Q. I’ve read about coloring books for adults that somehow help reduce stress. Are any of them for widows?

I haven’t found any that focus specifically on widows, but "Colors of Loss and Healing: An Adult Coloring Book for Getting Through Tough Times" by Deborah H. Derman, Ph.D., targets readers who have had a major loss. Derman knows all about losses firsthand. Both of her parents died in a plane crash, and her friend died by suicide. Her husband died of a heart attack at age 40 while playing rugby. (She was in her 30s, the mother of two, and pregnant with a third child at the time.)

Derman, who went on to become a grief counselor, has worked with people who lost loved ones on 9/11. Someone gave her a coloring book, which she found to be a beautiful metaphor for healing. “You take one step at a time without worrying about staying within the lines or finishing. It isn’t intimidating and helps you focus. There’s something relaxing about the act of coloring and filling in the spaces. You just do it,” she says.

Coloring books for children go back to the 1880s, and some adult coloring books, which satirized politics and society in general, were best-sellers in the 1960s. For example, "The JFK Coloring Book" topped the charts. Other subjects included the John Birch Society and “Mad Men” business executives. More recently, adult coloring books have become vehicles to reduce anxiety in this age of constant change. There is even an annual National Coloring Day, Aug. 16. I know one executive who keeps her book at the office for instant calm on “crazy” days.

Derman’s version, published in 2016, embeds words in the illustrations, such as “cherish,” “trust,” and “grit,” which resonate for widows. She explains, “When we have recent loss, we find it difficult to concentrate because grief is overwhelming. Coloring allows you to focus on this one word and ask, ‘What does it mean to me?’” For example, the word “memory” led her to recall trips to the beach with her husband to collect shells together. Derman also provides a blank page opposite each illustration where readers can write down their own associations.

Derman, who has remarried, sees her coloring book as a tool for focusing on healing, hope, and inspiration. She recommends using colored pencils because they’re easiest to handle. She notes, however, that some people prefer markers or crayons.

***

If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill, What Do You Say When, and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.

Image via Shutterstock / ElenaK78

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