Creatively Coping with Grief

By Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT

(COCOMARIPOSA / flickr) At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.

— Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

Each of us possesses our own special talents and creative gifts, whether you are a writer, dancer, actor, gardener, cook, painter, musician or photographer.

Creative projects can help a grieving person find a way to express grief. Remembering someone, whether in writing, song, or other artistic media, can be very therapeutic. A grieving person may not know the words, or the words do not exist, to adequately express the deep emotion of grief. Turning to other means of expressing the grief can help bring that grief to life.

Creative expression can also to help lift a grieving person’s spirits; this can help bring the inner chaotic emotions deep inside to the surface by discovering original ways of expressing intense, difficult emotions. Creating expressions of grief or experiencing the unique endeavors of others is reminder of the recuperative power of humans — the ability to create beauty or find hope in loss and tragedy.


Singers, songwriters, composers and musicians create their music often as an expression of their grief or a tribute to a person who has died. Eric Clapton composed "Tears in Heaven" following his son's accidental death from a fall as a poignant expression of his grief. The song "Fly" sung by Celine Dion described her emotions and feeling surrounding the death of her niece, Karine, who died from Cystic Fibrosis. Paul McCartney wrote "Here Today" in memory of John Lennon following Lennon’s tragic shooting. Elton John wrote "Empty Garden" following Lennon’s death, and rewrote "Candle in the Wind" to remember Princess Diana after her death.

Musical concerts have been hosted in memory of people who have died. Perhaps the first prominent one was the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. The 1992 concert was held in memory of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, who had died from AIDS in 1991. Profits from the concert were used to launch The Mercury Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity organization. In 2002 the Concert for America was held with both musical and theatrical presentations in honor of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Concert for Diana was held on July 1 2007 which would have been her 46th birthday. Proceeds from this concert went to charities supported by the late Princess of Wales, and to charities that Princes William and Harry support.


Many of the classic books on grief have been written by authors as a way of coping with their own grief . C.S. Lewis wrote “A Grief Observed” as his way of dealing with the death of his wife, Joy. Rabbi Harold Kushner faced a crisis of faith when his son Aaron died, and “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” was his reaction to this personal tragedy. “Love You, Mean It: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Friendship” is a true story, written by four widows of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, released for the fifth anniversary of the tragedy as a tribute to the memory of their husbands and a realization that despite tragedy, life goes on.

Poetry is another common way of expressing grief. With poetry very complex feelings can be distilled into a few lines of pure emotion. Poets throughout the ages have expressed their grief in verse. The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, often wrote of grief within the poetic passages in his plays. The oft-quoted line “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break,” comes from “Macbeth.” W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues,” Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Time does not bring relief,” William Wordsworth’s “Grieve Not,” Christina Rossetti’s “Remember,” John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud,” Cannon Henry Scott Holland’s “All is Well” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Grief” are all examples of using poetry to aid in the grieving process.

Paul McCartney returned to his poetic roots to help process the death of his wife Linda — he published a collection of his poems and lyrics in “Blackbird Singing.” The National Association of Poetry Therapy published a collection of poems written after the attacks of Sept. 11 in “GIVING SORROW WORDS: Poems of Strength and Solace.” Certified Poetry Therapist John Fox uses poetry as a mode of healing. In his book “Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making,” Fox helps readers to cultivate the value of writing poems to aid the writer’s healing process.

Plays and Video

Margaret Edson's recent Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit,” chronicling one woman's final days as she comes to terms with her end-stage ovarian cancer, uses the theater to deal with issues of loss in dying.

Video is another tool people have used to deal with grief. Brett Hardy Blake created the touching documentary "How I Coped When Mommy Died" after his mother died from breast cancer. “Beyond Belief” documents the heroic mission of Patricia Quigley and Susan Retik, two Sept. 11 widows trying to overcome grief by connecting with and empowering Afghanistan widows.

Related articles:
What About This Thing Called "Acceptance"?
What Helps When We're Experiencing the Unthinkable
The Work of Grief
Comfort Quickies: Self Care While Grieving

Also by Kirsti A. Dyer:
Suggestions for Dealing with the Holiday Blues

Kirsti A. Dyer Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT is a respected physician specializing in life challenges, loss, grief and bereavement. A professional health educator, professor, lecturer and author, she created the Journey of Hearts Web site in 1997 as the first and only physician-based Web site devoted to educating people about the grief response and continues to provide resources, information and support through her blog.

Image credit: COCOMARIPOSA/Flickr Creative Commons

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