The Art of Grief

This March it will be four years since my non-smoking husband died of lung cancer. The diagnosis came much too late for any real hope of his survival and he died 13 months later. One of the most important things I’ve discovered over the last four years is that grief isn’t a linear process and that art, in all its forms, makes it possible for me to move forward and recover.

I’m a writer but I’ve never particularly identified myself as an artist. I’ve always thought of artists as musicians, painters, screenwriters, actors, or writers on par with Ann Patchett or Margaret Atwood.

After my husband’s death I often had these Fringe moments where I felt like I’d slipped through some time space distortion and landed in a universe just like mine but with my husband missing. This world didn’t feel safe to me any longer or like a place I belonged in at all. In the first year after his death, a sense of panic would overtake me. I felt this intense urge to look for him, as if he was on a business trip and I’d forgotten where he was—if I just looked hard enough, I could find him. By the second year, I no longer felt that sense of panic because I’d gotten uneasily used to his absence. I no longer cried every day either.

Slowly the process of creating a new life, a me without him, began to unfold. As an impatient person by nature, I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that building a new life doesn’t happen overnight. For the first time, I’ve embraced, with gratitude, the journey that I’m on to rebuild and rediscover the possibilities of life.

Over the last few years I found an interesting pattern emerge. Art, in just about any form, would completely engage me and in those moments my grief would be forgotten. My life had fallen apart, but I found some part of me incredibly comforted by acts of creation. I took photography classes and found I could walk around the city for hours, camera in my hand, completely absorbed in the landscape and the light, as I looked for a scene to frame in my lens. I took up banjo, which I was terrible at, and then guitar, which I’m slowly picking up. I immersed myself in music.

Music especially has become a space I live in. I’ve gone down many rabbit holes finding one indie singer/songwriter after another, or finding bands I completely missed the first time around. I’ve found more and more that my life needs a soundtrack that includes all different beats, rhythm and moods. I’m taken aback by the endlessly talented musicians who put themselves and their work out in the world. I feel inspired, saved and understood by their words and melodies in way that I can never fully thank them for but for which I am grateful every day.

Art has inspired me to try things I never would have before like painting and guitar. Each one leaves me feeling like there’s still more of a journey for me to take in this world. Instead of being alone, I’m part of a bigger creative flow that we each carry within ourselves—a miraculous spark of creativity that connects us all.

It’s in the art of creation that I believe we can all find ourselves when we get lost — a light that helps us back home again.