By Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT
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
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
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.
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 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
Image credit: COCOMARIPOSA/Flickr Creative Commons