Art can serve as a sacred vessel that contains the essence of your loved one and keeps their memory alive in the world.
At the height of my mourning, I started a daily practice of sitting with grief in crying sessions, and the different voices of grief—sorrow, regret, guilt, hope— expressed themselves through the written word.
What I discovered was that poetry provided a bottom for grief that felt bottomless and served to connect me with my mother and the relationship we had.
By the summer of 2019, I found myself with a collection of over 200 stream-of-consciousness poems, many of which appear in my poetry book “Death Song in Green.”
Writing poetry was an example of the Continuing Bonds grief model developed by Klass, Silverman, and Nickman which says that our relationship with our dead loved ones doesn’t have to end but can slowly evolve and change over time.
Creating art is a beautiful way for you to remember your loved ones and you don’t have to be an artist who paints or draws to create something that is personal and unique. I would not consider myself a poet before my mother’s death but connecting with her and grief through poems was a very healing and profound process. It served to help me memorialize her and connect on an even deeper level to who she was not only in her role as a ‘mother’ but also in her other roles in life as writer, journalist, communicator, and entrepreneur extraordinaire.
Continuing the bond in this way is an aspect of rebuilding your life in a healthy way and I invite you to use the HeART connections ritual to connect and capture the essence of your loved one. You can choose to perform it alone, with your family members, in a small group, or in a larger gathering.
About HeART Connection
The HeART connection ritual is a remembrance ritual I developed as a natural outflow from my journey with grief. It can double down as a grieving ritual to process and digest some of the unresolved emotions of grief or as a personal mourning ritual in which you memorialize your loved one and keep the connection alive.
If you have a scientific inclination, you might resonate with the law of conservation of energy which states that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but can be transformed from one form to another”. From this perspective, the process of creating art in your loved one’s memory is like collecting lightning in a bottle. It can serve to keep their essence alive in the world by grounding it in something physical like a painting or a drawing.
Through metaphor and symbols, art connects us to the place within us which is love and where our loved ones will always remain alive.
As Richard Rudd says in his book Gene Keys, the process of creating art is like dancing on the banks of the unknown, and creating art specifically in memory of someone who has died is an invitation to dance with the soul of your person in a co-creative process that connects you to the mystery of life and death.
For example, each time I wrote a poem, it felt like I was not only extracting grief from my bloodstream but also extracting and distilling the essence of my mother and pouring it into the sacred vessel of a poem that could contain the memories, the struggles, the love, the hate and everything complicated and surreal about the relationship I had with her.
In other words, I found that art could give shape and memorialize what was otherwise inexpressible. It could keep the threads of connection alive.
Art does not mean making a masterpiece. It can be as simple as taking a few pictures or writing a few words to commemorate a season or embody a memory.
You can think of this ritual in some of the ways below:
- It creates a safe space to express your grief and reflect on your loved one’s essence and their favorite things like colors, music, and foods as well as the shared memories you hold precious.
- It celebrates your loved one’s life
- It continues your connection with your loved one
- It creates meaning, purpose, and structure during a time when you feel helpless and powerless
HeART Connections Ritual
In this ritual, explore creative ways to honor and braid your loved one into your life through different art forms.
The art you create can be anything: a memory, a hope, a dream, or a wish. You can also use any medium which calls to you. In my case it was poetry but perhaps for you, it is journaling, painting, drawing, pottery, dance, music, scrapbook making, or any other creative outlet you can imagine.
Think of any art you create as a container or a vessel that holds the essence of your person, keeps their memory alive, and honors the life they lived. You can choose to create a stand-alone piece or it could be a HeART Connection series in which you produce multiple connected works of art.
For example, someone might create a film that is a series of different scenes from their loved ones' life, or it could be a dance choreography or a piece of music to embody their laughter.
To start, spend some thinking about what type of art you want to create, the medium you will use, and the scope of your art.
- Look into your own life for inspiration. How do you express yourself artistically? Are you a dancer, a writer, painter? Do you sew, knit, or create jewelry? There are a myriad number of things you can create to memorialize your person and truly the sky is your limit. I have included a list of ideas at the end of this article that can help you get started, but try to think of ones from your life that are personally meaningful and symbolic to you.
- Loved One’s Interest: To determine what to create, you can also look into your person’s life and see what they liked. Did they like cooking, clothes, a specific place, animals, or traveling? If you do draw or paint, you can for example make a painting of their favorite animal or place.
- Learn a new skill and make it an experience. For example, if they loved jewelry you can take some classes and create something in their honor, or make a candle or soap for them.
In general, allow the process to be open-ended. Set aside some time and just doodle and see what comes through.
Some key things to keep in mind are that you can create a grief series for example a longer project like writing a book of poems, a memoir, choreographing a dance show or making a film or it could be a simple one-time project that you complete in 20 minutes.
Once you know what type of art project you want to do, you can get prepared by purchasing any items that you need for it.
This process might take several days to years and so you want to determine where you will create. If you have a remembrance altar and it makes sense, it might be nice to use this space for this ritual.
You can be as fluid as you want to be with this. You can perform this ritual annually, weekly, or even daily. It depends on how you want to incorporate your loved one into your daily life. If it happens over multiple sessions, you can use the ritual flow each time you want to enter a space to create the art piece or continue something you are working on. Reference this article to learn more about rituals and how to enact them.
Total Time: 15 – 90 minutes
Ritual Intention: I co-create in connection and collaboration with <insert person> and life itself”.
Set aside time to perform your ritual at a time when you know you will not be disturbed and gather all your ritual items in the designated space where you will create your remembrance altar. If this is a series, you can decide your cadence – whether it is daily or weekly and how long you want to spend.
- Space: Make the space you have chosen sacred for the ritual by lighting some candles, burning some sage, playing some music or just having a picture of your person
- Intention: Set your intention for the ritual and write it down on a piece of paper that you can keep on your remembrance altar. Use the intention above, or create one that resonates with you
- Invocation: Invoke transpersonal energies to support you. At this time, you can also call upon those who came before you in your family field (ancestors) or your loved one to co-create with you
- Ritual Flow: Begin your process of creating whatever art you have chosen to create. Allow yourself to be open to the process without trying to give too much direction from the mind. The timing above is just for guidance, but allow your process to go for as long or as short as it needs to be
- Express and Release: As you create, really allow yourself to be open to the experience. For example, really listen and follow your intuition and instinct in terms of picking colors, palettes, and any of the other things you might need
- Close Ritual: When you feel complete, you can close the ritual by putting out the candle or stopping the music. Give gratitude to your loved one for their life and to any transpersonal energies that showed up to support you
- Reflect and Root: Take a few minutes to reflect on the experience with some of the questions below
- Write down three words to describe the experience.
- What emotions did you feel as you created?
- What are any lessons, insights, or takeaways from the process?
- How do you feel about your creation so far?
- In what ways are you feeling connected to your person as you create?
- In what ways do you want to feel connected to your person and what is the purpose or intention for doing this?
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing
- Use your loved one’s favorite colors to make a painting or drawing
- Create different types of art like stained glass, and watercolors, or use any other mediums or tools
- Create a playlist with your loved one’s favorite music
- Write a song, create music to play on an instrument
- Choreograph a dance and make a recording of it. You can also just freestyle it.
- Write a poem for them or if you want to go all out as I did, you can write a poetry book, a short story, a memoir, or a biography
- Compile letters, cards, and any other written messages into a book
- Write letters to them as part of a mourning ritual
- Create dinner with their favorite food and invite friends over
- Create recipe booklets with their favorite recipes
- Create a photo collage by gathering pictures from their life. You can also create a timeline of your loved one’s life, including all important memories (both happy and sad) as well as milestones and events
- Make an online photo album with their pictures or take pictures of things you cannot keep
- Create a dear photograph incorporating your loved one in the present moment
- Select a favorite picture and put it in a locket you wear or have it framed and hung up in your living space
- You can also create a photo series by taking pictures of things that you come across in your daily life that reminds you of them
- Create a memory box from any container - it could be a shoe box, shipping box, jewelry box, or anything and fill it with little keepsakes or smaller items that remind you of your loved one like pictures or notes from family and friends. It can be as fancy or as casual as you like
- Create a mandala
- Make memorial ornaments like jewelry, pottery, or paintings. For example, if they loved tea, make a cup and use it to remember them
- Convert their handwriting into a tattoo or an interesting keepsake!
- Make a decorative quilt using their favorite colors, symbols, and images that remind you of them or their favorite clothes or fabrics. You can use it as a blanket or as a living room throw
- Print photos, coat them in resin, and turn them into beads that can become charms, a necklace, or a bracelet
- Cross-stitch their favorite funny quote
- Create a memory pillow made from an item of their clothing or fabric. For example, you can covert their shirts or sweaters into a pillow
- Create a “time capsule” of things that you aren’t quite sure what to do with and designate it to be opened at a later date
- Complete some creative projects that they left unfinished
- Make a scrapbook. Reach out to friends and family and encourage them to share stories, pictures, poems, and thoughts, or you can also just create it with your own memories
- Take an image of a handwritten note and print it into something like a baking dish, tea cup, or hand towel so that you can always have it with you. Tattoos and engraved jewelry are also great ways to memorialize their handwriting
- Gather any other handwritten letters, cards, and recipes and instead of storing them in files, use them to make a unique memento. For example, you can frame a favorite handwritten message and hang it on your wall.
- Create a recipe book with your loved one’s favorite recipes
If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed right now, plan to come back to it in the future when you may have more energy to decide what you want to do
Be open to the process
The death of your loved one is probably one of the most difficult experiences you will ever have in your life and creating art might not take away the sadness, but it will create a way to keep their essence alive in the world in a tangible way.
Please remain open and try not to overthink the process. Through ritual, you enter into a space of mystery where something new and unexpected can unfold. From my experience and the experience of many others, creating art in memory of your dead loved one can be a very healing process that keeps the connection alive.
I hope you create beautiful threads of connection with your loved one and know that their love lives on through your life. They will always be a part of you.