Thursday, March 26, 2009

Beauty in the Breakdown

I want to thanks Stephanie for this honest and beautiful piece:

I didn't set out to creative. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I set out to be destructive. To smash and destroy.

I am a big believer in allowing yourself to feel your emotions, especially when they are grief driven. I think it is dangerous to bury them deep inside of you, where they will fester and stew until they have permeated every cell in your being. For me, I need to sit with my anger, my sadness, and allow it its space. I let my emotions crash over me and drag me under. I feel their weight on top of me, sometimes I am sure they will suffocate me this time, but the wave always recedes eventually.

In the beginning it was all shock and numbness. I felt nothing and so I did nothing. I sat on my couch in the dark and stared at the wall and ate cheerios.

As the shock and numbness wore off I was overwhelmed by the intensity of my emotions and I desperately needed a release. I would become so angry sometimes that I just wanted to smash everything in my house. After breaking some of our dishes I admitted to my grief counselor that I was afraid I was destined for a life of paper plates and dixie cups. She suggested I buy some cheap clay pots and smash those instead. I stopped at AC Moore on my way home and picked some up. The woman at the register began wrapping them in paper and kindly pointed out a small crack in one of the pots to me. I replied flatly that it didn't matter, I was going to destroy them as soon as I got home. It was months before I realized how odd that must have sounded.

When I got home I stood in my driveway and heaved the pots at the asphalt as hard as I could. They smashed splendidly. I loved the crashing sound they made as they shattered against the ground. When I was done I surveyed the driveway, there were shards of broken flower pots everywhere. They had been completely destroyed, and it felt good. I took a deep breath, savoring my destruction, and then went inside. My husband swept them up and threw them away. It continued like this for awhile. A wave of frustration would take hold of me, I would take it out on a flower pot or two, and my husband would take care of the mess. Then one day I picked up a few of the pieces myself. I looked at them and thought about how these broken little pieces used to be a flower pot. They used to have a purpose, they were molded into the perfect shape to hold a beautiful flower, and now they were nothing but wrecked little scraps. I started to cry as I thought of all I thought I was destined to be for Madeline, and how broken and useless I felt without her. I decided not to throw away these broken pieces, to instead give them another chance to be something. I collected them and brought them inside. With workable cement and paint I sculpted them into a mangled heart. This is me, I thought as I examined its rough edges and misshaped form. Badly broken but somehow still here.

Seeing how creation could grow from destruction was inspiring. And using my creativity to give voice to my emotions was liberating. I began painting and sculpting and writing out everything I felt. Sometimes I would begin a piece with a specific idea in mind, but most of the time I just sat down at the canvas with a brush in my hand and tears in my eyes, and I just let it happen. I can't even begin to explain how good it feels to release the those toxic feelings from my body and spread them all over the canvas.

Turning to creative expression was without a doubt the very best thing I did for myself in response to Madeline's death. I would encourage everyone who has lost a child to try to explore your emotions this way at least once. Don't worry if you don't think of yourself as an artistic or creative person, that is not at all what this is about. This is about allowing yourself and your sadness a voice. It is about expressing your honest feelings, feelings that are all too often ignored or avoided in our society. So take a moment to pick up a brush or a pen or an unsuspecting flower pot and just see what comes of it. And if it grows into something that you would like to share, I would love to see it and even add it to the community gallery at Beauty in the Breakdown (with your permission of course.)

Stephanie Cole

Stephanie is the founder of the Sweet Pea Project ( and the artist behind the Beauty In The Breakdown exhibit (
More importantly, Stephanie is the mother to a beautiful little girl named Madeline, who passed away after 41 weeks of perfect pregnancy for reasons unknown.


Ter said...

wow, that was a beautiful piece. I am going to check out her blog. The link is not hyperlinked just fyi, but I have copy/pasted it.

Thanks again, Emily, your blog is so wonderful and you are bringing moms together in an inspiring way. I hope I can be like you when I grow up. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I too wear my emotions on me sleeve these days. I know writing and music are a great release for me.

a friend said...

I think the flowerpot heart is a beautiful expression of both pain and love. I started writing to express my feelings. Sometimes only single words come out, sometimes a sentence, questions or a poem. It has helped to release some of the pent up feelings. I agree that creativity is a great outlet.

Emily said...

I never felt I was very creative, but at the SHARE conference I took a workshop on collage and loved it. I'd love to do some more

corilee said...

Thank you Stephanie for sharing. My grief is still pretty fresh and I am still struggling to give it a voice. As a dance teacher, it eeks out in bits and pieces of my choreography. Thank you Emily for having this blog. It is the only place where I feel understood.

Living With Loss said...

Thanks for sharing - it's beautiful and was a really inspirational read.

Kara Chipoletti Jones of GriefAndCreativity dot com said...

Smash away! I love art for heART, seriously. The only way thru the grief for me was to get creative. This kind of process keep me alive on those dark days. Stephanie, thanks so much for sharing your process here with us!!

Stephanie said...

Thank you so much Emily, for allowing me this space to talk about my experience. I am so honored to be a part of your beautiful site. And thank you to everyone who left such supportive comments. Sending all of you moments of peace and beauty and calmness.

Noneya said...

I truly appreciate this post. While I have not felt the need to physically destroy something with my loss I do understand the need to create. In creation our emotions are channeled into other pathways that heal.

I have written and sewing both are good for my grief.