The Power of Art: Healing from Grief Through Creative Expression

image shows a painting of a tunnel that is dark and swirling with black, red, blue, and yellow. The caption says, "The Power of Art: Healing from Grief Through Creative Expression"

Healing from grief  – it’s like riding a terrible roller coaster..

Disclaimer: Art and creativity is one way to make meaning of grief, and connect with others, but it is not a substitute for professional support. If you are feeling very consumed by grief, please reach out to a grief healing discussion group or a grief counselor. You deserve support and guidance as you navigate your grief. Okay, onto the ways that art can be of benefit in your grieving process.

Though this blog leans more toward creative inspiration than creative healing, I want to acknowledge that all of us – creative or not – are humans, and affected by the world around us. When we are going through loss, it’s hard to just show up and keep producing, to keep doing business as usual. So in this post, I wanted to touch on the power of art and creativity in the grieving process.

As of late, grief seems to be in the air like a low hanging cloud. It’s hard to focus on anything when we’ve lost someone or when our fellow humans are suffering. We are all experiencing the cumulative effects of plowing through years of a high stress pandemic, numerous social uprisings, and for many of us, the loss of a dream…

Healing from grief is extremely personal. Finding a creative emotional outlet can be so transformative and cathartic on this roller coaster, that it’s no wonder so many of us reach for a temporary respite from the heartache by way of creative expression. 

Whether personal or collective, grief seeps into everything, even when we try to block it, and even when we seem to feel no emotions. Engaging in art and creativity can be medicine for the soul when healing from grief. Sometimes the only way to sort through conflicting emotions is to find an outlet – some way to organize all of the agony into something that makes sense. 


Different types of grief take us on different healing journeys

Regardless of the type of loss we may be experiencing, grief is a natural reaction to losing someone or something we loved. But grief can be really complicated. We might be crushed at the loss, and at the same time, feel angry, abandoned, and hopeless. 

While there are more types of grief than what I’ll mention here, here are a few ways grief may show up:

  • Normal grief: this is the predictable cascade of sorrow that accompanies losing a loved one, pet, relationship or dream. Painful and overwhelming but straightforward in the sense that your emotions of loss match the experience you are having. 
  • Complicated grief: this is known as “prolonged grief disorder” and someone suffering from complicated grief may have trouble moving on or accepting the reality of their loss. This is often because there are so many other emotions tied into the experience, they struggle to make sense of it all so they may remain stuck in this grief. 
  • Cumulative grief: this is when you’ve experienced a series of losses in a short time, and find it difficult to cope of all of the loss.
  • Collective grief: this happens when we as a society must grieve the tragedies of a natural disaster, terrorist attack, pandemic, or the helplessness of watching a war or a gen*cide unfolding in real time. 

You could be experiencing a combination of these different types of grief; there are no clear cut rules when it comes to this messy time..


How can creative expression help to soothe the complicated, messy heartbreak of grief? 

Oscillating between intense sorrow, numbness, and sweet moments of remembering can feel like emotional whiplash. Grief can be so overwhelming that we have to lock some of it up just to survive. And when we do, it seems to lie latent, just waiting for a future trigger to dredge it back up and drop us right back into the feeling of shock and loss we’re trying to avoid..

Gently unraveling a million threads of emotions all jumbled up into a knot of grief is a creative process in itself. And it’s often here, bound up in these emotional threads that we reach out for a lifeline by way of some sort of creative medium, some way to help us make sense of the madness. 

Sometimes diving into creativity is the only way to touch into that feeling of overwhelm and still feel a sense of control – you get to choose your materials, you get to make the meaning, you get to share if you want or keep it close to your heart.

Exploring these emotions, honoring the memory of what or whom was lost, and allowing the creative process to support the healing can transport us from the depths of despair to a place of understanding and acceptance. A place of relief and freedom. That’s the cathartic healing power of art and expression. And the creative process is often a journey that takes us, rather than us taking it…


Symbolism, connection and creative catharsis

Catharsis is the process of relieving, purging or transforming painful emotions through some art form ( There’s something about making art that can offer such a moment of mercy from the sorrow. Funneling pain into a creation that has personal meaning to us can be profoundly transformative. And transformative magic is pretty much what we need to accept the death of a loved one or the loss of a dream.

In the surreality of loss, we want to make sense of something that just doesn’t make sense. Seeking meaning and messages.. Getting lost in wondering what we could have done differently. Little symbols may start showing up in ways that give us the sense that we are still connected to what we have lost. 

Sometimes there’s no logical way to organize all of these symbols and messages to make sense – and that’s where the magic of creativity swoops in. Getting creative allows us to make connections where there were no connections. Maybe it’s with a literal strand of gold thread in a collage, or maybe it’s a chorus line in a song that bursts out of you. It could be a garden, tree, flower or plant that you cultivate to connect the memory of your loved one with the present and future. And sometimes it’s the only thing that will make sense to you.

The symbolism in your art will be personal. Maybe you bring in healing crystals for grief – or you write letters to your lost love on their favorite paper. When you bring your stories, memories and snippets of meaning together and organize them in ways that make sense to you, the symbolism will begin to frame the experience in ways that make it easier to share. Being witnessed in our art can be healing in itself.

Creative processing can bridge the gap between the incomprehensible and a place of understanding. The hope is that through the creative healing process, we arrive at an eventual acceptance of what is. 


Finding the creative medium that feels right

I’m a big proponent of  journaling just to name some feelings, open your creative mind and connect you with what you are hoping to heal. Let this be a free flowing non-judgmental journal session, allowing yourself to write it all out – the sadness, loneliness, anger.. What you wish would have happened, and how it feels now that it cannot.

If you have mixed emotions and feelings, you’re not alone. There are so many of us struggling to grieve something that we loved dearly, and that also may have caused us pain. Let these feelings and disappointments see the light of day somehow. Whether this tumbles out in poetry or prose, in paintings, songs, books or quilts, finding a way to articulate the intensity of the experience helps us to not lock it up.

Though I did just write some of these ideas, I wanted to properly list some of my favorite ways to process my own sorrow and grief:

  • Journaling – free form with no judgment – as many pages as it takes for as many days, months or years as it takes…
  • Writing a letter to my lost loved one
  • Writing a short greeting card that’s a little more lighthearted to my lost person
  • Making food – especially an important meal or treat that was meaningful to us (can be meaningful to share this meal or not)
  • Beach art in the sand – a huge earth canvas where you can put your whole body into creating something that symbolizes your relationship – and then letting it wash away to sea..
  • Collage – cutting out magazine images, words, textures, and objects, and layering those in with photos and symbols that represent the relationship or dream I have lost
  • Poetry or prose writing
  • Dancing or some sort of movement
  • Planting something inside or outside
  • Laying natural objects out into a symbolic pattern and then destroying it (or keeping it)
  • Music, singing, drumming
  • Gathering symbols or mementos into a little box and burying it somewhere that was important to us – or placing it in a special place
  • Drawing, painting, illustrating..

This list can go on and on. – there are so many ways to weave meaning into the symbolism and find some form of closure. 


Healing from grief when you don’t feel creative

First, when it comes to creative healing work, we gotta throw out any sort of hopes of perfection or completion or mastery. Healing is messy work. There’s snot, and headaches, anxiety and exhaustion.. And sometimes we just don’t feel creative. The creative process is just too much. 

If you are longing for a way to make sense of your experience and release some tied up emotions, but you just don’t feel creative or inspired, try gathering up some objects, words, or memories that remind you of your loved one. Photos or images of things you liked to do together. Things you might miss. Symbols that will give you peace. 

Take your collection and just place it in a safe space, maybe a pretty tray – add a little love, and leave it for a while. Maybe nothing will come up. Maybe you’ll just rearrange these items on this tray until one day you feel a little different. 

There’s really no way to do this right or wrong.

Creativity is there for us to tap into if it feels right to us. And grief is there for us to remember how much we are capable of loving. Though art and singing can’t change what happened, if it can provide a bit of salve for a broken heart, I’m all about immersing myself in that healing balm.

Take care of yourself and of each other – we are all we have ❤️


A few helpful resource for coping with grief