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Thursday, 19 May 2016

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 3 of 8 - Pain & Guilt (Phase 2)

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. Everyone has their own journey to take and the phases can follow each other in different order for each person. Some phases will be more prominent for you than for others and vice versa. Some phases can also re-occur from time to time with varying intensity. 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 third blog of the eight part series, we look at the second phase identified, namely pain and guilt.
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

For this stage of the journal we will be working on the reverse side of the page on denial, and we will add another page from the Dala Paper Pad we've been using. This way we will once again have a double page spread to work on.

This time I start by punching the holes in the new paper sheet, using the previous one as a guide to make sure the holes line up. I like this part of the process. Somehow, my handling of the hammer gives me the sense that I am actively working towards reconstructing my life. Lining the papers up also gives me the sense of a process in progress.

The second stage identified in the process of grieving is pain and guilt. Neither of these two concepts hold any colour for me and for this reason I choose to work in charcoal, inevitably thereby being forced to work in shades of grey and black. It is in this stage that the reality of the loss sinks in and our pain is at its worst. With death seeming to be overwhelming, my choice of medium is also a reflection of death. Charcoal is essentially dead wood. You may of course choose to your journal in any medium and colour of your choice. But allow yourself to contemplate your reason(s) for your choice(s). Write down why you made a specific choice in order for you to acknowledge the reasons or symbolic value of your choices.

In general, people are very uncomfortable with grief in others. Sometimes we are even uncomfortable with it in ourselves. This is when people will tell us (or we tell ourselves) to stop crying. Or they will be making jokes to lighten the mood. Or they will look ahead at a brighter future. All of this only speaks of an inability to deal with grief. Yet it is of utmost importance that we do learn to deal with grief. We need to look it in the eye and acknowledge it. This is why my main focal point in today's spread will be to draw a teary eye. It will dominate one whole page and we will attempt to move past our discomfort with tears. I start by drawing the outline of an eye. I chose to allow about a third of this eye to run off the page. Not only is this a good art principle, but it is also symbolic of my willingness to stop hiding my grief by bringing it onto the page. This is not a completed process, but one that has certainly started.
How does grief make you feel? Try to find exact words for your feelings, e.g numb, pain, empty, raw, grey, nothing, hopeless, angry, lifeless, emotional, hurt, dead, etc.
What emotions/feelings are hidden in your life because of your grief? In other words, which emotions are you unable to feel at the moment because of your grief, e.g joy, happiness, excitement, hope, peace, vitality, etc.

I then draw the iris and the pupil of the eye. I leave a small white dot in the pupil of the eye. Artists will tell you that all living eyes reflect light. That is because of the natural moisture in the eye. It is of utmost importance that we acknowledge the fact that we are still alive. Everything inside us may FEEL dead, but we are in fact alive. Where there is life, there is hope. We will allow ourselves to hope, even though we may feel hopeless. Remember that is how you FEEL, however, deep inside we know that there is hope, and even though you may sometimes feel as if you do not want to live without your loves one, somehow we know that there is life ahead of us. That is why we embarked on this journey!

In the next step I define the eye a little more, drawing the double line on the bottom lid of the eye. This is another spot on the human body that reflects light. When we draw ourselves reflecting light, we realize that this darkness will not overwhelm us. We are still in the light, even though we may only be seeing glimmers of it.

The iris is very seldom a solid colour, but rather an intricate pattern of lighter and darker shades. Isn't that true of our situation now as well? It is so hard to distinguish light and darkness when all we feel and experience is darkness. It is like living in an endless night where it feels as if the sun will never rise again.

I now take out my paper stump and start blending the charcoal lines in the eye to soften them. I want you to take a mental paper stump in hand as well. You know all those guilty thoughts you have been having about things you should or shouldn't have done? Why don't you allow yourself to take your mental paper stump and just soften the edges on those thoughts a bit? We tend to be so harsh and unyielding with ourselves, don't we? Cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to treat yourself with more kindness. The situation you are in is so harsh anyway, that you don't need to add to it by bashing yourself up unnecessarily.
List the things you feel guilty about.
What did you still want to do?
What did you neglect to do?
What would you like to have done differently?

When I draw the tear, I do not use the charcoal stick, but rather the charcoal residue that has been transferred to the paper stump. I actually draw the tear with the paper stump. This gives the tear a nice soft edge. Note also that I leave the center of the tear white. This is where the light reflects off the moisture of the tear. There is a lesson in this. Our tears are aids to help soften the blows of death and we therefore draw them with these soft lines. But more importantly, they are reflections of God's presence in our dark hour. Sometimes it is hard to see God in our lives, but when we look at our reflections, we realize that His light was shining on us all the time.
How do you feel before you cry?
How do you feel when you restrain yourself from crying?
How do you feel after giving in to a flood of tears?

I then use the paper stump to draw some shadows into the eyelids, above and below the eye. Shadows are only cast in the presence of light and therefore they are really a testimony to light.

It is at this stage that I am finally ready to add a shadow side to the tear I have drawn, defining only one side of the tear drop with a light charcoal line. That means that light is hitting my tear drop from the undefined side and this shadow line becomes testimony to that light source. When drawing the eye lashes, I draw them in clumps. One of the principles of drawing realistic hair is to draw them in clumps. Hair grows in clumps. There is yet another life lesson in this as well. The reason there are lashes on the eye, is to catch the debris before it enters the eye. It is a kind of safeguard, in other words. This is the same with our friends and family, and even our colleagues. They come in clumps, or rather groups and they are ready to help in safeguarding us.
List the friends, family, colleagues, etc. that are THERE for you, contributing in different ways to assist you in your process of reconstruction.
What does each one, specifically, do for, or mean to you?
How does their support help you in general?

But then I realize that they eye also has lashes on the lower lid and I draw these in. We are hedged in by people who care for us. Some has a shorter reach than others, like the lashes on the bottom lid, but they are all present, and together, they can help to prevent permanent damage from occurring.

I am now ready to write the word 'PAIN' down as a heading on this page. Note how I allowed myself to acknowledge its hurt by drawing another tear underneath the word? It is so important that we allow ourselves to feel this pain. As long as we can feel, we are alive.
How do you feel when writing the word 'pain'?
How do you feel when thinking of yourself as being 'alive'? Does it make you feel guilty? If so, ask yourself of this fair towards you?
If you are really struggling with these feelings, please seek some professional help!

Then I write the word 'GUILT' and draw a huge tear here. This is such a loaded word that a small tear simply won't do to represent it.

It is only now that I have allowed myself to face my pain and guilt that I realize how many more tears will need to be shed before healing can set in. This is the point when I return to the eye I have drawn and I add a small pool of collected tears that are ready to be shed.

I then turn my attention to the second page in my layout. This is where I start to pay attention to myself. My loss has turned my life into a chaotic mess and it has become a scary place to be. I need to find myself among this mess to see where I fit in. As the thoughts in my head have been dominating my existence of late, I start by drawing a much too large head for myself. This is simply a circle, but it will do quite well.

I then add a body to my figure. Note how I keep my lines and shapes very simple? This body is either a very blunt triangle or a warped rectangle, but most importantly, it is a very simple shape. Life has enough of its own complications at this stage, we do not need to add to them by complicating our art as well. That is why I purposefully strip myself of all those complexities and return to a very naive childlike character. I will handle things one at a time as I see fit. I can not deal with everything at once right now. Allow yourself to shrug those weighty things and concentrate on the things that matter only. If that is as simple as making sure you take the next breath, then take that breath and leave it at that. Everything else can wait. If you want to, and feel like it, write yourself a permission letter to allow yourself, just for now, to focus on theses matters only.

In the next step I draw some stick arms holding a heart. I have the sense that someone had pulled my heart out of my chest. I am rather surprised to find it in my own hands. And then I realize how important it is for me to draw this heart right there in my own hands. It means it is in my power to put it back and make sense of things again. But, if for the moment, I simply need to cherish it by caressing it in my hands, then that is good enough for now. That is the point where I am ready to draw legs for me figure. The legs run off the page and there is no sign of the feet or the surface on which they rest. This is the way it works in life sometimes as well. We don't always get to choose the surface we are walking on, but we simply rejoice at finding ourselves still standing.
How can you treasure your own heart?
What do you need to do, or not do, to secure it?
What do you need to put in order to protect your heart right now?

And once I realize that I am still standing, I know that I am still alive and that there is hope. This is when I add a shadow side to my figure. Sometimes in art, the only way to show the source of light, is by pointing at the shadows. It is also true of life. Sometimes the only times we recognize God in His illuminating presence, is when we turn to see the shadows.

I am not going to overly complicate my figure with facial features, but there is one thing that I do want to add. I have decided to look my pain and guilt in the eyes and I need my eyes to do just that. I will not lie to myself by drawing myself happy. Instead, I put my eyes way down low on my face, as if my head is hanging and I invert the shape of the eyebrows, the same way that a sad mouth is an inversion of a happy mouth. By drawing myself like this, I make the very important distinction of not seeing myself as a sad figure, but rather as a figure in mourning.

To prevent the charcoal from smudging in the journal, I spray it with fixative. If you don't have fixative, you can do what many artists do and simply use hairspray.

And now we finally get to the point where we can start searching for words to put in our journal. Think long and hard about what you want to write here. I opted for a poem I wrote when I lost a teenage friend quite unexpectedly in a car crash. Poetry is a wonderful outlet for the soul and I want to encourage you to try your hand at it. You do not have to become a prize writer. It does not even have to rhyme. Simply write and re-write the words until they become a true reflection of what you want to say. The writing and rewriting of these words and thoughts assist you in coming to terms with the changes in your life and is an important part of the restoration process.

I add my poem to my page in the form of a mini journal, as it is too long to fit on one page.

It is only a two-page journal and it is easy to simply flip the page to see the rest of the poem.

A close-up of the completed left hand page.

A close-up of the completed right hand page.

The completed double spread layout as it will go into my journal.

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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