Life's deepest wounds often leave us with no words. Those wounds shove feelings and memories into hard-to-reach places in our hearts, but no words. Without words, how do we process those wounds? When we can't speak our pain, how do we find healing?
I believe art has the power to tap into those deep, hidden places and lure the experiences out so we can examine them, grow and with God's help, heal.
Two years ago my parents died four days apart. My family had two funerals in four days. My father died first, then my mother stopped eating and joined her husband the afternoon of his funeral.
My parents were beloved by their friends at work and church, by neighbors and other acquaintances. However, these people only knew one side of their life and not the childhood I experienced growing up in an abusive home.
I was in a swirl of emotions following their deaths. Reading a few books on grief added more confusion. My thoughts didn't fit into anything I read as the author referred to the reader's "beloved family member," or "cherished mother."
Seeking the counsel of pastors, therapists, friends whose parents had died and even a grief counselor did not help clear the fog in which my brain dwelled as I tried to resolve who they were to me with comments I heard over and over at the funeral home about how wonderful they were.
I always wanted to study art and writing. Within a few months of my parents' passing, I used my inheritance to begin taking classes in both subjects under the teaching of two strong Christian women.
Kandi, my young art teacher, took me under her wing as we began to draw objects looking at shape and value. My writing coach, Ann, a seasoned author whose first two books I read, introduced a new path to me of extracting deep wounds buried decades ago, through creative instruction. Her small writing assignments brought into the open anger, frustration, abandonment and injustice - words that were foreign to me, but started to give form and expression to my chaos.
I wrote about my early life and sent my work to Ann, who read each piece with the same care as if she were editing a prize-winning novel, receiving all of the ugliness of the past without judgment or questioning. The process was helping me put words to my wounds and address my pain. I would see Ann on Thursdays, and Kandi on Tuesdays, as well as a counselor on Monday. That trio formed a powerful combination for my healing.
Kandi suggested one day I take the sympathy cards I received - over 100 - and tear them into little pieces so we could make paper, which we did. After the paper dried, I was left with lots of unused torn snippets of cards. Most pieces had a word on them, whether handwritten or printed on the original card. I used the pieces to make even more art. I sewed together leftover scraps into a "paper quilt" putting into action Jesus' words to the disciples following the feeding of the thousands to "gather the pieces and let nothing be wasted."
Someone will keep your troubled heart,
Holding it close, with peace coming during a difficult time.
Words are inadequate to express concern and sympathy
When deepest comfort is needed for the heart.
Jesus reminds us, "I give unto you peace. Let not your heart be troubled."
Working with these hard, shriveled remains of sympathy cards to patch together my pain into a new form while writing "found poems" from remnants of verses from the cards, I felt my heart eventually arrive at a place of peace regarding my parents that I had not felt for decades.
The making of paper and a "paper quilt" tapped into those hidden places and pulled things to the surface so I could examine them, put words to them, and find healing.
Art and writing unexpectedly gave form to my loss, my past, and brought healing to my heart.