8 Creative Approaches to Grief

BlogHer Original Post

As Dias de los Muertos approaches, or All Soul’s Day, I'm delighted to have blogger Kara Jones from Mother Henna with us to talk to us about creative ways to address and honor our grief.

Halloween and Samhain are just the beginning of a long series of holidays stretching through to the New Year. For those of us who have experienced a loss, recent or otherwise, the holidays can be a difficult time. That’s why those rare but important ceremonies memorializing our loved ones, or helping us acknowledge the holidays in way that truly reflect our genuine emotional state, are such a treasure.

From colorful celebrations like Dia de los Muertos to more solemn ceremonies like a Blue Christmas mass, Kara has gathered an impressive list of resources to help you or someone you love navigate the difficult waters of the holiday season.

In my work as a pastor, and later as a soulcare specialist, I found that those who are experiencing grief are severely underserved. So please, pass this resource around. The world needs people like Kara who know Good Griefgood grief.

8 Creative Approaches to Grief:
creating new traditions for the holidaze
with Kara LC Jones

When talking with people about grief & creativity, I often hear things like, “I’m just not very creative” or “I’m not really an artist.”  The thing about learning to live life after loss is that creativity becomes an every day practice, not just an artistic endeavor.  It’s not always about writing poetry or drawing or painting.  When someone is overwhelmed by grief and goes to the ocean to throw rocks as a way to express anger, they are being creative.  When someone chooses to pay for the coffee of the person behind them, leaving a Kindness Card for the person, they are being creative.

So at this time of year, when the holidays might end up seeming like a holidaze for bereaved people, I thought it might be helpful to offer 8 seasonal ideas for practicing your creative approach to living life after loss.

1) Remembrance Day and Month
The month of October and particularly October 15th are Pregnancy Loss, Infant & Child Death Awareness times.  Just know that if the death of a child is what has you in a holidaze, you are not alone.  Take a moment each day to light a candle.  Spend a few silent moments honoring your love for that child.  Grief cannot take away your love.

2) Day of the Dead. The month of October is also preparation and lead up to Days of the Dead.  October 31st is sometimes thought of as the day of the innocents, honoring the children who have died first.  Then November 1 and 2 are honoring anyone who has died, who you wish to honor.  There is a long history and cultural context to these traditions, and rituals often vary depending on the particular community in which you celebrate.  But most all include making, decorating, and displaying of sugar skulls.  We host a day every October for people to come to our home, make & decorate sugar skulls, and then place them on our community ofrenda or take home for their personal altars.  We pass the bucket on these days, too, and any proceeds raised go to the local Food Bank in honor of all those we are remembering.

3) Giving Thanks. While many of would say we feel no thanks at all for the grief that has visited upon us, we can choose at some point to begin paying Kindnesses forward in the name of the person who died, in honor of the love we still feel for them.  One wonderful way to “allow your loved one to touch the world” is through the Kindness Project over at the MISS Foundation.  You basically do a kindness for someone and leave a card for them that says, “This random act of kindness was done in memory and honor of (fill in the name here.”  We’ve heard of amazing and creative stories thru this project over the years.

4) Children’s Memorial Day. The second Sunday of each December is honored as Children’s Memorial Day.  Though this started as a grassroots awareness movement by one family, it has been embraced by international organizations like Compassionate Friends, MISS, MADD, BPUSA, and more.  When you are lighting your candles for winter holidays, add a candle for remembering those you love, for what you feel you’ve lost, for honoring the love you have that cannot be touched by death or loss.  If you want to connect with others at this time, many of the participating organizations have Memorial Day services, or you can organize your own candle lighting.  For full information click here.

5) Blue Christmas. There has been a quiet movement afoot in the last few years in faith based services.  We’re starting to see “Blue Christmas” masses and “Blue Holiday” rituals being offered.  Though I haven’t yet seen one central website or organization offering a comprehensive listing of these services, you can do a Google search for “Blue Christmas Service” and you’ll find lots of articles and listings.  The thing I find so interesting about this movement is that it is basically a faith based support for people whose faith is flagging at the moment. Rather than giving out platitudes or telling people how they “woulda, coulda, shoulda” feel, these events allow for people to feel what they feel when they feel it and have a place for expression and connection during the holiday season.  That’s a big leap up from the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” era!

6) Alternative Gift Giving. Another part of the holiday season is gift giving.  When we feel down, especially if we are missing someone who is physically gone, this can be a hard ritual to face.  There are several alternatives you might try.  Go ahead and buy for the person.  In our house, we think about how old our son would be now; what we would want for him; what he would want as gifts.  We shop, we wrap, we celebrate.  And we find a family with a child the same age that needs a little help in the gift giving department and we donate the gifts forward.  Sometimes we do this through the local food bank, but the Salvation Army also hosts an Angel Tree program for this each year.  Though I do sometimes keep one of the items to add to my son’s memory shelf in our home.

Another thing we’ve done is to have trees planted through Give-A-Tree program , or donate a flock of chicks through The Heifer Project.  Then we send note or cards to others saying, “Such and such has been done in your honor and in memory of our son.”  It is a way of getting off the endless cycle of material stuff! Not to mention, you are giving something back to the world while still honoring the tradition of gift giving and acknowledging your loved ones who have died.

7) Time Off, Time Out. The holiday season can be bustling, but it can also be a time when things slow down.  Business slows, people take time off, kids are on holiday.  Be your own best advocate and make time off, time out for you and yours.  We all seem to keep busy schedules these days, blocking off time for various activities of each family member.  Well schedule time off, time out with equal weight and importance compared to any other activity.  Seriously.  Make an appointment for yourself to “Do Nothing.”  Allow yourself some silence.  Some reflection time.  Some time to breathe and feel your body and being.  Imagine setting aside the heavy feelings and grief.  Put them on the shelf outside the room – you can pick them up later.  And for now just sit and breathe.  Let your mind and heart touch on appreciation.  Chant for a few minutes, “I approve of myself.”  You don’t have to believe it, you might feel funny saying it, but try it out.  See how it feels to cheer for yourself, to be your own advocate, to be with yourself in love instead of criticism or hurriedness or mindlessness.  Give yourself the gift of an appointment with nothing!

8) A Self-Care New Year. As we move into the New Year, there is always lots of talk about resolutions and changes people want to make and keep.  But for this coming year, why not consider an alternative to the typical resolutions.  What about making a decision to be present to exactly who you are in this moment?  Instead of being in a constant state of needing to fix, get better, improve, why not be with the you that you are right now.  Tend to the you of this very moment.  Take a few moments in each day to be with yourself in a quiet space.  Listen to your breathing, hear what your body, mind, and spirit are calling.  Honor those callings.

If your BEing really wants to do something around this practice, then get in the habit of making notes just after your quiet time.  Note what you hear, callings or visions that rose to the surface.  Use those notes to inspire you later.  Maybe they are the basis of some writings you want to do.  Maybe they are the sparks of a drawing or painting or collage you want to make.  Maybe they are the inklings of a new path of learning you’d like to explore.  Let them guide you as you learn to tend to yourself and your heART.

Whatever you decide to do (or not do), be (or not be) this holiday season, know that the holidaze can simply be a calling to explore your every day experience more creatively.  It is okay to add new traditions to old ones or to drop old ones entirely.  Each day you have the response-ability to create meaning in all that you do.  You are your own best advocate for finding your way through the holidaze.  And you are not alone.  Many of us out here are creatively exploring.  Connect as you need and want!  Make the holidays your own.

Kara LC Jones is a Grief & Creativity Coach and the heARTist behind the offerings at Mother Henna. If you found these ideas inspiring, there are other ideas for coping with the holidaze KotaPress, And on the KOTA: Knowing Ourselves Thru Art blog. We’ve also got Creative Prompts year round at both the Mother Henna blog and KOTA blog.

Rachelle Mee-Chapman is a soulcare specialist, writer, and mother(ish) to several. Rooted in Seattle, she is currently living the expat life in Copenhagen, Denmark. You can find her at Magpie Girl, follow her on Twitter and friend her at Facebook. This is Rachelle’s last week as a Contributing Editor at BlogHer. It’s been a lovely ride. Thank you for being here!

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