Grief is one of the most powerful human emotions, and it often coupled with sadness. However, grief involves so much more than feeling blue, although this itself can be a profound emotion. When we lose something or someone that is dear to us, be it a job, our health, a pet, a relationship, or ultimately, a loved one, we experience a rollercoaster of emotions that cannot be defined by one single feeling. Sadness, yes, but so much more besides. Anger is often a huge part: “Why was this thing or this person taken away from me?” To feelings of deep frustration at the unfairness of life, which as its core may lead to questions such as “what is the point of all this anyway?” Anxiety, fear, hopelessness, and futility are all part of the process which grieving really is. A sense of loss is so profound that in some cases we never truly recover.
There is no real solution to grief. It is accepted that there are seven stages of the grieving process, and often it is just a case of riding those seven stages out. These stages are commonly listed as shock, denial, guilt, anger, depression, reconstruction and acceptance, or variations on those themes.
The word healing is often used when referring to grief as it is the correct word to use. Healing is also what happens to our injuries and wounds: it is a process which takes time, and may leave us with tell-tale scars. Healing from grief is very much the same from a psychological perspective.
But there are activities that help, and art is among the most powerful. You may wonder how a creative activity such as painting, or drawing, could possibly even start to heal the pain and loss felt when we lose something or someone dear to us, but that would be to dismiss the power that artistic expression actually holds. Here are just some of the ways artistic pursuits can assist in the healing process:
The expression of undefinable emotions
Part of grieving is that it becomes almost impossible to articulate accurately how you feel. Often there are no words to describe it. This article previously listed the seven stages of the grief process, but in reality those words are not truly indicative of how any one person feels at any given time during the grieving period. There may be elements of those emotions, but it may be something more acute, or something which touches upon those feelings but is not just one.
The artistic process of creating something, be it a picture, or a sculpture, or a song, is often the expression of something intangible. It’s the same when you look at a piece of art, or listen to a beautiful song: can the words you sue really do it justice? The creative process of just letting your feelings out is an inspiring way of communicating how you really feel when words are simply not enough, or could never justify the true mix of feelings you have.
You can express your feelings safely
In grief, you can feel so sad or be so angry that you fear your ability to do something stupid. Some people do, but the vast majority don’t. The fact is, creating something is a much better outlet for this inner rage, fury, helplessness, fear, or whatever other extreme emotion is building up inside you. Bottling it in is unhealthy, but letting it out in other ways could be dangerous. Art offer a safe space where you can reveal these extreme feelings.
It restores an element of control
Nearly everyone likes to feel in control of their life in terms of the direction it takes. Grief reaffirms that we are merely pawns in a greater narrative over which we really have very little say indeed. This is difficult to accept, so the creative process allows us to establish some semblance of control over our creative construction. It may be something small, but it is something we can grab onto in our time of need.
It restores our faith in life being worthwhile
In the true depths of grief, life can start to lose meaning. But art can restore that meaning.
How can life be ultimately futile if we are able to create such beautiful and expressive works of art, or music? There is something spiritual in the process of creating something unique that is life-affirming just when that is what is needed most.
The process is cathartic
Often in out grieving process we simply need something to focus on that distracts us from our grief. Once again, art can be that thing. Moments of creativity are all-consuming, and that is exactly what is required in such times.
It can provide guiltless pleasure
Many people who are grieving wrongly tell themselves that they should not be happy. Every laugh is met with an immediate cringe, every happy memory immediately met by another wave of loss. The creative process can create happiness which is much less guilty in nature: a feeling of pleasure that is not totally overt, but instead something that quietly energizes and motivates you. This energy and motivation will ultimately pull you through the grief quicker than if you do nothing.
Nothing will ultimately cure your grief: it is incurable. Yet art can remind us that there is a profound beauty to life, even in its most difficult moments. Perhaps especially in its most difficult moments. It enables us to focus on something, when very little can hold our attention, and allows a sense of guiltless pleasure that we would not allow ourselves enjoy under any other circumstances. Talking to others about the way you feel is always highly recommended, but art can allow us to express ourselves when words are not enough, or we simply cannot find the right ones to articulate what we truly feel. Maybe we don’t even understand how we feel anyway. Art is different/ Express yourself, embrace your pain, and create. It might just see you through.