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Friday, 13 May 2016

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 2 of 8 - Shock & Denial (Phase 1)

There is probably not one of us who have not had to deal with the devastating effects of losing someone dear to us. Everyone grieves in their own way and it would be a cheap attempt to say that one formula fits all. Yet, numerous attempts have been made to identify the phases that people in grief pass through and seven have been agreed upon to be more or less universal. We will take a look at these phases in an attempt to gain some form of understanding for the process we are passing through. We take this journey in the form of an art journal, attempting to somehow find a means of dealing with the loss we have experienced and continue to experience still. In this second blog of the eight part series, we look at the first phase identified, namely shock and denial. It is important to take note of the fact that the phases are not necessarily sequential and that the order differs from one person to the next. It is also possible to revisit the phases in the process of restoration.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist).
You can follow these links to read the full series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Studies conducted on grief has found that most people's first reaction to grief is one of shock and denial. This is called the first stage of the grieving process. You may be able to relate to this. Examples of these are: "No!" "Cannot be!" "I can not believe it!" or "Are you sure?!" Denial is a method of emotional protection that our brains have developed for us. As long as we don't acknowledge that something has happened, we do not have to face the consequences of it and we do not have to experience the pain that accompanies it. Slowly reality will work its way into our consciousness, but for small while we are given just enough space to find some way of breathing again before reality settles in. We will be journal-ling this stage on the back of the front cover and on one side of a page taken from our Dala Waterclour Pad. This is, of course, if you are using the same journal album as I am.

I will be using Dala Acrylic Paint and Dala Acrylic Gel Medium to paint both the paper and the album cover with. I chose to use Dioxizine Purple. The colour choice is a personal one, however, and you may choose something else. I chose this colour because it still represented the good times before the loss. This is representative of my denial. I am not yet ready to go into full mourning and want to hold on to what was for just a little while longer. This phase also helps to regain some balance while waiting for reality to kick in. It helps us to remember the good and why we do not want to loose the person.

To get the same effect that I did, you need to start by placing a dollop of paint directly on your paper.

Work it onto the paper with bold brush strokes.

Once the paint does not want to spread any further, place a dollop of Dala Acrylic Gel Medium directly on the paper.

You will find that the gel medium extends the paint, picks it up and you will now be able to cover the whole page without adding any more paint. I like this idea of stretching the paint, because in a sense, that is what our minds have been doing. It has been stretching that moment of truth for us so we do not have to deal with reality immediately. Yet, if you look closely at my page, you will see that reality is starting to show through the paint. The effect is uneven and the paper is not equally well covered in all spots. If I had added the Acrylic Gel Medium to the paint before putting it in the paper, and I mixed it properly, I would not get this effect. Instead, I would get a very even spread of paint. But life is not even and it seldom runs smooth and this page becomes a testimony to that fact.
How did you feel before you started painting?
How do you feel now?
There are no right or wrong answers here. It is simply important for you to acknowledge your feelings.
Take note of the fact that your emotions fluctuate. This is necessary to assist you in coping. We are human, not robots.

Once the paint is touch dry, I use Dala Fabric Spray in Red and spray this all over my surface. I keep the bottle at different heights away from my surface as I purposely want to create fine spray and bigger blotches.

What is done on the album, is repeated on the paper. This mist and the blotches become symbolic of the tidings I have received, slowly filtering into my consciousness. I purposefully chose red, because to me it represents a raw wound that is opening up in my soul.
Does red represent the same thing to you?
Is there another colour that could represent your feelings better?
Maybe you want to use black to represent the emptiness or hole that is opening up inside you?
Maybe you wish to use another colour altogether for your own personal reasons?

I then find the complimentary colour to my choice and punch out the title for this stage in my journey. Again, this well be deeply personal and no doubt, you will have your own idea of what the title word(s) should be here. Choosing your own title also assists you in 'naming' your experience, which in turn, will help you to come to terms with what is happening in you and to you.

I lay down a coat of Acrylic Gel Medium where the title will be going. Likewise, we prepare ourselves to acknowledge the 'title' by thinking it through thoroughly and by choosing the title that you will feel most comfortable with.

I then lay my title in place and secure it with another layer of the acrylic gel medium. I once again opted to simply use the title of the blog, but I want to urge you to delve deep inside yourself to come up with a meaningful title for your spread.

I then find some big wooden letters and stencil the word NO! on the opening corner of my page. This was the actual first word to exit my mouth when confronted with the news the first time and it deserves the opening spot on my page.

I then paint this word a bright red, reminiscent of a stop sign. I did not want to know more. It is also the colour of the lights on an alarm system, screaming its warning of imminent danger. Sit still for a moment and acknowledge the feelings, emotions and thoughts you experienced when receiving the news. The news wounded you deeply and at first the shock was so intense that you probably did not feel the full impact of the pain. Yet the effects of it was and will always be life changing. Acknowledge the severity of the wound to yourself.
What kind of physical wound or injury would you compare this loss with, if it were physical?
If it were a physical injury, what kind of treatment would you have given it?
Considering the intensity of your emotional injury, do you not think you ought to allow yourself time, patience and proper treatment for restoration as well?

There is so much that I want to say here, that I could never voice to people. Or, at least, I feel as if I could not voice it. For this reason, I chose to add a secret journal inside the journal. I start by cutting a cover for my secret journal from some red cardstock. This measures 15 cm x 9 cm.

I cut the cover out and fold it in half.

I then take an A4 printer paper sheet and divide it into six triangles, each measuring 14 cm x 9 cm.

I cut these out and fold them in half.

I then slip the papers inside the cover to make a small booklet.

I then use my hole punch and hammer to punch four holes in the 'spine' of my booklet.

I measure some raffia string to be approximately 3 times the height of the booklet.

I use the string to tie the book together.

I will revisit this secret journal as often as need be to write those words I will not permit myself to speak out loud. Here is an example of what I wrote on the opening page:
I will never accept that you are simply gone. I hear myself accepting people's condolences and I keep expecting to be caught in a lie. You are not dead! You can not be!

I then allow myself to shed those tears in a simple drawing, that people found so uncomfortable to deal with in those early days. Every time I would cry, they would try to divert my attention, or I would do this to myself so as to not upset them. I needed to shed those tears and I now shed them in a drawing.

I found some ribbon with a cross motif on in my stash. I use double-sided tape to span both pages with these ribbon crosses, kind of like police tape, restricting access to a crime scene. This is the way I feel. I want all those people with their hurtful words out of my life. I want to be left alone where I can pretend that things are still the same they used to be. I want a place where I can 'hide' from all those people who wish to tell me that I must now accept what happened, face reality, move on, get over it, not be selfish, that everything happens with a purpose, that bad things happen to good people, that it's life, etc!

I use the same double-sided tape to stick my mini journal onto the inside of my album cover.

And then I write some significant journal-ling to me, on the cover of the secret journal: "When the words in my head collide with the words on my tongue." This, to me, is about not being 'allowed' to speak the words in my head. Either because people will be uncomfortable with it, or for fear of judgement, or simply because they never come out the way I intend them to be.

I then find some stencils that represent the importance of the person I lost in my life. I use a black fine point marker to trace these stencils onto the layout.

I then use a paint brush to paint the sun Custard Yellow, using Dala Craft Paint. I turn a flat brush sideways to pain the rays of the sun.

The broad side of the same brush is twisted in a circular motion to paint the inside of the sun.

I paint the music notes a bright Turquoise in Dala Craft Paint.

And finally the hearts are painted a maroon/burgundy colour I mixed from Dala Craft Paint Warm Red and Turquoise.

I then decide that I want to make my NO! more prominent and outline it with my black liner.

I then journal abut the meaning of the symbols I chose to include. At the sun: "You are the sunshine of my day."

At the notes: "You are my love song."

At the heart: "You are the beat of my heart." The symbols and words in your journal will be widely different from mine as you will have your own history with your lost one to capture. I simply include mine as an example of where the journey can take you. This page becomes a sort of celebration of the departed loved one.

I then lie the paper on top of the album to determine where the holes should go in the paper.

I use the punch and hammer to punch holes in the paper, using the album as a guide to getting the holes in the right place.

This is what my first stage looks like when laid down side by side.

I now add the paper to the journal by opening the clips.

The first page of my journal is complete! Remember, nothing is stopping you from doing as many spreads as you wish in a stage. Not all journeys are the same length or duration. Don't rush yours. You can always return to this phase at a later stage as well. More often than not, one jumps between phases and it is absolutely 'normal' and 'okay'! When paging through your journal, the phases do not have to follow any particular order.

Melette Els (Clinical Social Work) can be contacted via the webpage, or by email at, or by phone at 082 776 1536.
Melette Els B.A. (SocSc) M. (Th) 
BHF Pr Nr.: 089 000 00 28754 SACSSP Reg.Nr.: 10-17310

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy her books here:You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
Jy kan Kom Ons Teken en Verf Tuinstories hier koop.
Jy kan Kom Ons Kleur Tuinstories In hier koop.
Jy kan Tuinstories hier koop.
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