Hey, my friend. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
We are going to have some fun and start with a little trivia today. Are you ready?
- How many layers does the earth have? Four: the inner core, the outer core, the mantle, and the crust.
- Now, how many layers does your skin have? Three: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis.
- What about cake? What is the biggest layered cake you’ve seen in person? Three? Five? Seven?
I’ve noticed that healing has layers, too. No, not in the physical sense, like you can pile one layer on top of the other. But we heal from different parts of grief at different times, and sometimes even revisit some areas we thought we had processed already.
But instead of using the famous onion example of peeling back one layer at a time, I’m choosing to make it a little more personal and look at healing in layers like my art is done in layers.
I’m guessing you, too, have some sort of creative streak in you, whether that’s baking or knitting or decorating. And you can translate this metaphor to the art that you love.
But let’s take a look at the practical example of how art or other creative endeavors take place in layers and then see how this might illustrate our own journey with grief.
Art in Layers
I’ve loved art ever since I was a kid. I had sketchbooks filled with drawings, and pencil was my favorite medium to use. I tried to go for the realistic approach, setting things in front of me and learning how to sketch the general outline, start filling in the details, and then finish it with shading that made it look real.
When drawing a landscape or something like that, I would often start with the focal point and then fill in the background when I was ready.
Over the years, I have transitioned to more of a mixed media and scrapbooking style, which requires that I work in layers. But this time, I start with the background.
To create the background, I either use paint with patterns etched into it or scrapbook paper or rice paper or any number of things that create interest. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to get a basic layer on the bottom from which I can build up.
Once the background is done and dry, I can add embellishments or more patterns or some shading. I’ve got a better idea of what the final piece might look like and I start working toward that.
On and on it goes until I’m ready to add the focal point. This might be a butterfly or bird, a title, or an image I’ve already created that I’ll attach to this project.
And then, after that’s done, I can add the finishing touches: some paint splashes or final marks that help tie it all together.
In mixed media, you work in layers. You have to let one layer dry before moving on to the next one. And there are no prescribed number of layers: you stop when you’re ready to stop.
Grief in Layers
As I’ve learned mixed media techniques and how to work in layers, I’ve found that it helps me process hurt or grief or hard feelings along the way. Here are some lessons I’ve picked up that I would love to share with you.
I Don’t Have to Figure It Out All at Once
Lesson one: I don’t have to figure it out all at once. I can take it layer by layer and see where it leads me. This applies to art and to grief.
On the art side, I don’t always know what the project is going to look like when I first get started. I just start. I pick some basic colors or I pick some papers I want to use, and I start there.
With grief, I don’t always know where the journey is going to take me. I can’t plan it out. I just start with what I know, with what I’m experiencing, and I respond to that.
If I’m feeling sad, maybe I take some time to journal or watch a favorite movie.
If I’m feeling lonely, maybe I call a friend and ask if we can get some coffee, or maybe I grab a photo album and start looking at pictures.
If I’m feeling angry, maybe I go for a run or head to the gym to let my body help me process that anger.
I just take it one layer at a time. Whatever comes up is what I deal with, and I never know what’s going to come next. And my guess is, neither do you.
It’s Okay to Take My Time
Lesson two: it’s okay to take my time.
While there are certain times when I’ll want to sit down and finish something artistic right away, and I can use a hair dryer or something to speed up the process, mixed media art—and grief—often work best when you can take your time and not rush through it.
Have you ever tried to hurry your way through grief? Maybe you tell yourself, “Okay, I’ve got five more days before I have to go back to work. I’ll process it and be all better before I go back.”
It doesn’t work like that, does it? We can’t contain our grief to a few days’ time, nor can we rush our way through it.
There is no standard time for processing grief. In fact, if there was, it would be lifelong. So just take your time. Take little steps. Layer by layer, right?
One day, you can acknowledge the loss actually happened. And that’s it. It’s just enough to say, “This happened.”
Another day, you can look around and see how that loss impacts your daily life. Maybe it changed your schedule or your transportation or your finances.
Another day, you can tackle some of the paperwork or administrative work that follows the loss of a loved one.
Yet another day, you can name the anger or frustration that is inside of you for losing someone you cared about.
One layer at a time. Take your time, my friend. There is no rush.
It’s Okay to Experience Different Emotions
Lesson three: it’s okay to experience different, perhaps even unexpected, emotions.
Typically, art is something that brings me a lot of peace and joy. I love being able to create. But there are times when I either come to my art with sadness or fear, or as I’m working on a project, I’ll grow frustrated or sorrow will emerge somehow. I’ve learned to just feel what comes up, to not try to control the emotions, but let them pass through me.
With grief, there are all kinds of emotions we might experience. We expect the sadness and maybe even the anger. We look for the heartache and sorrow. But when joy or relief pop in there, they catch us off guard.
Yet joy or relief might very well be part of your grief journey at different times. It’s nothing to feel guilty about, but rather something I invite you to embrace. Because we can experience joy and sorrow at the same time. It’s crazy, isn’t it?
Catherine Rickets actually talks about this on episode 34 of Sarah Westfall’s podcast, Not My Story. I encourage you to check that out if that is resonating with you.
Different Types of Support Throughout Your Grief Journey
So those are three lessons I’ve learned about grief:
- I don’t have to figure it out all at once.
- It’s okay to take my time.
- It’s okay to experience different emotions.
Each layer has its own purpose and function. This is true of the layers of skin and the layers of earth, and it’s true of our grief journey. If we were to try to confront it all at once, all the layers together, we would be completely overwhelmed. So see layers of grief and healing as a gift from God.
As I said, grief is often a lifelong journey. Because not only does it take a lifetime to process the death of a loved one, but there are other things that bring grief along the way: the loss of a friendship, the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, the loss of a home. And all these losses bring with them secondary losses.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
Maybe the loss of a job means you also lose your home and you have to uproot your family and move somewhere else. Which means you also lose your community and your church and have to start over again.
Maybe the loss of a loved one who was a connector in your family means that you no longer see some of your family members, and maybe you no longer have that house to gather in, and you no longer get together for the holidays.
Even as you process these different layers of grief, I want to remind you that you don’t have to process them on your own. There are people and programs in place to help you.
Hospice is a program designed to help you even when your loved one is still alive. Obviously, this is more for those who know that death is drawing near. Volunteers and staff can help you tend to your loved one’s physical needs and also offer emotional and spiritual support to you and your loved one.
GriefShare and other support groups are there for you to connect with others who have also lost a loved one. They are great at all parts of your grief journey. Karen Altizer shared about this in episodes 9 and 10, how GriefShare was an important part of her journey—so much so that she became trained in it herself.
Grief coaching is great for those weeks immediately following the loss. Julie Lynn Ashley was on episode 102 and shared about her work as a grief coach, and I would absolutely recommend her to you if you find yourself in that layer of grief right now. She and other coaches can help you walk through a lot of those “firsts” after a loss, and how to get the death certificates, and process all the emotions and thoughts that come at you in those first eight weeks or so.
Grief counseling might be a better fit for the months or years following a loss, where there are still more layers that are coming up for you that you want to talk through and know what to do with. That empty seat at the holiday season is just really hard for you, or you can’t seem to allow yourself to experience joy again without feeling guilty. A counselor can help you work through that.
And of course, there’s my Journal Gently program. This one is also designed for the months or years following a loss, when some time has passed and you’re feeling more ready to talk to God about it and process it together with Him through writing. Through it, you can create a journaling practice that is sustainable and helps you approach your grief in a really gentle way.
Layer by Layer
Grief really does get processed in layers. Bit by bit, as something comes up, we can carry it to God and allow Him to bring His healing touch. There are things that happened so long ago that, every now and again, pop up in my life today, and I just have to pause, recognize it, and process it.
Sometimes just naming it is enough. Sometimes I have to do more. I have to choose to do something differently or allow God to do some work in my heart to clear out the bitterness or anger or jealousy.
So as I work on my art, and you work on your craft, I pray God will be able to use that image of healing in layers to encourage you, not frustrate you. Sometimes the path feels never ending, and in some ways, I guess it is.
But know that you don’t have to deal with it all at once, and you don’t have to approach it alone. Our God is gentle when it comes to our brokenness and hurt. And He walks with you through it.
Okay, my friend, that is all for today. Before I leave, I want to let you know that I’ll be cutting back on the number of podcast episodes I release each month. This is both to allow for some extra time with my family as well as to work on some special projects I have in store for you later this year. I can’t wait to share them with you when the time is right!
So I won’t be back next week, but on September 19th, I’ll be releasing a conversation I had with Jamie Aten, co-founder of Spiritual First Aid. He and I talk about disasters and how we can support those who have experienced them. Until then, let’s encourage one another.
RELATED EPISODES + RESOURCES:
- Episodes 9 and 10: Supporting a Friend Through Grief (And Walking Through It Yourself) with Karen Altizer
- Episode 50: Gritty Faith in the Midst of Grief with Prayer Artist Jessy Paulson
- Episode 102: Sitting with Others in their Grief and Loss with Grief Coach Julie Lynn Ashley
- Journal Gently: 8-week Grief Journaling Program
- Hospice Foundation
- GriefShare: Grief Support Groups
- Julie Lynn Ashley: Grief Coaching
- Not My Story Podcast, Episode 34: “Grief and Joy Can Coexist”
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.