Grieving—with Words, Pen, and Color Part 1

Feb 1, 2021

NOTE: Lenten Calendar Templates for
2021 are on the
Handouts Page &
in the Blog Post for January 25.

When my mother died a few decades ago, a friend said to me, “Not only did you lose your mother, but you have lost your mother’s memories and perceptions of you, things that only she knew and experienced.” When my brother Don died in December, I wanted to grab onto my memories and perceptions of him. I’m not talking about the specific things we did or places we went together in childhood or the activities our family of origin and our extended families shared, but my memories of who he was. What was his “Don”ness? When he was alive, his body, his voice, his whole physical presence were living and breathing testimonies of Don. When he died, the visual reminders and prompts of who he was were no longer there.

A couple of days after he died, I sat down with one of the Gratitude Gobbler templates I had made for Thanksgiving. I wrote Don’s name in the center and started to brainstorm words and phrases to describe him. Some were physical descriptions, but most were about his personality and his character—good and bad, silly and serious, nouns and adjectives,…. These were my memories and impressions of him, no one else’s. My mental energy for writing prose about Don was zero, but this brainstorming exercise did not require sentences or correct punctuation. It did not require digging into family history or going through photo albums. I was gathering the little confetti pieces of Don from my heart’s and mind’s memory and flinging them onto the page. I took breathers and aded color to the spaces. It was playful, emotional, tender, and honest. It felt prayerful, loving, and cathartic. I had not planned to do this ahead of time, but I showed this memory meditation to my brother’s family and they loved it.

Putting the words on the page has cleared my mind for other memories to surface. I could probably fill a whole other gobbler. When I reread the words, I think, this was “Don,” not all of him, but some of the fullness I know of him. Creating this mini portrait/doodlelog feels like a tangible way to mourn, give thanks, and celebrate the unique creation of God he was.

In a guest post on April 21, 2020, guest blogger Mary Ann Stafford shared a similar but complementary drawing and exercise. She calls hers a “memory map.”

If you are hurting from the death of a friend or loved one, make your own drawing. You can use any coloring page or one of the ones on the Handouts Page. Or you can start from scratch. During Lent, I’ll post another example with my Mother as the focal point. I will take a step-by-step praying in color approach to show you how to grow a memory meditation without using an already-drawn template.