Death *AND* Non-death Related Grief: living another life

While much of my own personal grief experience comes out of the deaths of our three boys, many times in my life, I find myself exploring a more non-death related grief experience. For example, in the documentary Babbleonia, the actor Al Pacino talks about how the practice of our art is about allowing the unconscious to become free, to rise to the surface, to express itself. It got me thinking about how much rises to the surface when I can allow grief and hurt to rise up to the surface of my heART, how much is then set free, and how much more open space I seem to have in my being when done. 

As I then later watched the documentary Looking For Richard, I found my heart strings pulled by all the actors sharing their visions. Something in me began to long for the life where I was going to be an actor. And suddenly I found myself surrounded by all this free floating grief and disappointment at all the things I have not done, all the roads not taken, all the years gone by such that it is too late in some ways for some of those dreams.

And frankly, many grief experiences do this same thing. I remember all the free floating grief after each of our sons died. The just rampant longing for the life that was now gone, the path that was absolutely closed to us now. We are still mom and dad to those boys, but our parenthood is of a different kind. I've probably made the most peace with this fact through the art-making process, both re-member-ing and he-ART-making, over the years, working creative prompts myself, pushing the exploration visually, in writing, and conversation.

So I began to wonder what I should do with this free floating, non-death related grief coming up now about all the roads not taken?

I started working the layers and textures and text of the piece shown in the image at the top of this post. I started with "In Another Life I Would Have Been..." and then I added all these empty window frames and meditated on what I would see through each of them. I flashed on images of a tilted drawing table, something a comic book artist would use. I flashed on a beautiful kitchen with the stove in an island where you can actually use all four spots on the stove top! I flashed on a small theater room where actors were improving, where spoken word poets don't feel the least bit self conscious about screaming and over-the-top rapping with their writings. And then I flashed on a fountain in Italy.

As I then came back to my piece, pondering how to draw or paint or collage each of those peeks into each of those windows, something interesting happened.  As I surfed thru my digital library of my art and photos, I found:

  • Images sharing the cover of our collaborative Heroes & Demons graphic novel/comic book from a good many years back. I illustrated the cover and two of the interior pages. It isn't exactly being a full time inker or writing a comic series, but huh, look at that... I sort of am a comic book artist.

  • Images from several of our celebratory, ritual meals. The one in particular shared here is from the meal made for my 40th birthday party.  I made the bread from scratch. The lemon, ginger, honey dressing is from scratch. The salad is bursting with fruits and vegetables, many we bought fresh from the local farmers market. All washed, cut, mixed at my own hand. It was not a very gourmet meal, not very complicated. But still, I was the chef for that meal and many of the others that were photo documented by my lovely husband.

  • Images from the early 2000's Vagina Monologue days.  A funny publicity photo taken of me and a fellow actor at a rehearsal one day in the lead up to the show. We sold out the house for those shows that first year. We raised a lot of money for local non-profits. And the following year, I helped coordinate and organize the art exhibit that was companion for the second year's run of the show. It was not Broadway or Hollywood, but I was the actor doing the Hair monologue that first year.

As I filled the windows of my heART-work with these images, the grief and disappointment freed up from my unconscious. I realized consciously that I actually had done many of those things I was longing to do, those things that unconsciously I carried as being disappointed to not have done!! And the conscious realization of all this freed up a huge space in my BEING for coming up with new dreams or for pursuing these dreams more in-depth ways.

And more than that, this conscious realization gave me space to have my humor return. As I looked at that last window where I would explore something about the fountains of Italy, it became light-hearted.  I found a public domain image of one of the fountains I long to see, and when I pasted it into the frame, I suddenly started laughing.

I flashed on myself as my doll character self -- since I have her anyway, I can put her into Italy right now. When I looked over at her, she was still in the headstand position I put her in when I wrote up a "different perspective" prompt a few months earlier. And suddenly, I was laughing and visioning what I would want to do at those Italian fountains, and I plopped her right into the frame, doing a headstand right in the fountain!

I may or may not get to Italy, but I don't think of it now with such disappointment and longing and ache for a road not taken. I think of it and laugh at myself doing headstands in the high art fountains!  :) That's a big shift for me.

So that's your creative prompt:

  1. Ponder the idea of, "In another life I would have been..."
  2. Make a list of all the images, words, ideas that come to you as you ponder that thought.
  3. Then collage, draw, paint from that list.
  4. What comes to the surface?
  5. What perspectives shift for you?
  6. What rises up from the unconscious and becomes free for you now?

Here's to continued creative explorations!

[previous published version was in Radical Creativity January 2012]
If you are looking for other creative prompts to explore your grief experiences, take a look at the eBooks we have available in our Shop.

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