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Grief hurts, art heals

A hospice worker's sculptures represent stages of grieving. She teaches others how to find hope.

By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 7, 2002

HUDSON -- Shattered, as the artist calls her, is a woeful looking sculpture.

Cloaked in a near fetal position with one bronzed hand emerging, extending upward, the statue evoked a nearly collective gasp and then some tears as the black velvet cloth was withdrawn. And it provoked a revelation of another sort for the nine women who had gathered in the candle-lit room to explore their own grief.

"I remember feeling like that," said Vicky Inglee, dabbing her eyes with a tissue as others in the room murmured and nodded in agreement.

Some approached the sculpture to get a better look. A few touched the outstretched hand or ran their hands along the grooves before returning to their seats. The women then turned to the business of writing down the feelings that had been stirred and gave the image their own names -- "The Deep," "Why?" "Released" and "Desperation."

Then it was time to move on to the next sculpture.

Although artist Maureen Kennedy of New Port Richey encourages others to come up with their owninterpretations, Shattered, Shock, Searching, Emerging, and Awakening are the names she has given the sculptures she created to depict five stages of grief.

The collection, a labor of intertwined love and pain, is part of the work Kennedy is doing to earn a doctorate in Transpersonal Psychology and Expressive Arts Therapy with a specialization in Bereavement Studies from the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati. And the sculptures represent just one important element of a one-day seminar on grief held on June 29 called "The Healing Arts," being offered by Kennedy and Hernando Pasco Hospice, and held at the hospice location in Hudson.

Through her sculptures, Kennedy offers those who grieve the chance to explore their own feelings, to find some comfort in learning that grief runs in a cycle and finding their place in it.

"When someone you love dies, you are forever changed. There's a death that occurs within you because of this," said Kennedy, 46. "You have to learn to be at peace with that."

That isn't always easy, particularly when some people around you aren't always understanding or patient.

"How many times have we heard, "When are you going to get over it?' " Kennedy asked. "The bottom line is, you don't get over it. You learn to live with it. You learn that there is hope."

Kennedy plans to help others recognize that hope through the arts.

In her eight-hour seminar, Kennedy uses her therapy sand tray and a life-size mobile of mandalas (circles) covered with collages depicting the phases of grief. These are meant to help attendees come to terms with the many changes they are experiencing.

She also displays works by other famous artists -- such as Salvador Dali and Georgia O'Keeffe -- that were born out of pain.

"Out of my grief has come some great stuff and I find that through many people's pain comes great stuff," Kennedy said. "Beautiful things can come from your pain. Given the choice I wouldn't go through it (the pain) but something fruitful can come of it."

Those who attend explore their own creativity by creating mandalas using paints, markers, or collage.

But Kennedy also encourages homework.

"Find your way of expressing yourself. Find your outlet whether it be art, journaling, cooking or gardening," she said.

Thirty days after the seminar, attendees are scheduled to meet one on one with Kennedy. Those desiring more followup -- perhaps further counseling -- are given resources to help them with that.

This is not the first time Kennedy has ventured into the arts to promote healing and understanding.

As the AIDS Care Coordinator for Hernando Pasco Hospice, Kennedy created the "The Face Of AIDS," a powerful educational exhibit featuring plaster masks of men, women and children who had been diagnosed with AIDS. That exhibit has toured schools in Pasco and Pinellas counties and has been displayed in Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey and Texas.

Kennedy said she came up with the idea for the grief sculptures and eventually the experiential seminar while dealing with the loss of her brother-in-law, Robert MacNeill, who died five years ago of cancer at age 50.

"My typical way of dealing with grief was not to deal with it," said Kennedy, who soon engulfed herself in her art. "I started this -- the sculptures -- for myself."

Then she decided to share.

"I thought this might also appeal to people who don't want to go to (grief support) groups all the time, people who don't necessarily want to read the books (on grief), people who are looking for other outlets," Kennedy said. "Some people like to journal. This type of seminar is just another creative way that you can get in touch with your feelings."

* * *

At 46, Barbara Anderson-Gibb is engaged to be married. Still weighing on her is the loss of her husband and fishing buddy, Thomas Gibb, who died five years ago from complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Then there was the more recent death of her father, and that of a childhood friend she had promised to keep in touch with but didn't.

The seminar, she said, helped her to reflect on the good memories. It also helped her come to terms with her own guilt feelings and gave her permission to still grieve her second husband even while she was set to embark on a new life.

"I wasn't allowed to grieve," said Anderson-Gibb, who lives in Port Richey and works as a Medicare biller for the Hospice. "People deal with things differently. They grieve in different ways. I wanted people around me to acknowledge that I had a loss. He wasn't supposed to die. We had a life planned out."

At the seminar, "I didn't have to hold back," she said. "I usually try hard not to cry because I get the runny nose and the red eyes. But I really felt comfortable being myself."

Vickie Inglee of Hudson said she decided to attend the seminar because she had "unresolved issues" in dealing with the passing of her father, James Jones, who died a year and a half ago.

Inglee, 47, found herself in a role-reversal of sorts when she became the health-surrogate for her ailing father.

"I had to make all these decisions about (health) procedures. I had to make the decision to take him off life-support," Inglee said.

That was hard, Inglee said. What might have been worse was the guilt that followed.

"Others questioned my decision even when the doctors said it was time, even when (those people) weren't there to help make the decision," she said. "Then, when he died, I was almost relieved that his burden was gone; I felt like this really heavy weight was gone. I had to deal with the guilt of all that.

"After the seminar I realized that was okay -- that it's okay to let go of that and concentrate on myself now. It was just really, really helpful."

Eileen Turner, who lost both of her parents within four years, said she thought about chickening out.

Now she's glad she didn't.

"I was the caretaker -- always the responsible one," said Turner, 51, of New Port Richey. "I made sure everything was done and in line for my parents. Now I don't have that any more. I've almost had to redefine myself."

Added to that was her only son's recent marriage.

"We all had this extremely close relationship. My parents lived next door for 25 years," she said. "All of the sudden to have the three most important people in your life not within hugging distance was really tough. I was really beginning to wonder, "Is there something wrong with me that I can't get past this?'

"Everyone at the seminar kind of validated those feelings for me. Everyone said it was okay to be where I am at right now. Now I know that when I get there, I get there. There is hope."

After the seminar, Turner said she went home and painted a picture. "Even though I was tired, I was very relaxed," she said.

She also followed one of Kennedy's suggestions and bought a journal and a box of crayons to help unleash some of her creativity.

"I have this renewed outlook. They're still gone, but this seminar has changed the way I looked at how they are gone. I can see a forward movement now where before I was feeling kind of stuck."

"Grief is not some ladder that you're going to climb and get to the last rung and that will be end of it. It just ebbs and wanes. That's okay."

Learn more

For information on the The Healing Arts Grief Seminars, call Hernando Pasco Hospice at (727) 863-7971.

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