The Art Of Processing Unresolved Grief
I recently attended an Expressive Therapies Summit, which was to be held in New York. Like all things pandemic, there was a change of plans. Fortunately, it was far enough into the pandemic to allow for and adequately plan a successful transfer to Zoom, verses a Summit, a Zoomit if you will. In all seriousness, I was drawn to a class that used a divination deck to explore and process what may be emotionally affecting us. A divination deck, sometimes called oracle cards, simply put are a variation of the tarot deck.
I’m not a tarot card reader, but I do find them interesting for their history and immense symbolism. They certainly have a place in the psyche from a historical and symbolic perspective, as they go back hundreds of years. In this training by Abbe Miller, MS, ATR-BC, LPC, we explored her deck, the Soror Mystica deck. We ventured into taking two cards, personally selected, and using these to begin artwork that was free flowing. We were to begin just by putting color down on paper. As we did this, from an open place, we were to see what emerged and go with that.
I thought as I began writing this blog, how on earth do I put my experience of art into words? But this is a fair question as we really do feel this way about our inner pain, and our inner struggle. How on earth do you put that into words? This is where the struggle resides, and therefore a perfect illustration of the limitation of talk therapy. How do you, when language is such a limited resource? This is the power of expressive therapy; it goes deeper than words.
As directed, I began with a symbol. I chose the spiral. As I added to the colors my intuition carried me to the next piece, the next color. I used oil pastels and the blending looked very pretty. In the midst of this free stream of color blending and feeling positive about the soft nature of my work, it suddenly shifted, and I didn’t really want to go there, but this is what the work required. I knew this in my bones.
And so the black emerged. The blackness of the womb, of the son who had passed shortly after leaving my body. I certainly did not come to this training to go there. But this is where it went.
He emerged, there in my spiral. He emerged surrounded by gray matter. It obstructed the balance of my artwork, as the loss obstructed the balance of our lives. On the other side, more black was needing to be expressed, the darkness and curve emerged of the open arms which were only able to hold him for a brief part of his short ten days. The empty womb, the empty arms. The mother suffering a fatal loss. It was here that it dropped me, in all its truth it dropped me. I thought, well this is quite resolved, I did years of therapy on this.
I did meaningful work and meaningful therapy. I have been able to survive and thrive. But as every mother knows, and is told, the loss of a child stays with you for a lifetime. It definitely waxes and wanes, and unlike the cycle of the moon, the cycles do get longer and longer apart, even duller and duller. But they last, and when they emerge, they truly hurt. And it emerged. Sometimes clients can be fearful of “going there”. I want to say that I was able to go there without destruction, instead of wrecking me it helped lead me through another of those cycles. This is the power of using art in therapy.
Jordan Prebys, MA, LPC,