This post was originally shared on January 8, 2016 on my first blog about child loss.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions?
I tend not to, because I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure. But I do like to set goals for myself for the year. Sometimes those goals look like: “Survive.” And sometimes they include the words “more” and “less,” and give me a direction to move in. That way, even if I move a little bit in that direction over the year, I’ve succeeded. This year, my goals include things like more knitting, more painting, and more time outside. Also less Facebook. Much less.
All of these things have one common purpose for me: more peace.
In my role as the mother of five children, peace is something that is hard to find. It rarely occurs spontaneously; rather, it needs to be created and carved out. It requires effort, but that effort is so worthwhile. I need it and my family needs me to do it. I’ve learned that I sort of set the tone for the whole household. When I’m peaceful, they are, too.
In this Taking Flight series, I want to talk about the healing process, and what things helped me to heal from the loss of our babies. As part of the healing, these things also helped to bring peace to my thoughts and to help me process what had happened to our family. They also brought healing to wounds that existed before I ever had babies, as my upbringing left me with some unresolved issues that I needed to work through and find closure from in order to bring my family the most emotionally healthy version of myself that I can be. Counseling helped so much with these issues, as did reading books on different subjects and learning that I wasn’t alone in my experiences.
But there were other things that I learned could also help. Healing from these things helped to bring clarity and peace to my heart and mind, and helped to bring peace to my family as a result. And while different people can find peace in different ways, for me, it often comes through creating.
I find the creative process to be incredibly therapeutic. I sketched Brigid’s face a few days after her death, but long before I sketched another baby, I started knitting. It was a skill I had first learned in second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Smiley, was an older lady on the verge of retiring. She gave every student in the class a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles in a brown paper bag and taught us how to cast on and to do the basic knitting stitch. It was something that stayed with me my entire life, but I rarely used it because I never learned how to bind off. (And it’s hard to wear a scarf with a knitting needle through the end of it.)
A few months after Brigid died a local yarn store advertised a beginner’s knitting class, and it was there that I finally learned binding off. And purling. And the fact that knitting can be so very peaceful. There was another lady in the class who was going through a divorce. Our teacher said she learned to knit when she was diagnosed with cancer and that it saved her sanity during chemo treatments and sitting in waiting rooms.
And there I was, trying to heal from the death of my babies. Every week, we met together and learned, stitch by stitch, how peaceful it could be. So I learned to make scarves and socks, baby hats for babies in the NICU, and blankets for friends who were expecting. Finishing each project felt so good, but the process was just as rewarding. There is just something about the repetition, the counting of the stitches, that quiets troubled thoughts and helps me to relax. Knitting is one of my favorite ways to create a little peaceful time after a busy day.
Writing is another wonderful creative outlet. Sometimes, I’ll have a thought tumbling around in my head, or a topic I’m wrestling with. I find the process of sitting down and writing it out – either on paper or on a blog post – helps me to process it. I find I’m left with more understanding or a feeling that something unsettled inside me has been settled and moved past through the process of writing it out. Writing helps me to organize my thoughts and reflect on them. It forces me to verbalize what I’m feeling so that I can identify and figure out how to manage the emotions. Writing helps me to make connections that I may not have realized existed between something that is troubling me and something I’ve already experienced.
Finally, painting helps me to express myself in a completely different way. Sometimes I get a picture in my mind about something I’d like to paint, and I won’t feel settled until I actually paint it. But other times my emotions feel overwhelming and I don’t have a particular image in mind. I just feel better putting the paint to the paper. I don’t know what it is about that process that helps me, but it always does. It doesn’t require verbalization – it’s just about processing emotions for me.
Once, in the midst of a disagreement with my husband, my heart just felt so sad. I felt misunderstood and unsure of how to express myself without making things worse. I sat down for a few minutes and painted a heart with teardrops coming from it – just something that came to mind as I started putting paint on the brush, and the simple act of doing that small painting helped to calm my spirit. I didn’t feel so overwhelmed. I was able to gain some perspective and the patience needed to work more on our relationship. It wasn’t long before we worked everything out and came to an understanding of each other’s feelings.
Some people feel intimidated by a blank page – whether for writing or for painting – but starting with something that you already know can be helpful, too. Maybe paint a name with creative colors or lettering. Maybe write out a favorite verse in an artistic way. Even copying something that has already been done can help. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It doesn’t have to be something you frame and hang in your home. It doesn’t even have to be seen by anyone else. It is the process that brings the peace. The act of creating helps in the healing.
Update for 2022: Now, after having learned so much about grief and healing and trauma, I incorporate some of these creative, healing activities into my retreats for grieving mothers.
So tell me, do you find the creative process to bring you peace and healing as well? What types of creative activities do you find helpful? I know there are so many possibilities, from decorating to jewelry making, cooking to quilting. I’d love to learn what has helped you.