Healing from the Death of a Loved One
Healing Grief & Trauma, Part II (2006)
A Very Personal Example of the Healing Power of Creativity: The Death of my Husband
I awoke this morning with the feeling that I should share with you this very personal experience of the healing power of creativity.
Two weeks ago my husband, with whom I had recently separated yet remained deeply connected, unexpectedly died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 59.
For any of you who have suffered the inconceivable inner confusion and myriad conflicting emotions that accompany the sudden death of a loved one, you know how deeply painful is the suffering. There was the torrent of tears and the memory flashbacks, and the attempts (over and over) to understand from the mind what can only be accepted in the soul.
I hosted a public memorial for him, and scores of friends came and spoke and we shared together the sense of our loss and a celebration of his life. Still, I felt the need to offer my own private ceremony in honor of his amazing man, our many years together, and his most unusual life. And, perhaps as much to the point, I still needed to face and meet the many conflicting feelings that arose around the circumstances of our life together, our divorce, and now the finality of his unexpected death.
I share with you what I did in private, as an honoring act of conscious light put onto what the darkness of my mind couldn’t fathom, because the process I invoked demonstrates a good example of the healing power of creativity.
When we talk of the healing power of creativity, we’re not just talking about art-making! We’re talking about a life orientation that co-creatively participates in life’s constantly changing and surprising circumstances, by very actively meeting and using these circumstances to find and reclaim a deeper wholeness through co-creative expression and engaging participation with life’s realities.
In fact “healing’ isn’t really the accurate word… “reclaimed wholeness” is.
We “heal” really by and through reclaiming our wholeness.
Here is the ceremonial act of engaging in life’s reality that I created, without forethought, but rather by listening to my inner questions and angst and then following what arose from an inner stillness (see the four steps of co-creative transformation earlier in this article).
Within the stillness that lay beneath my immediate grief and deep disturbance, it came to me to drive up the coast and hike along the beach to Point Conception and there to offer my wedding ring to the sea as a symbolic act of honoring the natural rhythm and cycles of birth, death, release and rebirth.
At the last minute I packed in with me a few other items with no idea what I might do with them – if anything. (Again, this is part of the inner listening and spontaneous creative play of our vast intelligence when we learn to access it.)
I packed in a photo taken at the sea’s edge of Kauai, where my husband and I were married so many years ago. The photo was one of the kiss that sealed our marriage.
I had no real notion of what I might do with the photo of the two of us as I picked it up; it just felt right to bring it along. I might just carry it out and then back home with me where I would place it in a memory album. Or I might decide when I got there that it felt right to burn it, or bury it, or tie it around the wedding ring and release it into the sea. I’ve learned not to listen to the mind in making these determinations, but rather to listen to something far more true and awake that resides in the inner stillness of the moment.
I also took a small ceramic vessel I’d made with a male and female figure on the rim into which I put some sage; a booklet of matches; a favorite rock he had picked up on one of our hikes in Big Sur and that was still on a wall outside my backdoor; and a tea candle.
At the water’s edge at Point Conception after a 6 mile hike through the early mist, I spoke aloud to Steve, my ex-husband. I shared my feelings of love, anger, frustration, hurt, and hope. He hadn’t told me of the cancer or of the lengthy surgery he had scheduled. And now he was gone and nothing could be spoken or cleared between us. I had some difficult and angry and confused feelings to speak and let have voice after our many years together.
Through this creative process of spontaneous ceremony I just followed an empty-minded kind of consciousness. I found a small hallow in the rock where the tide would eventually come that night. There I placed and lighted the tea candle, burned the sage, and decided to leave the photograph of our marriage kiss, allowing it to move, be picked up by a bird, washed into the sea… and eventually disintegrate back into the earth.
After this, I felt ready to consciously release the marriage and all the things spoken as well as those that were left unresolved between us, and I walked into the ocean a few steps where I shared my prayer for his life pain to now be released into freedom, and I threw my wedding ring (diamond and all) out to the sea in a symbolic act of acceptance, release and new birth.
As I turned to begin the long hike down the shore back to civilization and to the living, there was a very marked feeling of inner peace, acceptance, and new readiness for living that had alluded me ever since our divorce 2 years ago! It was palpable and surprising and very real.
There was a feeling of new freedom and lightness. This overriding sense of acceptance and lightness of being has remained ever since.
Yes there is of course still sadness and the mental inconceivability of the permanence of his being gone from my life, but it is not any longer my primary ground. The primary ground has been changed from the darkness of mind-thoughts to the lightness of a reclaimed wholeness.
In my experience, a conscious and attuned act of co-creative relationship with life’s circumstance, like this one personal example, has phenomenal life-transforming power! I’ve seen it over and over again with the beautiful spontaneous processes and honoring acts created by clients when they come to work with me.
There is a healing power in creativity because that is what we are:
We are creative beings set up and meant to continually gather from the raw materials of our life’s changing circumstances , and from them, to recreate a new wholeness.
What does the artist do? She gathers and draws from the parts and elements and insights available to her and reclaims them as something that reveals a new wholeness, be it a sculpture, a painting, a dance or a table setting.
This is what we are each called to do:
We are called to gather up the bits and pieces of our lives and offer them new possibility through the sacred act of creating our own unique master work of art.
When we step into the conscious light of our creativity, we discover our innate essence and freedom as master artisans …and our wounds and life circumstances become gathered and reclaimed as expressions of our unique genius and the brilliance of spirit made flesh.