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Using Painting to Address Grief

I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting on the floor of our small apartment, my mom had passed a few weeks prior and for most everyone else, life had returned to normal. Except me. I seemed to go into grief several times a day when a word, an object, or an idea would remind me of my mom and the tears would pour out. I’d forget appointments, showing up at the wrong time or the wrong day or not at all and have to explain that it was probably because my mom died and the tears would follow. I didn’t want to be that person who lived in grief, who never figured it out, I didn’t want to be the mom who couldn’t seem to stop crying and my three year old ask why and then remind me why when he saw it happen again, remembering his childhood as one where I cried a lot.  And then I noticed I had just stopped crying and was starting to feel better when I saw something that reminded me of my mom, and I realized I was surrounded by memories of her, so how when it took so much effort to get out of grief, could I expect feeling grief to not be a full time job? And feeling felt exhausting. It wasn’t a sustainable place to live, and I needed to figure it out now. Because I had no idea if or when it would stop, and waiting several more weeks might not make it go away, so what could I do to honor my mom’s memory, and myself and my family at the same time?

So I set on a quest, and along the way, figured out what worked for me, based on how humans are wired, and refined it, working with friends who went through loss, one who was a dear friend who passed away unexpectedly this past summer.

And what I realized through all those experiences is that going through the grief process changed me. I no longer see feeling feelings as a sign of weakness but one of strength. I no longer have to feel negative emotions for very long to release them and return to a feeling I actually want to stay in. I remember my mom and my dear friend and the impact they had on me, grateful for the opportunity to have known them, and knowing what actions I take now to honor their legacy. If I hadn’t lost people I felt so connected with, I would not have figured out a solution that can help someone else going through loss that you can tailor so that it works for you, in your season of life with the loss that you’ve, or someone you’ve known has had.

If it wasn’t for my mom dying, I wouldn’t have experienced this profound loss and figured out a way through. If it wasn’t for Amy’s mom dying, I wouldn’t have helped her. And if it wasn’t for both of our mom’s dying, I wouldn’t have had a system to deal with it when Amy died.  And I wouldn’t have a way to help others who have experienced loss.

So maybe you haven’t experienced loss, but maybe you are curious about it, or wonder what you’d do and want to be prepared.  Or maybe you have and it did a number on you, and you are ready for some relief, or know someone that could use some relief.  The Grief Flow Formula™ in my Grief & Loss Workshop can help.

While you have different options to address grief, I am a personal fan of using painting.  There are a number of reasons for that, which I am not going into today.  But what I will focus on is what helps us to arrive at the idea that we need to address it, and that waiting for it to magically disappear is not a sustainable option, unless you are a fan of sitting on your floor crying all the time.  

Our wiring as humans with the ability to choose, our desire for quality of life we want to experience, our potential for processing our emotions and experiences, and that grief can impact us in a variety of different ways in our bodies at the spirit soul and physical body means we can use painting to address our grief in a way that provides us the means to honor ourselves and who or what we lost and return to joy.  While I address several principles in the Grief and Loss workshop, the 5 concepts below can help you understand why you’d want to address grief in a systematic way:


When we’ve experienced a loss of someone close to us that hit us hard, we may just want to avoid feeling because it seems too hard to manage the emotions on top of everything else with which we are dealing.  

But when we avoid feeling grief, “negative” emotions, or low frequency emotions, we turn off our ability to experience “positive” or higher frequency emotions as well. 

It’s like the difference between humans and robots.  In general, humans feel and robots don’t.  Just think of all the movies with robots and how we are more endeared to the ones that try to understand or express human emotions such as C-3P0 in Star Wars.  

If we are content to cut-off / avoid our emotions, we are operating as robots.

When we operate as robots, we are choosing to wait (putting emotions on hold) rather than experiencing life (feeling alive now).  

What kind of life do you want to live? One on hold, or one that experiences feeling alive?


Grief can show up unexpectedly, through a memory, a word or thought, or a physical reminder.  And when it hits us, it can come in waves that can feel overwhelming.  As a result, we may start to dread feeling grief because we don’t like it and want to feel something else.  But avoiding it allows it to build up. There are two scenarios that I have found that by planning for them, we don’t need to dread grief.  By planning and implementing each on a frequency based on what you need, you can address the stored emotions periodically as well as when it occurs suddenly.

There is a weight that is lifted when we no longer dread grief.  And sometimes we don’t even know that it is there until it is gone.  We are not meant to carry grief as our body indicates to us when we are storing emotions by the tension we feel in our body.


Grief doesn’t just affect us emotionally, it can also affect us mentally.  Our minds can feel fuzzy after loss, we might forget important dates, or appointments, things we need to do when we are grieving.  I know I did, and for me, many people who have experienced loss understood as they have been through the same thing, and it is totally normal.  But it can feel uncomfortable to have to explain why we forgot something.  When we let go of the grief emotion, we can return to joy mentally as well.  In order to let go of the grief emotion, we need to feel it.  We don’t need to feel it for a long time in order for us to effectively release it and return to joy if we approach it in the way I show you.


Remember when everything I looked at reminded me of a memory of my mom?  What I realized is that I needed to get from grief back to joy quicker particularly because of the frequency I was reminded of her. My Grief Flow Formula™ is comprised of three elements: planning for grief, feeling grief and returning to joy in a way that enables us to manage life after loss.  If you plan for grief and practice feeling grief but ignore returning to joy, you’ll have a plan but by not using the plan to return to joy, you’ll stay stuck in grief.  If you feel grief and return to joy on a periodic basis, you won’t have a plan to do it efficiently and won’t be able to take action on that plan.  If you try to return to joy and plan for grief but don’t actually feel the grief prior to returning to joy, you won’t release the grief you have been holding onto and won’t be able to feel joy to the extent that you could if you feel the grief first.  So if you address just one or two of the elements, you don’t get the results that you need to feel the relief you are after in a sustainable, efficient and effective way.


I don’t know about you, but I can remember when I used to avoid emotions.  I made life choice decisions based on whether or not it involved me feeling.  I saw emotions as hard and uncomfortable.  The idea of focusing on feeling emotions sounded like something I never wanted to do.  But with the life-changing situations I was experiencing, I was having a lot of emotions.  There was no avoiding them or stuffing them any longer.

I thought I just needed to get to a point where my circumstances were what I wanted them to be, and then I was good.  

In some cases, my circumstances did improve, but what I didn’t realize at the time, but what I know now, is that those emotions I felt during my non-ideal circumstances didn’t dissipate when my circumstances improved.  

They were still there, inside me, in my body.  And they manifested in different ways.  For me, it tends to be a lot of tension in the upper shoulders, tension that I don’t always notice until it is gone.  Tension that can temporarily disappear when I am on the massage table, but somehow come back when I get off the massage table.  One of the benefits I have found with painting is releasing stored emotions through the movement of the arm/shoulder while I am painting.  And when we are in grief, this can be building up continually, so using painting to let them out can be very helpful to try to keep up with the grief that you are experiencing. So maybe you’ve noticed that you are in a season where your circumstances are pretty good, but you notice that you are still feeling the effects of your prior circumstances, letting them out using painting, specifically applying the Grief Flow Formula™ may help.  

Painting is one of my favorite ways to let out “negative” or “low frequency” emotions, because of the amount of time and effort it takes to feel that emotion as well as return to joy, and to do it effectively, is much less.  And I don’t know about you, but as a working mom, I want quick, I want effective and I want enjoyable if I am going to prioritize it in my life and actually do it.  My irresistible painting practice has made it more pleasurable so that I want to paint, and address what I need to in my painting practice.

This is particularly helpful if you are taking action to burnout, and then spending time trying to recover from burnout, noticing that it is affecting your health and wondering what you can do to get out of the burnout cycle.

To learn more about the Grief Flow Formula™ and how you can incorporate it into your life to make it easier to live while managing grief, my Grief and Loss Workshop is available on demand here.  It consists of shorter videos, a paint supply guide and a workbook so you can watch the videos and work through the mini course when it works for you to help you plan, feel grief and return to joy so you can manage your emotions post-loss using painting.

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