Sharing Our Stories
by Kara L.C. Jones

Pretty much since the moment my son died, I have had a gut instinct about how to use art in order to stay sane. I've had over five years now since that moment, and my own path of grief and expressive art has been windy, challenging, life saving, a gift. Without the outlet of art for sharing my story, I don't think I could have survived this life-after-the-death-of-my-son.

When a child dies, the parent loses not only the child, but also their visibility as a parent. The tangible things that tell the world you are a parent, disappear. So the complexity of loss after a child dies, is not just about the child being gone. It is about the re-creation of the self as a parent as well. And I have found that parents re-create the tangible nature of parenthood by sharing their stories.

We don't all do this with the arts. Some people do more volunteer work. Some go back to school to become nurses, social workers, professional caregivers for other bereaved families. But many of us do indeed use expressive arts to tell the story. What follows is a random account of my own artist path through the confusing journey of grief:

  • I was still on percocet. I was still in shock. I was still in the hospital. A friend came by with a purple journal and a new pen. I wrote "3/11/99" on the first line. I knew that my son's birth and death day was the beginning of the journey.


  • The words that filled that first journal were incorporated into the books Mrs. Duck and the Woman as well as Flash of Life, and Father Son Holy Ghost. With these books written, but no publication outlet, my husband proposed we create our own small press and publish the work in-house. We'd retain creative control, and we'd be able to do outreach to bereaved families directly.


  • For the publication of Mrs. Duck, we needed illustrations. A friend volunteered to "pose" as "The Woman", and I grabbed my old 35mm and a stack of Tmax b&w film. We headed to the lake and took probably 10 roles of film of "The Woman", all the ducks, and more.


  • After a while, words got tiresome. There was so much complexity to this journey. Sometimes a facial expression said more than a zillion words could say. So I started sketching again. Began looking at anime as a way of possibly re-doing the Mrs. Duck story as an animation -- or at least creating story boards. I didn't get very far with this as I got stuck on the faces. Playing with expression and facets of the face, just absorbed me. I didn't care about the bodies and perspectives and all the rest. I just stayed with faces. Doesn't do much for the story boards and animation, but was so helpful to me in exploring the expressions of emotion.


  • Some friends did henna designs on my body for Day of the Dead. I read about how henna had been used in rituals -- sometimes for birth, weddings, death, etc -- for hundreds of thousands of years, in many places on the earth. Someone wrote about how the henna designs would blossom and fade. Like they were ceaseless waves crashing on the shore. The designs were prayers that were blooming and fading, continuously throughout human history. The impact of that idea really caught me. I began exploring henna.


  • As I discovered the variations in henna designs from location to location, culture to culture, I also discovered that many people were asking me to do henna for specific intentions. Some had had dreams of symbols that they wanted henna'd onto them. Some knew they wanted something floral, or something tribal, or something with a word or a number included. This was mindful, thoughtful art, used for specific intentions. Maybe just to have fun. Maybe to create memorial designs including the name of the dead child. Maybe to start off on a trip across the world to study art. Whatever the intention was, I found that I was doing henna for my own expression, but I was helping others to find their way, too. We were sharing our stories with each other. We were wearing our stories on our bodies so others could see, too. This was powerful stuff.

I don't know where my art will lead next. I don't know what media will call for my attention at the next turn. But I do know that it has been the steady use of expressive arts that has kept me sane. The arts have allowed me to incorporate my son's life and death into everything I do. I have been able to re-create my parenthood. Re-define myself as a woman, an artist, a wife, an advocate. I know the value of these art tools. And I'm grateful for all that has been created with them.

About the Author
Kara's been known to hand-make books, ATC, broadsides and more. She's written a few books along the way. Published a few pieces of artwork, everything from photography to sketches. And she's loving the hike up the path of Henna!

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