by Kara L.C. Jones

Mapping: Words and Art for Healing Therapy

As a bereaved parent myself, I have often heard and used the phrase "mapping your grief." But my view of that phrase is very different today than it was in the Spring of 1999 when my son first died.

Upon learning that my child was dead, the medical professionals involved with us tried very hard to get some tangible resources to us for our grief and healing process. One of the things we received in our little "grief packet" was a pamphlet from some organization or another. This pamphlet claimed that it had the mission of telling us what the stages of grief are. You know these stages, too, because we've all heard it a zillion times. First, denial. Then shock, anger, acceptance, and some other neatly mapped out stages. The pamphlet did say that the length of each stage would vary from person to person.

I will go a step further, and offer this:

If and when you do find a map for grief, then the stages, the length of time, the patterns and the healing path are completely and entirely different for each and every person on this planet. This is not to say that bereaved people don't all recognize something weary in each other. This isn't to say that we don't all know some measure of those familiar stages those pamphlets talk about. It's just to say that those pamphlet do not, will not, and cannot ever even begin to tell you the vastness of the unknown and unmapped regions of Grief. Grief is a HUGE country, no a continent-- no, no a solar system! And even at that, it's a solar system that changes each and every day depending on who we are, where we are, what kind of support we have-- it is as individual as we each are.

So how do we come to terms with this ever changing and evolving map that we are constantly trying to decipher?

Why, of course, my answer is Poetry Therapy! But more than that, it is an exercise in words and art. Try making a list of words that are involved in some way in your grief and healing process. Name of the loved one who died, names of emotions you've gone through, places, dates, other people's names, quotes or excerpts, and/or touchstone words like angel, faith, god/dess, heaven, spirit, etc. Maybe it's a list you make all in one sitting. Maybe it's a piece of paper you keep near you for about a week, and everytime you think of a new word that is part of your process, then you write it down.

Once your list is "done"-- I don't think it is ever done, but maybe there's plenty of words for you to start the second part of the project. Then take a large piece of sketch paper or cardboard or a canvas that you can use as a work/creation space. Put the words from your list onto the work space. Place the words in a way that makes a sort of visual map for you. Maybe you just take the words written on separate pieces of paper and place them on top of your work space-- not glued nor taped. And see where they land. Move them around. Imagine what the words would look like in other fancy fonts or written and placed upside down. Imagine what the words would look like with art or collage images created around them.

Play -- remember, this grief thing is malleable. It changes everyday in our real world, so it can change and evolve in this visual way, too.

Then consider collecting images or drawing images and getting those, along with your words, onto the workspace. Literally create a map, an artistic map of what your grief looks like, has looked like, might look like in the future. Make it as visual as you possibly can. You can draw or paint, but you don't have to. You can cut out images from magazines and glue them in a collage way. You can hand write the words or type them up, print them out, cut them apart and glue them to the workspace. You can paint them. Sketch them. Write them in your fancy handwriting. It's not about being a famous, extraordinarily talented artist. It's about mapping your grief in a visual way-- and no matter what your "artistic" experience, you *know* your grief and healing process inside and out, so make it visual.

Maybe this is an exercise that you do once a year, once a month. Since the grief and healing process has us changing and learning new things everyday, your map is changing everyday, too. So maybe this visual exercise of words and art can evolve and change for you, too. Keep the finished product of each time you do this. After you have several of them, take a look. See how your healing might be evolving. See how grief is changing. Consider framing the pieces. Hang them in your livingroom. Invite friends and family over for an "art opening" to premiere your grief maps. Share your grief and healing evolution with the people who love you. I bet they will tell you something about their own maps.

Miracles to you!

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