As emotions began to flow and words became redundant, I felt a strange urge to express and create in less familiar ways.
It was my couselor who suggested art therapy. She surprised me one day with a new assignment: To sit quietly and spend ten minutes drawing... anything. We were both curious about the outcome and I was tired of talking.
It was time for a different approach.
I made a visit to the local craft store and picked up some oil pastels and drawing paper. I had happy memories drawing with Cray-Pas. They were softer and seemed somehow more forgiving than pencils or crayons.
Never considering myself much of an artist, I've joked repeatedly about my inability to draw stick people. This project, though, felt oddly liberating and I couldn't wait to see what would come of it.
I decided to use my non-dominant hand because I knew this practice would access my subconscious mind, making the outcome all the more intriguing.
The picture above was the end result. It definitely illustrated my pain and struggle but, more importantly, it also revealed the transformation happening within me. (Note the upward/outward movement.)
Suddenly, my suffering seemed to have a purpose and direction. In any event, there was movement, and this gave me hope.
The second piece was created about a week after finishing the first. I was experiencing bouts of terrible chest pain and pressure which finally led to a trip to the hospital for an EKG. The results were normal, of course, and I felt like a total hypochondriac (but relieved) learning that the pain was just related to stress. I returned home, yet again, to rest.
My heart, tender and aching, just wanted my attention. "Okay," I said, exhausted from resisting. "I hear you."
During therapy the same week, my counselor asked me to describe how I saw my heart. I closed my eyes and gently placed my hand on it. "What do you see?" She asked. "It's sort of lopsided," I continued, "and one side is smaller than the other... and... blue. It's closed down and very tired."
When I returned home that day, I had to draw it.
This time I used my right hand to create the right half and my left hand to create the left. (I'm a natural lefty, but this is what felt the most natural at the time.)
The pic below was the result.
Sometimes, I surprise myself.
In the months following Elizabeth's death, I became more and more reluctant to be around other people. I couldn't help it. I simply lost my innate ability for small talk. I showed up on the outside exactly where I was on the inside, without pretense or apology. I was incapable of exhibiting anything other than my current state of being, which presented mostly as shock and devastation. I had to protect myself from anyone that might attempt to alter or otherwise inhibit my need to genuinely express my feelings.
I was never in the habit of telling the world my life story, so very few people really know the truth behind the tragedy (which is no small feat in a small mid-western town where people tend to throw their personal lives to the wolves.) I'm the type of person who confides in a few close friends, and believe me when I tell you, these are people with whom I would trust with my children and my life.
For better or for worse, I found out quickly who could and couldn't handle my new fragile state of being. Let's face it, though, this is heavy subject matter and few people are emotionally equipped to help another navigate through this sort of wreckage. I had been on a break from therapy, but knew it was time to return. I thought it would be unfair to unload the bulk of this responsibility on my family and friends and also knew, all too well, that I could easily be the next to go if I wasn't vigilant about pursuing as much outside support as possible.
My therapist's name was Mary (her name has been changed) and she is an amazing success story. Her journey was not an easy one. A single mother, she recovered from her own childhood trauma while raising her kids, working and going to school. (We had a lot in common.) She was, what I would refer to as, an unconventional therapist.
She approaches healing trauma in a holistic way, addressing and including all dimensions of the human experience: the physical, the spiritual and the psychological. She is a licensed addictions counselor, and very unlike the myriad of other counselors I've seen that have formal psychology degrees. She is healthy, well balanced and intimately connected to her intuition.
Coincidentally (or not, more like) Mary's grandson completed suicide three months prior to Elizabeth's death. She sent me a beautiful card, after learning about my loss through a mutual friend, which included a note expressing a desire to connect. Not to have a formal therapy session, just to connect. And so, we did.
God works in mysterious ways, because I couldn't imagine a bigger gift than having nearly unlimited access to another human who had suffered the same type of traumatic loss. I was so grateful for this connection, and it may have saved my life...or at the very least... my sanity.
We told our stories and spoke of our experiences. We expressed our remorse and the inner knowing there was no way to have altered the outcomes. We spoke of soul contracts and agreed that, even in the midst of this despair, there was a divine plan that would be eventually be realized. It was our mutual belief that energetically, our loved ones were still alive and well, and maybe closer than ever before. This gave me great comfort, and soon after this visit, I resumed regular weekly sessions.
The months that followed were rough, so I decided to open up to more forms of self-expression. I had started writing again several days after arriving at Elizabeth's house (her eulogy, specifically.) It had been quite a long dry spell, so it was a comfort reconnecting with my creativity. It was like reuniting with a special friend with whom I'd lost contact (for a very long while.) It was so quiet in that house, and I could feel my sister's presence everywhere. This is where much initial healing took place, and I will be forever grateful that my brother-in-law and niece allowed me to stay with them during this time. It was exactly where I needed to be.
After the memorial, I returned home to write more poetry. The words seemed to flow through me effortlessly, probably because I had been broken wide open and allowed no judgement to form around what was revealed. Writing became the only medicine that soothed and hushed the wounded kids inside. The ones who lost their most precious ally. They needed me more than ever before and I wasn't about to let them down.
R Jade McAuliffe-
Author, coach, mom and poet; believer in things unseen.
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart and bids it break."