I just returned from a grief seminar where I learned a little about art therapy. Why was I at a grief seminar? My son was killed while serving with the Air Force at the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul in 2012. A wonderful NGO organization, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) provides support for the families of the fallen. I was fortunate enough to attend the National Seminar in Washington D.C. over Memorial Day Weekend. In addition to other workshops, I attended two on art therapy presented by Sharon Strouse, an art therapist and author of, Artful Grief, A Diary of Healing.
First a confession; when I saw the workshop titles, Artful Grief/Open Art Studio and The Mask of Grief (descriptions said we would be making a collage and a mask,) I thought, cool, maybe I will learn a new technique. Well, it wasn’t exactly like that. I did make a collage but also was encouraged to describe where I was in my grief journey. Before we began to make our collage, Ms. Strouse shared her story. Her 17 year old daughter ended her own life in 2001. Ms. Strouse found art, specifically collages, to be the only thing that would bring her peace.For the workshop, she had papers, paint, pens, buttons, bottle caps, magazine pictures, and a lot of other stuff, including a couple of boxes with words on strips of paper. We were encouraged to look through the magazine photos and words to find something that we could relate to in our grief journey. Almost immediately I found five words that described my current location; peace, calm, sad, grateful and proud. I covered a piece of cardboard with some black and white paper. I glued a small seashell and the word peace to a pretty piece of blue burlap and attached it to the substrate. I had been tangling while listening to a speaker in the previous workshop, so I tore the tangle off my note pad, adhered it to the collage with the word calm, as tangling is a calming exercise for me. I found an appropriate photo for proud and a heart shape for grateful. In the center I glued a sad photo and the word sad. As we worked quietly, listening to soothing music, it did feel peaceful and calm. Sorry, I didn’t take a photo and at the time I didn’t see any reason to bring it home. I hadn’t given any thought about sharing it on this blog.
In the mask making workshop, we teamed up and applied strips of gauze and plaster of Paris (like they use for cast to set broken bones) to one another’s face. Of course we applied petroleum jelly to the face before we applied the bandages. After the masks had hardened and were removed, we sat in a circle and talked about what we saw inside and outside our mask and what we thought it meant. I won’t go into detail, but I did learn I do, at times, wear a mask. And that it is okay as long as I take it off sometimes and acknowledge my feelings.
Like Ms. Strouse, I have found my craft studio and also my garden to be my sanctuaries.
Another workshop provided a lot of fodder for thought. Mitch Carmody, author of Letters to my Son, spoke about signs from loved ones that have died that indicate their spirit is still among us. I left the workshop thinking it was plausible, but still somewhat skeptic. I decided to sit in on a sharing group, Winks and Signs from the Other Side. The room was overflowing with folks wanting to share, so another room had to be opened with another facilitator. After hearing numerous accounts, well let’s say I’m not so much of a skeptic. (In fact I had two winks over the weekend.) I think I may start an art journal to record my winks.
If any of you have had experience with art therapy or signs from your deceased loved one, I would like to hear about them. If you are comfortable sharing, please comment below.
Oh, did I say I was a proud mom. You betcha I am! I'd love for you to meet my son, Lt Col J. Darin Loftis.