Turning grief into anything other than what it is actually is—the painful process through which we unwillingly journey after losing someone we love—is mostly unfathomable.
My fiance was 25 years old when he passed away from esophageal cancer in 2016.
I was still in the funeral home, my partner not yet eulogized, when the first suggestion to turn my pain into art came from a neighbor. She handed me a leather-bound journal with soft, creamy pages that a pen would just melt into.
“Write it down,” she said.
Her suggestion came a bit too soon. Actually, it came a lot too soon. But it did confirm what most of the people in my life felt: That I’d be okay because I had an outlet, an art form through which to channel my sorrow.
Writing is not the only thing that helped me. I threw myself into creative forces both recognized and new: I learned how to cook, adopted a dog, bought some plants to take care of, took up yoga and meditation, and I strengthened my relationship with my parents. These things, I believe, made all the difference.
If you’re dealing with grief and looking for a creative outlet (or two!), here are some recommendations that helped me recover from my loss.
Journal your gratitude
Journaling forced me to dig deep, past grief, to remember the things I was (and am!) grateful for. Grief has a way of shining a solitary light on what is unjust and unkind, but the way I’ve learned to combat it is to snatch the spotlight back. Flip it on its head. I journaled weekly (if not daily) about the things I still had to be happy about: my nieces, my family members, my dog who cuddled me and let me bury my tears in her fur. It helped me maintain a positive perspective while things were dark and dreary.
My fiance had died at 25; you’re not supposed to lose a significant other that young. Things seemed bleak. But focusing on gratitude eradicated that feeling, shrank it down. The greatest, most effective act of rebellion you can offer back is gratitude and journaling each day about the things (and people!) you are thankful for will likely help you maintain perspective.
Step into the kitchen
In the immediate weeks after my fiance died, I was overcome with the overwhelming desire to, as I called it, “Get back to the basics.” In short, take care of myself. It meant implementing a skincare routine, working out for 30 minutes a day, meditating daily, learning to cook for myself, taking a bath instead of a shower so I could relax: The things we sometimes forget to do because we’re juggling so much. The one thing I was most determined to confront was my cooking skills. I joined an online challenge to ramp them up. Each day, it encouraged me to master a new food prep skill set.
One day, I was pickling veggies, another I was planting a pineapple from its stem, another I poached egg after egg after egg until my mother reminded me eggs were expensive. My fridge was full of Mason jars of fermenting beets, and I walked away with more cooking skills than before. (Though I’m sad to report my pineapple plant died.) Through this process, I learned a little bit more about myself — what kind of homemaker I am and what it really takes to take care of myself.
Learn something new
In attempts to avoid throwing myself into grief, I threw myself into other things: the aforementioned vegetable pickling, acquiring a green thumb, becoming a dog mom, learning to contour. Every week, I dove into something that was previously foreign to me with the goal of now mastering it.
“Maybe I’ll try beekeeping,” I told my friend. She recommended I buy a veil.
These activities helped me cope and gave me hobbies during a time when I didn’t know what to do with my time. If beekeeping is what does it for you, by all means do it (just be safe about it!). But whether it’s cooking or tending to an indoor garden of succulents, find a hobby that will help get you out of bed in the morning. Take a few books out from the library about subjects you could see yourself caring about and give them a try.
My fiance was cremated, which was initially a point of contention for me because I didn’t have a headstone to visit. Where could I go to talk to him? One day, my therapist gave me the answer: Plant a tree for him.
I know Matthew is not a tree, but I have to admit, growing the crab apple tree in my backyard in his memory has helped me cope. Not only does it give me something alive to look and care after–a purpose–but it gives me a place, too. It’s a spot that honors his life, a spot that doubles as a place where I can go to express my how much I miss him.
Originally published on August 7, 2018.