I always wanted to be an artist.
Both of my grandparents were artists, my grandfather was a commercial artist who helped design the Land-O-Lakes Indian maiden logo. I knew as a kid I had a knack, as did my teachers who yelled at me consistently for doodling throughout all my years in school. After graduating High School, I attended my grandparent’s alma mater The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, who encouraged doodling. 😊
I got married young and did not finish art school, it was too expensive, and I had to get a real job to raise a family. I set aside art as a hobby and continued with spontaneous creations with a variety of many mediums because I enjoyed it and it made great Christmas presents. Eventually I started to create pastel portraits for friends, mostly of their children and it became a sideline activity for cookie jar money.
We had our first child Kelly James in 1978, he died from cancer in 1987. The music stopped in my life, with no fuel for inspiration my creativity dried up for works of art; my muse took flight with my son. Then 10 years later September 5, 1997 my muse came back. Mother Teresa had died, it hit me hard, as she was my mentor for selfless service, kindness, compassion, and faith in the power of love and God’s grace. I knew I had to do a portrait of her but only in black & white with pencil and paper. Now 10 years out from the death of my son, I still could only see life in shades of gray, color was not even an option. I worked slowly and reverently in creating this portrait of my spiritual mentor and I still feel it is one of my best works of art, bottom line and it brought my muse back, it woke up the slumbering artist.
This was an important milestone of my grief journey and I started to create “memorial portraits” of children who had died. It also brought back my inner author and I found I could write again and began on my book “Letters to My Son, A Journey Through Grief” and published it 5 years later in 2002. It’s release, and later the release of the updated 2nd edition Letters To My Son, Turning Loss to Legacy. It changed my life as my book traveled the world, as well as the many portraits that I sent around the country/world for bereaved parents The book soon propelled me into speaking engagements with my grief model of Proactive Grieving® as delineated in my book.
With my newfound grief ministry, I felt compelled to do portraits of the wretched, pain ridden faces of the bereaved that I served; sometimes all I had to do was look in the mirror. I soon felt driven to create a portrait of every emotion in grief and over a period of a year or so I had completed 20 different 18”x 24” pencil portraits. I decided to create a workshop that revolved around the images that they portrayed, and it became a huge success as far as efficacy in helping the bereaved identify the emotions that they were feeling. They soon discovered they were not crazy; it normalized their angst/anxiety with what they were feeling and that these emotions were in fact a natural structural component of the long-term bereavement process for the loss of child.
In 2010 I donated the original Faces of Grief to the Bobby Resciniti Healing Hearts foundation located in Coral Springs Florida. Bob Resciniti after the death of his son Bobby started a foundation for bereaved families and built “ Bobby’s Place” a place for healing and sanctuary for the bereaved families where they could go for no cost clinical counseling anytime the needed to. Little did we know how valuable Bobby’s Place would be for the community as it was located less than 2 miles for Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland where the massacre of 26 victims occurred.
I have worked with this incredible foundation over 10 years and with their sponsorship have created close to a hundred memorial portraits for the bereaved. The creative arts are a powerful tool for recovery and resilience from loss and trauma; what is inside comes outside and shared. Together we heal. Reach out with your heart, reach out with your art.