It feels so apt that Grief Awareness Week falls in December, in winter. It’s a time of darkness, of gloom, as the year draws to an end. All around us, nature feels bare and barren. Winter can fuel depression and many people feel more isolated as they have to spend time indoors, shut in as light fades early. All this mirrors feelings of loss and grief.
My arts for wellbeing initiative, Medley, exists to share how art, music and nature can all help improve mental health and wellbeing. But this could feel facile, flippant, insulting. To someone experiencing the sheer brutal absence that grief is all about – to someone who has lost a loved one recently or years ago – to omeone bereaved by sudden accident or by long, painful illness – someone suggesting that they try art or craft or singing or walking might feel an insult. It might feel as if that person has totally failed to grasp what they are enduring. How could art, music or nature possibly help?
And it’s important to recognize that obviously they will not change what someone is experiencing. There may be times when it is impossible to concentrate, or to feel motivated, or when it feels wrong to enjoy. Grief can be confusing and exhausting and every day is different.
But art, music and nature could become tiny islands, havens, a moment to recharge or to shelter from the storm. They could help someone express what they are feeling, maybe through journaling. Some people write a journal in the form of letters or notes to the person they have lost, telling them how they feel or sharing all the little everyday things they might have told them. Art really enhances a journal as you add decorative borders or use different colours. I know some people also use art or craft to make a personal tribute to their loved one, maybe a name picture or a quilt or a painting or any handcrafted item, maybe for the house or garden. The artist Emma Douglas created an exhibition of artwork about her son and life following his death, rooted in memories, records and diaries. I heard about this Drawing On exhibition when it was shown at Norwich Cathedral in 2019.
Some people try art or craft for the first time – maybe they need a new pastime as time drags. For others, who have long enjoyed art or craft, it may feel natural to turn to this familiar refuge – or it may not. They may find their creativity has deserted them for a time. Trying a different artform could help, or something different, like music or nature, might help more.
Music could channel and express emotions. Loud, lively songs could express anger or disbelief or combat the silence. Beautiful, uplifting classical music might express your deep sadness, but might also feel just too beautiful, too emotional. When there are so many diverse music styles, one may help more than another. Particular songs may awaken memories of the past, and these could be too bittersweet but might be a wonderful treasury of memory. Choral music, hymns or worship songs can build faith and hope.
Many people find being in nature soothing and calming. There’s something elemental and restorative about being outside, exposed to wind and rain and sun. Again, nature could become a way to remember a loved one, by planting a tree or dedicating a tree in a nearby park or woodland, or by plating a memorial rose or flowerbed. But it could be less specific than that too. Keeping a garden in order might become a struggle following a bereavement, particularly for an older or ill person, but I’ve seen how it can also be a lifeline, a purpose, even a joy.
It would be very helpful if you would like to share any thoughts or responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.