Kara's Column > Let Expression Come
"All the details of
your child's life [and death]
are written into your bones,
After the death of a child the meaning of everything changes. Time seems to go fast or slow. Our jobs seem meaningless. Our priorities have changed. If we were artists before the death of our child, then the value of our art may even change. Relationships evolve or fall away. And it just seems like chaos.
In doing outreach with bereaved parents, I come across variations of this chaos everyday. Recently a parent who had been a prolific writer prior to the death of his child, wrote to say he felt he wasn't doing justice to this loss because he couldn't write a d*mn think about it. My husband sent back a note with the quote at the top of this article assuring the parent that the story of the child's life and death are all there. The story will eventually, in one medium or another, find its way out.
One thing I try to offer to bereaved parents who are struggling with their art or with attempts at a new art after the death of a child is this:
Be completely open to whatever form of expression this experience might take!
The bereaved parent who was a writer mentioned that he had only been able to write emails, but nothing else. I encouraged him to consider those emails! Emails are a new form of journalling if you ask me. We've even published a memoir here at KotaPress that was partially made of email communications a woman had while she was sick with cancer. I suggest to all parents who are using the Internet for a form of support after the death of a child, to look at what they are writing in the Internet medium. Those posts and emails can easily be the expressions of memoir writings or prose pieces. Maybe those are the first draft of a book to come. Maybe they are completed pieces themselves. Or the beginnings of support themed articles you might want to publish someday.
Who knows? But I encourage you to be open to whatever form your expressions during grief might take.
Another bereaved parent I know decided she was going to scrapbook a baby book for her stillborn son. Memorial baby books are hard to find, and she wanted something nice, something personal, something beautiful to honor her child's life and death. She created a magnificent book. And then she took what she learned from that book and started making pages for other parents. She took some of the techniques and applied them to card making to make sets of announcement cards for bereaved parents.
I'm not saying that all our expressive art after the death of a child will turn into something public. We may not want to do that at all with our expressive creations. But I am saying that the initial expressions of art for bereaved parents comes in various ways. None of those ways should be discounted.
Because everything changes after the death of a child, forms of expression will change, too. We may or may not use our old medium for creating. We may discover for the first time that we are artists withh something to say. And it is okay to let our expressions come in whatever form, to whatever degree, they like.
1) If you find that you can't write when you sit in front of a blank page or screen, ask someone if they would be willing to be your email pal for a while. Ask them to prompt you once a day via email with questions about the death of your child. Answer them, in letter form, via email and let that be your writing for awhile.
2) Prompt yourself. Open the dictionary once a day and pick a random word. Then write a sentence or paragraph or page or email that says how this word plays a part in your life after the death of your child. Use the word itself or use it as the subject of the piece. Whatever works.
3) Go to the library and check out 10 books about grief & healing. Everyday, open any one of the books to a random page and read the first sentence your eyes fall upon. Now transcribe that sentence to the top of your blank page, screen, or email. Write something about your reaction to or impression of that sentence.
4) If you were a write before the death of your child and you find that writing just doesn't work now, then try some other medium. Try collaging what you feel. Write with photos. Try using mosaics -- see if you can work with someone who will let you buy various old pieces of china or pottery at thrift stores. Then break the pieces by smashing them against a wall somewhere. After you've gotten all the breaking done, sweep it all up into a box and go learn to mosaic with the pieces.
5) If nothing works, just let it come. Relax. Don't try anything. Just feel. Just be still. Let the expression come however it will. Give it its own timeline. And then just keep your eyes open for its arrival.
Kara L.C. Jones is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where she honed her poetic craft under the mentorship of Jim Daniels. Her poetic and non-fiction works have been included in publications such as New Works Review, PoetsWest, Real Henna, Shared Heart Foundation's "Meant To Be", LightHearts Publication's "Soul Trek", MISSing Angels Newsletter, American Tanka, Mother Tongue Ink's We'Moon, Honored Babies, Cup of Comfort series, and more. Because she refused to give her grief writing over to the control of outside editors and publishers after the death of her son, she and her husband Hawk founded KotaPress in 1999 as a creative outlet for their expressive artworks. She has been facilitating online and in-person workshops for over 10 year, including sessions offered at the International MISS Conferences, WA State Poets Association Burning Word festivals, and Course Bridge.