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Friday, 27 May 2016

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 6 of 8 - Upward Turn (Phase 5)

There is probably not one of us who have not had to deal with the devastating effects of losing someone dear to us. Everyone grieves in their own way and it would be a cheap attempt to say that one formula fits all. Yet, numerous attempts have been made to identify the phases that people in grief pass through and seven have been agreed upon to be more or less universal. We will take a look at these phases in an attempt to gain some form of understanding for the process we are passing through. We take this journey in the form of an art journal, attempting to somehow find a means of dealing with the loss we have experienced and continue to experience still. In this sixth blog of the eight part series, we look at the fifth phase identified, namely the upward turn.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist).
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8



For this stage we use the reverse side of the previous page and a new page from our Dala Paper Pad.



I once more punch a hole in the newly added paper, using the previous paper as a guide to getting the holes in the right place. Again it strikes me as very symbolic that we can use the 'old' as a guide to align the 'new', in the same way that we use our previous experiences to help us deal with new ones.


In this stage of the grieving process we find that our lives finally take an upward turn. Life is calmer and more organized, and our depression is starting to lift. If the whole process can be illustrated as a curve, we will find that the previous stage was the lowest point on the curve and that we are now once again moving upwards. For this reason, I once again lay the papers down in portrait , rather than in landscape. There is a twist to this layout though. I have turned the layout to face to the opposite side from the previous one. This was done on purpose to show my commitment to the process of actively climbing out of that black hole of depression. Can you see that purple mark on my bottom paper? That is to show that the reverse side of my previous page is now at the bottom, with the new page at the top.
How do you feel? Use words that describe your feelings and write them in the appropriate colour that you would like to assign to that feeling. Make a list of all the feelings you experience and remember that, even if there are several negative feelings or emotions, you are still not there! You are on your way to getting there.
Which feelings are you longing for at present? Which feelings and emotions do you miss?


I did not plan for this blemish to end up on my paper, but sometimes it happens when there is a wet spill on the work surface. I decide not to cover it in some way, but to rather let it remain visible. This is true of most therapeutic processes where the effects of one will overflow into the next. Life is not arranged by neatly defined borders. Instead we often find parts of things we consider dealt with to creep into our present circumstances.


I thought long and hard about how to get out of that hole and many ideas were weighed and discarded, among them a very appropriate ladder. You can use whatever picture or symbol you wish, but I will show you why my choice finally fell upon a giraffe. I start by drawing the hind leg, rump, back and neck of the giraffe. Notice how the two papers need to pushed together when I draw this giraffe right across both pages? This is because we are now actively working towards rebuilding our lives and putting the broken pieces back together again. It is for this same reason that I walk you through the process of drawing the giraffe step by step. Unless you are an artist, you will probably be daunted by the idea of drawing a giraffe. However, if you do it step by step, according to a defined plan, and with the help of someone knowledgeable, you may discover that the seemingly impossible has become possible.


Next I draw the front leg and breast/torso. Have you noticed that I used a pencil to do this drawing? The reason for this is that I am taking very tentative steps at first. I am uncertain of where I want to go with this. Do I really want to extend the neck so dis-proportionally long? Do I want such a relatively short body? When using a pencil, I allow myself re-starts and do-overs. Nothing is cast in stone in these early tentative steps. I still need to figure out what works and doesn't work for me.
This is true of the grieving process as well. We must still figure out what works for us and what doesn't, and how to adjust things to our specific needs and circumstances.
What worked for you in the grieving process?
Where or how did you come to this knowledge?
How did you manage to implement it in your life?
Is it making a difference? How does it make a difference?



I then extend the other side of the neck to match the initial line.



I add two big curves to complete the legs I'd started with.


Then comes the underbelly of the giraffe.


The hidden legs on the far side of the giraffe are then added.


Some wildly wonderful feet are added.


And now I start with the face. I distinguish three definite curves on the underside of the face and draw these in place.



I add the curve of the mouth, the top of the mouth and the closest ear.



Two horns are added and the furthest ear is drawn in. I add the prominent nostrils and then I add the only visible eye.


I then take my time to fill the whole body of the giraffe with warped squares to mark its spots. Word to the wise, keep these on the big side for practical reasons. I may not have drawn the world's prettiest giraffe, but it will certainly serve the purpose I need it to serve. That is the point with Art Therapy. We are not attempting to create brilliant artists. The art is in service of the process and the focus is on emotional development and through that, healing. Do not be afraid to try you hand at seemingly intricate pictures. It is not about the art, it is all about you growing, daring and by that, getting better.


By now I hope you will have gained some confidence. I decide that I like my giraffe enough to redraw it in pen. Note how much faster you work now that you have tried it once before. It is because you are now on more familiar terrain. The more times we do things, the easier they become, and pretty soon they will become habit.
Do you experience the same with the skills you implemented in the grieving process? Which of these skills do you feel more familiar with already? Can you implement these skills with more confidence yet? For instance, finding a way to explain to people how your loved one passed away, or finding ways to speak about your loved one in general terms, or finding a way to deal with people's attempts to comfort you when it is not at all comforting, or perhaps finding a way to ask for assistance when you need it.


I add the mane on the neck of the giraffe with another colour from my Artits' Pens. Hair is always drawn in clumps and in a previous stage, I have compared it to the support network of people in our lives. I want to do that again. This time, we do not feel the need to be hedged in by them. We only need them to cover our backs. This in itself is progress.
Who are these people? List them and think what they mean to you. How does each one of them play a unique role in your life in general, and specifically in these present circumstances. Consider telling them how much they mean to you and how they contribute positively to your life. All people need acknowledgement and in acknowledging their contribution in your life, you are contributing positively to theirs as well. Please remember that this is not a paying back thing!


We now finally get to the point that I consider extremely important to the process. I view each of those marks on the giraffe's hide as a mark of achievement. Coming from a deep depression, I need to acknowledge my victories, however small they may be. I start at the bottom and write my early steps into these spaces:

  • I slept for three hours without waking;
  • I showered!





  • I ate a full meal;
  • I managed to keep standing in the shower;
  • I made my bed;
  • I had pudding and finished it.




I then move a little up in the giraffe's body and add:

  • I got up with my alarm.



My victories also include the things I did NOT do:

  • I did not call in sick;
  • I did not eat the whole slab of chocolate.



Moving even further up the neck I add a major milestone:

  • I did not cry once today.
Please be aware that when you feel like crying and you don't cry, that this is not an achievement! However, if you did not feel like crying and one whole day passed without crying, that is a sign of your feeling more in control, less vulnerable, etc., in which case it is reckoned as an achievement.


And further up still:

  • I took a walk in the park;
  • I stopped to smell the flowers outside my door;
  • I enjoyed something today.



You understand where I am going with this, don't you? You will have your own set of victories to celebrate and record. Fill your giraffe with whatever needs to be acknowledged.
Think back on how you felt earlier in the grieving process and compare it to how you are feeling now. Think about all those things that seemed impossible at the beginning of the journey, and how much easier they have become. Ask yourself how you managed to do the things you've achieved.
Ask those close to you what victories they see in you since you started on your journey.


Way up in the head of my giraffe, I finally wrote the words I could not imagine writing when I started out at the bottom:

  • I laughed out loud.



Once your giraffe is filled up, you may find that you still have things to add. I wrote these in the open spaces surrounding the giraffe. Towards the bottom the list includes things like:

  • Breathed without it physically hurting;
  • Put on clothes;
  • Answered the phone.



Towards the middle I wrote:

  • Emptied the trash;
  • Did not loose my temper.



Towards the top I wrote:

  • Thought about studying again;
  • Initiated action.



And finally right at the top of my list came the words 'I looked ahead at the future.'


Once the whole giraffe and the white space surrounding it is filled up, I want you to acknowledge this victory as well.



I simply wrote: I completed something! No, the journey is not complete, and it certainly wasn't the last time I would enjoy a victory, but I came a very long way and it is extremely important to acknowledge the distance that has already been traveled. Imagine starting out on a journey. Starting out, you calculate that you will need R600 for fuel. You fill up for R300 before departing. Halfway, you stop to refuel and it is another R250. You raise your hands in despair, declaring you do not have enough money to take the journey. You only have R50 and you need R600! Without acknowledging how far you have come, and what you have already acquired in terms of knowledge and skill, you will also feel tempted to raise your hands in despair, won't you? No, we are not where we used to be, and we are not yet where we want to be, but we are well on our way, and that is the important thing.
Which of your characteristics helped you to achieve what you've done thus far?
What do your friends and family point out about your journey that they feel was special or courageous?



I now pick up another pen to colour the feet of my giraffe with. I have drawn too may figures down on their knees to now disregard that my giraffe is standing with its feet firmly planted, balancing its extended frame on what little it has been blessed with to do so.
If you had to start with the feet, and only took that into consideration, the process/journey would most probably have seemed impossible. Looking back, you now have an amazing story to tell, even though you may not necessarily be where you want to be.


I then use the same pen to colour the horns of the giraffe. These horns are not for fighting, as is so often the case in the animal kingdom. These are simply an adornment, kind of like a crown of achievement.


I am now finally ready to add the title to this stage. I want to write the words Upward Curve, but feel that I will need a support structure to help me write the word in a curve. I use my pencil to draw a guiding curve to do so.


I then write the title on the pencil guideline. With the title in place, I can erase the line. We may need crutches for a short while, but they are not permanent additions to our lives. Feel free to gently let go of the support structures you no longer need, or they may start to hold you back.
List the support structures, arrangements, medication, support groups, etc. that you needed and made use of.
Which of these have you already let go of?
Which do you foresee letting go of in the near future?
Which do you think you will be needing on a long term, or even a permanent basis?


When I now look at my giraffe, I find that it is lacking in colour. I am much more positive these days and decide to colour my giraffe a lovely sunny yellow. I once again use water-soluble pencils and paint the giraffe with water afterwards. Water will always be a symbol of life to me.


I then decide that I am not ashamed of the steps I have taken. I decide to adorn these as well and colour them a pretty corresponding brown. This is simply because I am feeling more grounded these days. You may choose another colour for a wholly different reason.


Finally, I decide that I want to add even more colour to my life and I start to colour my background like a kind of rainbow in colour blocks. For each colour, I contemplate why I chose that colour and what that colour block represents to me. I choose green to affirm that I want to return to a life where I take long walks, even if they lead nowhere. All of these colours are painted with a biggish flat brush dipped in water after it is coloured.
Write down what your colour choices are and what each represents to you!


I add a brown block to remind myself to start baking again. The I add a purple block to remember to start painting again.


A red block serves to remind me that I want to spend more time with the people I love and who love me.


Blue is to remind myself to treat myself nice with pamper sessions, special meals, a night out, a holiday, etc. I can continue, but you get the point. You can add as many, or as few colour blocks as you feel comfortable with. When we set goals, even if they are only restorative goals to achieve what had already been done in the past, we are planning to have a future we could not imagine having in the preceding stage.


This is when I notice my water bowls standing on my work table. Since starting the project, I had never emptied or cleaned the water in the bowl on the right. I would paint and simply rinse by brushes in the water and I did this over and over again until the water turned a milky dirty purplish colour. When painting the giraffe, I knew better than to dip my brush in the dirty water and pulled the bowl with clean water over. I find this symbolic of the process I have started. I am no longer dipping my brush in that dirty water. I am starting fresh with a clean bowl of water.


There is no sense in photographing the two pages separately this time. They form a unit and only makes sense when both pages are  in place. They represent someone who is well on their way to becoming whole again.
Remember! if you feel that you are not coping with your journey and need assistance, it is very important to find professional help. You can only benefit from it.



Melette Els (Clinical Social Work) can be contacted via the webpage www.m-e.co.za, or by email at info@m-e.co.za, or by phone at 082 776 1536.
Melette Els B.A. (SocSc) M. (Th) 
BHF Pr Nr.: 089 000 00 28754 SACSSP Reg.Nr.: 10-17310


Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy her books here:You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
Jy kan Kom Ons Teken en Verf Tuinstories hier koop.
Jy kan Kom Ons Kleur Tuinstories In hier koop.
Jy kan Tuinstories hier koop.
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