Have you ever witnessed a moment when someone couldn’t express their grief through words, but could create an artwork in memory of a loved one lost? I’ve had the privilege of witnessing such a moment.
Three years ago Amy Kitsembel from Aspirus Comfort Care and Hospice Services contacted me to collaborate on programming for children, teens, and families coping with the death of a loved one. The goal was to create programs where individuals or families could express their grief through art.
We now offer “Treasuring Memories” twice a year. In the summer, surrounded by the serenity of the Museum’s gardens, the group creates stepping-stones; indoors in the winter, the project is a personalized candleholder. In both cases we ask participants to bring a photo or small mementos of their loved one to incorporate into their artwork.
We share memories, stories, laughter, and tears. Aspirus Comfort Care grief counselors join the group to help facilitate conversations about loved ones who have died and listen to the needs of those left behind. As a museum educator, I coordinate the art experience and the Woodson Art Museum provides the neutral setting.
Each program ends with the reading of a beautiful book, The Next Place by Warren Hanson. My favorite passage from this book reads, “I will cherish all the friendship I was fortunate to find, all the love and all the laughter in the place I leave behind. All these good things will go with me. They will make my spirit glow. And that light will shine forever in the next place that I go.”
These past two years, I met many people who lost someone and I treasure the memories they shared. I will always remember a father who brought his three children to create stepping-stones in memory of their mother. They all worked quietly at a table together, few words were spoken, a family so close that words were not needed. A touch of a hand and a look of love shining from the saddest eyes is all that passed amongst them.
When the stepping-stones were finished, this family left them at the table to dry and took a walk together through the Woodson’s gardens and galleries. After they walked away, I looked at the stepping-stones, each with a message to or about their mother. The youngest child used small found objects to create a beautiful frame around the word Mama and shaped a heart beneath her name.
Everyone at some point in life will be touched by the loss of a loved one. Sharing our memories and letting others know what we have lost helps us hold them in our hearts. Expressing those thoughts through art creates a lasting tribute and allows us to grieve, express, and share a part of ourselves.