I have always enjoyed art–taking a class here and there throughout my school years. It wasn’t until after the death of our seventeen year old daughter that I decided to tap into my love for art again. I needed an outlet for the deep sorrow in my soul.

I stepped into an artist’s studio one day to view an oil painting our family had requested be made in memory of our daughter, Katie.   Six months earlier, Katie had died in a car accident while driving to Reynolds High School during her senior year. Seeing her likeness on the painted canvas was quite emotional. The feeling almost brought me to my knees as multiple emotions nearly took my breath away. As I expressed my love for the artist’s rendition of our daughter, she invited me to join her group of adult students in class that evening.

At first, I didn’t know where to start. I looked around the studio in search of an object to paint. My eyes rested on a snowy barn scene that reminded me of my younger years in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY. At times, it was difficult trying to sketch the painting I had in mind. I asked myself many times if I was in something over my head. The color mixing even seemed impossible at times. One evening, I packed up my supplies and left the class when I was “drawn” to tears trying so hard to complete what seemed to be impossible. I wasn’t sure this was the best outlet for me at the time.

Despite the previous week of disappointment, I returned to class the next week and decided to give it another try. It was unusual for me to give up easily. I knew the art class was a good outlet for me to work thorough my grief and be around such a good group of friends.

Similar to a good family member or friend, the art teacher was there to guide my progress. Each week as the painting continued to develop, I was amazed at myself for my accomplishments. The finished product was beyond my expectations and it lifted my spirits.

I continued taking acrylic classes for 2 years before I started traveling with my current job.  Many of the scenes I painted were used for my Mom’s Christmas card list. She loves to mail out her hand painted cards each season to friends and family.

Eventually, I transitioned from acrylic to watercolor painting. I loved the free form work of water and paint across the watercolor paper. I painted several pictures as gifts for my family and friends. The Hospice where I worked asked if I would consider being a part of the Complementary Therapy day for staff by teaching a watercolor journaling class. A close friend who also lost her daughter in a car accident joined me in encouraging staff members to put their words and drawings on paper. My co-workers were amazed at their talents and left the class with renewed spirit. It felt good to help others who give their time and talent to patients and families that are facing end of life concerns.

Grief work expresses itself through different colors, different mediums and different seasons of the heart. Fortunately, art therapy is the avenue that has opened up a renewed sense of life and well being for me as I travel down the winding road of grief.

~Monica Sleap      

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