Grief & Art

IMG_3072The last photograph of my father was taken by his good friend Tim during their final visit. In it my Pop hardly looks like a dying man—his skin hasn’t a wrinkle; his eyes are clear; he’s wholly engaged in conversation, happy to be with his old friend. But less than a week after that picture was snapped, my father left, without packing a single bag, but yes, with a hat on.


A response to grief for me is to make art. During my mother’s dying, poem after poem came, voicing what I was unable to articulate any other way. Last Saturday I sat with a copy of Tim’s photo wanting to build a collage around my father’s beautiful face. I’d look at his face and well up with tears, unable to conceive of a picture. Clearly it was too soon for that project.


However, amidst a stack of handmade papers on the table, were two that caught my eye: one was comprised of red, brown and white circles, and the other a thick, solid saffron sheet. I deconstructed the circles, cutting them free from their background so I had a stack of circles beside me that I placed and re-placed on the solid paper, spot-gluing them, finally, adding a few leaves, some small circles of cut-out maps, and gold decorations. The design that formed calmed me; it felt right. I retrieved a sense of rightness when my world had lost its predictable form, when it felt angular instead of like a (more-or-less) sure round ball.


Later, I sewed this collage to a bottom sheet of orange felt. I like stitching paper to fabric. In addition to spending lots of time with my dad at Bookshop Santa Cruz we also frequented Harts Fabrics; he too loved the textures, the colors, the trims. The collage isn’t finished yet; I’m going to add more beadwork, but here is it so far.


Needle and thread in hand, with scissors and glue, too, I began stitching myself back together. All the while I worked thoughts played and settled down easily, while the grief held steady but didn’t overwhelm. It was good to make something appealing to my eye, to feel a sense of order where otherwise there’s isn’t one.


8 thoughts on “Grief & Art

  1. yes–my dear Sister—-
    grief and loss come visiting
    so do solace and joy in unexpected places…

    I have written many pieces on my Father’s death but have not gotten to the bottom (or center) of it yet……There is still a little girl in there crying and not quite understanding where he is….

    May you be blessed with deep remembrance of all that was good and holy about your Dad and how much he loved you and you, him…
    I am heartened and happy for you that art is your friend when we cannot be there to catch your tears…..
    Sending much love.

  2. In grief my art has gone back to the elements of childhood art: cutting, pasting, arranging, using bright and beautiful little things that I find around me. This art is not for the world, will never be part of a ‘body of work’, but it it has recalled to me the essence of myself as an artist: that through color and texture and my own hands and eyes, I can calm myself, heal myself and find beauty still.

  3. I agree completely. Art, whether in the form of a fine art like collage or painting or in the form of creative writing, taps into another way to express one’s feelings, thoughts, and unhealed wounds. LOVED this image—the chrysanthemum is a symbol for the passing of a loved one, the royal family’s lineage to heaven, and for beauty in Japanese culture!

  4. This is so right in every way. The collage is beautiful in itself—both it and your written piece reflect perfectly the need we all have to create order, or at the very least, a sense of order in our world. Your tributes to your father continue to be moving in the expression of your love and respect. I do trust he’s receiving them. And thank you for sharing, Patrice!

  5. The stirring tribute continues, Patrice. As it develops, I realize you’re teaching all of us a lesson in how to grieve. Sad, but for sure, each of us will need to put it to use one day.
    Thank you for your helping hand.

  6. Dear Patrice,
    You beautifully share the mystic magic of liminality. A place best unlocked by death that gives meaning to life. Thank you for sharing.
    Love, Mary D

  7. Thank you for these words on writing about grief. I have been keienpg a journal for several years now, but before I started this I had already lost or thrown out the diaries I kept as a child. My sister died age 7 in 1980, so I would have liked to be able to look back on what I wrote as I was growing up. I recently decided to start writing a book about my journey through her death and my healing journey to the present and I found it hard going! It’s still on my to do’ list, although, having written only a few pages, has slipped off the top of the pile. If you have any tips for me, I’d appreciate them!

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