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Artful Healing


  • This is a portrait I painted of my beloved Floris. Looking at the portrait is the closest I can come to connecting with his essence. Floris left his body November 10, 2017. Floris, you were amazing and such a beauty to see. I was in love with you every day of the 13 years and 4 months together. We shared a deeply bonded relationship; we were extraordinarily close. Floris was a Belgium sheepdog, a working dog: perceptive, sensitive, loyal, smart, high strung, easily nervous, and humorous. We moved many times: lived in the Bay Area, California; Holland; Boulder, Colorado; and Vashon Island where we finally had a home for the last 4 years. We had many, many great adventures: in the wild, hiking,  swimming, smelling, running. And also, he totally loved tracking in Holland, agility, and freestyle dancing. Throughout it all, we were a constant to each other. Over the last year and a half, Floris’ body was declining, starting with a seizure and a diagnosis of a pancreatic tumor. He slowly became more quiet. Mostly, in the last months, he was hanging out on the cowhide or his dog bed. But always, his soul-quality-of-presence was felt by close friends that visited. Life in his body was no fun, but it wasn’t all bad either. Delicious home-made food delivered to him 3 times a day, a soft bed, and a steady flow of love and devotion. I believe that the deep love we had for each other kept us both going. “Whenever you are ready, manneke, you can go now; mama is okay.” But Floris kept on going, and going, and going. During the last weeks, fluids started to slowly accumulate in his belly. Walking or getting up was hard for him, with labored breathing. Thursday, I knew — without a shadow of a doubt— “I am complete.” And I knew that Floris had been complete for a long time. All is lived; all is done.  Why wait any longer? My vet of choice came the next day, Friday morning. All was peaceful. I was there with him, and at 9:45 am, his heart stopped. I spent the day alone with his body, with him. It was the most profound silence, peace, and emptiness I have ever experienced. A very, very fine, subtle vibration, energy was felt, completely indescribable. It was and is not easy. So existential. Like falling into the crucible of this vast existence. Beloved of my heart, I love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You broke my heart open with your love, loyalty, and devotion; you were supreme. I bow to you in deep gratitude; I love you. Love is forever…Ditte

  • In a just world (which, of course, this is not), my mother, Mable Harris Maxwell, would have turned 79 today. She’s been gone from this veil of tears for just over 11 years now. For some years after her death, I was terribly envious of anyone my age who still had a living mom. I’m past that, for the most part anyway, but I still miss her, so I’ll just give her this little virtual tribute: I love you, Mother. There is no such place as heaven, but if there were, you would be a shoo-in. Every blade of grass and invertebrate that has been nourished by your mortal remains is blessed, as were your seven children.

  • Our favorite, ironic saying was: shit happens.

  • Not sure I can talk about this yet…Ensure was the last nourishment we tried to provide her, but we were unsuccessful and she passed away the same day. A few days later, I saw the three remaining bottles in the kitchen, with one of the bottles askew, and I lost it and I started crying uncontrollably for over a minute. Because of my personal beliefs, I know that her soul did not die, but transcended to another existence. I’m usually pretty stoic, so this was unusual for me. I’m not sure why this set me off, but it did. Not sure how long it will take me to move those bottles, but I know it won’t be today, or tomorrow, or anytime soon.

  • My brother by choice, my brother in music, and my brother in heart. I felt a special connection to him through all our mutual experiences. This picture is from a benefit we played at together for a couple of cancer patients (him being one of them).  I miss him and think about him daily.  I can’t pick up a guitar without hearing him playing the music in my mind.

  • My mother-in-law passed away suddenly last weekend. Among a number of intense feelings is the feeling of loss I have for you, my dear daughter, who will never remember her Nana. But she does know what it is to love, and I think she will always remember and honor her Nana for teaching her unconditional love. Having a granddaughter was her greatest joy because she only ever had boys, and she wanted to do lots of “girly” things.

  • After losing my daughter and both my parents within 14 months, I began to see grief as a monster. However, in this  painting by me, I began to realize that grief can also be a comforter and help keep you close to your loved ones.

  • GRIEVING – IN A PICKLE… Since my mom’s passing after only a six-month fight with breast cancer, our refrigerator has been kind enough to hold the “lasts” of her sustenance…the last package of Jello, the last bottles of Ensure, the container of butter that she so loved to slather on her corn on the cob, her last Coca-Cola that still holds her fingerprints, and ALL the jars of pickles that she bought but never ate.  Three years later, they remain and are daily reminders that a mother’s existence, MY mother’s existence has always been the only sustenance that I ever needed. As I clean my refrigerator, I cannot bear the thought of letting go of these things.  Perhaps one day I will; but for now, I will just rearrange the pickles.

  • This is my beloved husband James, whom I shared my life with for 47 years, since I was 14 years old. I laid with him for 6 very long days, soothing his fears, assuring him I would not leave and constantly reminding him of our strong, loving bond. He never opened his eyes or spoke, but he did mouth the words, “I love you,” and pressed his cheek against mine before leaving me. This picture was taken without my knowledge by my daughter and I am forever grateful, as it brings me such peace in moments of complete heartache.

  • Remembering–in my grief over losing my son suddenly at only 23–that others lost him too. This is my mother, a very strong woman, suffering the loss of her grandson. Her help and support has meant the world to me. I love that I was able to give a little back to her. Thank you, Norma, for catching this moment.

  • On March 20, 2017, I lost my Dad very unexpectedly.  While we had a complicated relationship, it was probably the best it had been when he died.  While I was mad at him, it was because I wanted to spend more time with him.  Not a bad reason to be mad.  A few weeks before he died, he actually asked if we could spend some time together over the summer.  It was the first time he had indicated to me that he actually wanted to see me in my 44 years of life.  And then he broke my heart and left me.  After he died, my stepmother found a few pictures he had of the two of us–all from when I was a kid. I don’t have any pictures of us together as adults.  I feel this picture really sums up our relationship.  It was Easter Sunday, the last before he divorced my mother and me, and I’m sure I made some outrageous comment and this was his reaction.  I don’t remember those days, but my mother tells me about them all the time now, and about how I worshiped my dad. This is how I choose to remember him, so this picture is my treasured item.

  • It will be two years soon since I lost my husband to cancer.  I fell in love at 18, just a freshman in college. He was 6”3″, handsome, blond, blue eyes, charming.  We were engaged at 19 and married at 20. A wonderful life together, even more in love, seeing the world, growing together, careers, a son, now granddaughters, both healthy. We’d live to 100, we thought. I function well and am very happy again most of the time–work, play, enjoy life. But this selfie captures the occasional tears, sad eyes, and still empty sheets beside me.  Enjoy the company of others, but no one is as grand as he…

  • A few years ago when my mom passed…shortly after, I became a grief counselor. This was to make sure that people don’t suffer the same way I was. And in the process, I could find some kind of healing as well. For me there’s no day that I stop thinking of her, especially when I had anything accomplished and know that she would be proud. My wife was super sweet to find the right spot for a butterfly that my sister gave me, with a letter attached in the back from my mom. I believe that grief is a process that never stops and healing might arrive. I say this for the simple fact that her presence is everywhere. Love you and miss you, Mom.
  • August 4, 2014: This is the very last picture of my brother and best friend. He did this every year for the past few years. Little did he know that, at the time of this picture, he would not do it again. You can see that he is looking at another surf board behind him. They had been jumping from one to the other for about a hour. He called me and asked if I would go; I told him no. Now, little did I know that was going to be my last phone call with him. Not more than a hour went by when my sister called me. I didn’t want to talk to her so I had my wife answer. All I could hear was my sister crying. I thought, “here we go again.” My wife was telling her to calm down. She then asked, “who can’t breathe?” We never did know what she actually said. We just jumped in the car and went to the hospital. While driving, I called my dad and asked him if he knew what was going on. He informed me that my brother had drowned and was being transported to the hospital. They were performing CPR, last my dad knew. We got to the hospital, and they sat us in this tiny room. It was an ideal movie scene. After about 30 minutes, some lady came in and stated, “We did all we could, but Michael didn’t make it. I am sorry.” You can only imagine how the rest of the day turned out.

  • The last photo of my beautiful son before he fell May 31, 2017. The photo both helps and haunts as I begin to accept the loss of this amazing man from my life.

  • It was the morning of August 13, 2014 when I was getting ready to make the 5+ hour ride back to southern Oregon.My sister and I had both been at my brother’s home for many days, and she was unable to stay any longer. We had spent time with our brother, knowing that his time here in our physical world was drawing to a close. So, the morning of the 12th, I drove her home, spent the night at my house, and woke the next morning to get ready for the drive back up to Oregon to be with my brother, my sister in law, my nephew, and my niece. After taking a shower, I was blowing my hair dry and caught sight of this image staring back at me in the mirror. This was grief. Grief spoken without words; grief staring at me through my drying hair. The sadness in my eyes was palpable. I knew that our lives were about to change, change forever, with the loss of someone whom we love so much. I had had my phone close by and captured this: the image, for me, of grief, of loss, of sadness. I’m forever thankful, nonetheless, that our love can be so powerful and precious that it can cause such sadness. This is a gift. I made it back up to Oregon that day, in record time I might add. My brother died late that night.

  • On March 7 th my beloved daughter Katharine was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  She refused her medications and remained in a full psychosis for several weeks. After three hospizations nothing was working. After being release from Kitsap Mental Health in Bremerton WA, Katharine went to Silverdale WA,  a town nearby her home. Katharine believed in her paranoid state that someone was trying to harm her. Katharine ran under the Bucklin Hill Bridge to hide and met her fate. It was a cold windy night and a very high tide was coming in over 10.5 feet.  The coroner believed she slipped and fell into the icy cold Puget Sound and her body washed up on shore where this photo was taken in Mid March of 2017. This is the Puget Sound in Silverdale WA by the Bucklin Hil Bridge. My best friend Kelly and I had a rose ceremony for my daughter and cried out the God of all understanding, Thank you most merciful God for giving me my most joyful daughter! Rest In Peace my beloved daughter and angel, Mama

  • It had been two years since my son died. We did this in memory of the day he was born. It’s the exact spot where he died: on March Creek Road in Clayton, CA.

  • My mom who passed away on 6-15-15 wrote this poem. I found it the week after she passed away and 7 days after she passed I was faux painting my garage door and praying then asked her to Give me a sign she was well. Less than a minute later a bird came right to my feet and pecked the garage door and flew circles around me and would land at my feet… it stayed with me while I painted and then cleaned up for over an hour. God is so good to comfort us. Love never ends. ❤

  • This is where I spread my husband’s ashes with my children, his brother, and his two best friends. It was a beautiful day of remembrance.

  • José Chávez from the Aboriginal Nasa People. An amazing father, grand father and artisan. One of those people who make you feel honored to had the chance to met him. So glad to have contributed to keep his memory alive.

  • ETHEL    Yesterday, I read about you in a poem, Ethel. After Hurricane Katrina, you waited, and prayed, and hoped with others In the Convention Center, your pleas, unheard by outsiders. You died among your people, lost. Then, louder than the Newscasts, your poem’s voice spoke To me from afar.  Reading the poem was like looking into your eyes.   In my mirror, I see my eyes Ethel, And through my eyes, my thoughts tell me things unspoken. New Orleans was a lonely place, because there were no others, I left my wife in California, saying Aye-Aye Navy Captain, I will go.  But I was lost In the city where I was an outsider.   California became home again but then I returned to your city a year ago with other outsiders. With my eyes, I saw a different city that was not lost. We heard your call and came to help Ethel. With the others, I spoke.   I spoke About the things I did with the outsiders. With those others, I tiled floors and painted murals. We restored houses and with my eyes I saw the heart of your city Ethel. Your people were not lost.   Their spirit was not lost As your children spoke. I looked into the kids’ eyes Ethel As I played ball with them and painted their school with the outsiders. In their eyes, I also saw the hearts of the others-   The others From all over your country Came so you would not be lost. I saw in their eyes Loud words spoken. We the outsiders did not forget you Ethel.   The blood of your people, Ethel, flows through the veins of the outsiders Too. I came with the others so your people could speak. In our eyes, you will never be lost.

  • This was an experiment with recycled paper. When I finished the experiment, I found myself creating this paper art sculpture depicting all the areas of my self that I have had to rediscover since the death of my husband, son and father,  along with the journey I am making with my mother as she travels through the mid to later stages of dementia. I feels it shows not so much what I feel about those I have lost but how the loss has helped me live a better and more purposeful life.

  • On January 3rd 2017, my identical twin sister passed away suddenly at age 31. She was a talented artist and theatre-scenic painter. We definitely had a special connection; we created lots of fun art when we were growing up. I created this illustration with lots of love for my sister (after her passing) of her twin dilute calico Scottish fold kittens that she loved so much. They are now part of my #prettykittyclub which is a series of cat illustrations and animated gifs I have done for people over the years: www.NicoleMather-illustrations.comRoxanne identified with Purla so I drew Purla wearing Roxanne’s signature tortoise shell glasses. When we were little girls, I always wore purple and Roxanne always wore pink, but when we got older Roxanne liked purple more so I decided to let her ride the purple unicorn. I hope this illustration serves well as a tribute to my precious sister and that it brings a smile to many peoples faces. This was the first piece of art I was able to create after her passing and when I created this illustration it helped me to realize I can keep creating; that I need to keep illustrating because now I am creating art for us both. Not a day will pass where I will not think of her and miss her deeply.

  • Stephen C. Joyce.  Just two weeks after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I showed up with an armload of cameras and lights and told him to comb his hair, he was going to sit this morning.  He wasn’t thrilled but he played along well with it, as usual for him.  We went around to the various things that were important to him, cars, woodworking, etc.  Then I just stood him in the driveway and got him to talk.  Couldn’t find a shot I liked, so I grabbed a nearby chair and as typical, he swung it around backwards and sat down and gave me some attitude.  I got him talking and laughing again as I set up my Wista 4×5 field camera, then I just started knocking out shots as I told him jokes and made him tell me jokes.  By the end, he had had pretty good time and was tickled we did it.  This particular shot always gets the same initial reaction when I show it someone who knows him…”That is so Stephen.  That is exactly him!”He died just 3 months and a few days later.I’ll always be thrilled that I made him do this.  We had a blast and now he sits in all our living rooms with us…leaning on a backwards chair, in the corner…right where you knew to find him.

  • Trying to make sense of the death of a person close to you, part of your family, who shares with you blood ties is so difficult. Every one try it in it’s own way. To know that my cousin die of sadness doesn’t make things any easier and force me to see myself and to think about my condition. I can’t express with words these feelings, maybe that’s why I create or capture images. This series has so much deep meaning now for me, all that dark places in our heads, all those lurking fears and shadows waiting for us to let our guard down. This is how I try to cope with loss, this is how I confront my fears, this is how I pay homage to my elders. RIP Mario Ricardo, rest in the arms of your dad wait with my uncle for us to arrive to the halls of the ancestors. I can’s stop thinking in my uncle José and my uncle Eliomar too. So much of both of them lives in me. And yes it is personal and probably couldn’t be posted in a public place, but who cares.

  • Francisca Rivera, mayora (female elder) of the Misak people, Ambaló Reservation. Passed away in 2015.During her youth she worked at the service of the same people and families that stolen the lands of their ancestors. But her work and the effort  of the Ancestral Communities of the south of Colombia allow her to finally become owner of an small piece of their ancestral land.She raised several sons and daughters with the work of her hands, and then saw her grandsons (and the grandsons of those who fight with her for the recovery of their territory) grow and become professionals and proud inheritors of her efforts and struggles.She was able to hold in her arms her grand-grand- daughter some months before she passed away.

  • My friend hanged himself because of melancholia.He was a hilarious, kind, and helpful person. However, his work and love abandoned him, which hurt him deeply. Then he started to write some scared notes like he wanted to die in social media. The sad thing was that I understood the emotions because I had depression as well. I knew the feeling of losing the will of living. It was empty, numb, hopeless, and lonely. The feeling was too heavy to make me positive. Nevertheless, I didn’t console him because I believed he would recover or might be going to talk to a counselor, for he always spread happiness to people.I was wrong. I didn’t know he concealed every pain in his mind. I cannot see his smile anymore… As a result, I decided to create a series of self-portrait about melancholia. For me, I can not only release my negative emotions but also tell people what depression is. To tell my story out can help me to get away from gloomy. Also, I can encourage melancholic persons to tell their stories out because they can realize that they’re not alone. After all, I honestly don’t want to see anyone especially my love suffering from melancholia.

  • My father passed away when I was 16 years old. He was an alcoholic and it’s safe to say that the alcohol is what killed him. He was drunk every night that I saw him, he had at least a dozen DUI offenses and his liver was completely shot by age 47. Without any shred of emotional support from my dad, I can say my mom was the one that raised me and had most of the influence on me, when I was young. However, as soon as my father died, I began drinking heavily and stuffed all the feelings for 20 years. Since I was fully susceptible to the emotional triggers that result in alcoholism, it happened in no time flat. My mom had no control over anything I did form there on out. As a result, I had no adult guidance in life, no role models, no mentors, no career planning advice, no structure, discipline, basic conditioning, motivation or direction in life whatsoever. I basically had to invent myself, as a person. In my twenties, I didn’t care if I even lived to be 30. But in may late 20s, I somehow turned into a writer and never looked back. Writing is what led me to discover all the feelings I had previously stuffed, so by the time I got sober at 39, it came a little easier than it did for others. In a nutshell, addiction is the habitual process of trying to satisfy cravings because your brain simply can’t deal with the unbearable pain of the present moment. Almost always, this is the result of trying to latch onto feelings that are impermanent by nature. Then your brain learns and learns and learns as it goes, teaching itself, and getting used to the process of trying to kill the pain at all costs. To your brain, trying to satisfy the craving becomes a normal process, like intrinsically knowing how to ride a bike. Once I understood all of this, the solution gradually became available.  Now things are better. I harbor no hostility toward my dad at all. Forgiveness is a pretty rocking concept. And growing up with no conditioning has proven to be quite a conduit for creativity. I’m able to transform the negative vibes into their positive equivalents. I have learned to be proud of the good qualities he left me with.

  • On some days when I miss my dad, I wear one of his sweaters.

  • Would you believe that my wedding song came on just as I began creating this submission?  I haven’t heard it played in the longest time.  I’m sitting here in tears.  This same song somehow also came on the radio 12 years ago, moments after I said my final goodbye to my wife at the funeral home.  She had an open-casket service.  At the end of the service, my father-in-law went to pull his car around and waited outside for me, so I could be alone and say my final goodbye.  When I got in his car, it was just the two of us.  Time stood still and the silence was haunting.  It reminded me of when I would sometimes fall off my bike as a child; time would slow way down and life seemed different — dreamlike — almost as if I was floating yet still aware that I was falling.  So I was feeling all of this, and my father-in-law reached down and powered on the radio to break the silence.  My wedding song, Shania Twain’s “From This Moment”, rushed from the speakers and filled the car.  Gives me chills to write about it.  These type of “coincidences” happen to me on a fairly regular basis, and my mind usually seeks for ways to dismiss them.  Why?  I really don’t know.  I think it’s largely because I fear receiving a message that wasn’t a message; an incident that was an unrelated occurrence that just happened because it happened. But it’s at times like this very moment, when try as I may, the doubt and armor falls — and I stand unprotected and exposed.  It’s during these times that love simply overpowers me.   I resist the urge to protect myself, because I am unable to, and because there is no need to.  I feel safe as ever, wrapped in the love of an existence that I clearly don’t understand, and somehow, at least briefly, I realize that I don’t need to understand; I just need to feel, and be.  When I clicked on your link, I knew I wanted to contribute but wasn’t sure what to contribute.  But now I know.  I will share a picture that was taken of my wife and me dancing to our wedding song.  It’s blurry because it’s cropped and taken on an older camera phone, but I actually appreciate the blur, because it helps to capture the blurriness of our continued relationship.  I’ve come to learn that when someone dies, the relationship doesn’t end, it just changes.  This realization fills me with hope because it allows me to see that she is still there, and always will be.  She will forever be only a thought, or song, away.

  • Baptism, he made the decision himself. 5 years to the day before his death. If what we believe is true, it is a beautiful symbolism of new and eternal life.

  • Forever loved, forever in my heart, forever 22. My only child was murdered on August 8, 2011. I plunged into darkness for what I thought would be forever. Traveling through the criminal justice abyss, I only found solace in nature. It was through experiencing the beauty of nature that I began to feel my son’s spirit. Slowly, light returned to my world as I felt more and more serenity, awe, and wonder in the midst of the mountains, the streams, the woods, the animals that surrounded me in nature. His spirit lives on forever, in everything that is good and true and beautiful on this side of life, until our spirits unite. Forever.

  • Sometimes when I look at this picture I feel a bit sad because he was already very sick. But I also look at this picture and remember that day fondly because I was finally able to obtain a wheelchair and wheel him down an extremely bumpy sidewalk just to rest at a park bench in a beautiful park at the Saugus Ironworks in Massachusetts. Will never liked to talk much about the fact he was dying. In fact, he never talked about it at all. But on this day, he at least told me that he wished to be buried not cremated. As morbid as that sounds, all in all, it was a beautiful day.

In order to communicate the universality of loss across cultures and to honor the feelings of those who grieve, Susan Mah and HealGrief have opened up the Loss Project to the public so that others may share photos about their experience with loss in our worldwide gallery of imagery. For artists, it may be one of your own photographs or it may be a photo of one of your paintings, sculptures, or other works of art.  For non-artists, it may be a photo of something or somewhere that reminds you of the person who died. For example: your father’s pen you use to write with, your mother’s cup you drink your coffee from, or a ring you wear around your neck.

As you journey with grief, you may feel a variety of emotions, such as shock, denial, anger, depression, guilt, or acceptance.  At HealGrief, we want you to know that such feelings are normal, change over time, and are ripe for artistic expression.  As part of the healing process, these feelings can be shared in your artwork, whether or not you consider yourself an artist. We invite you to take advantage of this opportunity for art therapy by submitting a photo of your own. Simply click on “upload your image,” and tell us the story behind the image.


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