a year later on July 4, 2013 in a rip current at Holden Beach, NC. IMG_1365IMG_1370

It’s Father’s Day and very close to another anniversary. I notice I feel more anxious and angry around significant dates related to loss. In this case, April Fool’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas is always tough as is the actual anniversaries of when Randy and Lowell died. Birthday’s are usually significant and since Lowell passed I try to do something special each September 12th. None of this is easy but art helps.

Turning back to my creation…this turned into a way for me to process another difficult day (Father’s Day) and another anniversary of loss (July 4th). I had no idea what this would turn into but I really love that it turned into a sort of memorial or tribute to my father.IMG_1374IMG_1422I added a bottle cap I made that said “I love you” and an owl pendant my father once gave me for my birthday. I didn’t start liking owls until after Lowell passed. He loved Native American traditions and teachings and he always collected feathers and he would hand make dream catcher’s. After he died I started dreaming about owl’s and seeing them everywhere. I even drove around a corner once and literally almost ran over an owl sitting in the middle of the road). IMG_1406IMG_1425IMG_1395I added the photo negatives to symbolize nostalgia and loss…something captured in time that you can never actually go back to unless it’s in a dream or in your mind.IMG_1427IMG_1411In the end, my hands were dirty and full of paint and glue. I even burned myself with the hot glue gun and had a bright red mark on the side of my hand that didn’t stop stinging for hours. It felt good to create something special with the materials I had. I found it very therapeutic and when it was over I felt lighter and even happy. The memories I hold, even the painful ones, still made me who I am today and without them I wouldn’t be able to share my gifts with others.

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Go create something.

Love, Carmen

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