Choose to Survive, Choose to Love, Choose to Live
“Creativity” Was the Safest Place My Mind Could Imagine
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned in order to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Joseph Campbell
It’s cappuccino time.
I pulled out this special cup and saucer from the top shelf of my cupboard today. I’d long forgotten about it. As I washed and carefully dried it, I remembered painting it so long ago, during the darkest hours of my loss.
It says “Moi,” (pronounced “mwaaa” like a big kiss) meaning “me” in French. I remember quite well, each stroke of the brush forming the letters.
I don’t know why I chose to write in French. Perhaps it was because it’s the language of love. I was sending a loving, urgent message, a cry for help… “Heal Moi! Heal Me. Heal Moi.”
I patiently brushed and swirled pink rose petals on the cup. Roses hold the promise of a new beginning. Each winter, I’d cut back roses in my garden to a stump of bare branches, and without a doubt, the arrival of spring meant leaves would emerge and the flowers would bloom again. They were a perfect demonstration of the cycles of life and a new life emerging. My life… Moi.
Painting was my artistic attempt to find peace in my inner turmoil. I was dealt the worst that could happen; at least that’s what people say when you lose a child. The worst. And it is. In my sorrow, I looked for ways to reclaim my joy that the death of my son had stripped from my soul.
I infused each dab of color with the responsibility of revitalizing my spirit. I was certain that resilience was deep inside of me, ready to spring forth from the roots of my tragedy. I just had to keep painting roses, and leaves, and tiny boxes of color.
Sometimes tears blurred the lines as I diligently dabbed little squares of pink and green around the rim of the saucer. I’d touch them up with a fine bristle brush, and attempt to fix the damage my sorrow had done. But there is no fixing the fallout from grief. It’s just there no matter what you do. Each blurred line and the giant hole in your heart is now just a part of life. You learn to accept it. Life goes on anyway. A shocking truth, because the day my son died, my life stopped.
It was the end of my life as I knew it.
Acceptance is an important part of healing. But it’s not easy.
It’s often said the mind becomes more creative when in chaos. I think that’s true. You don’t have to be an artist to paint, a singer to sing, or a writer to write. Your creativity is your panacea for coping with inevitable changes in life.
“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me.”- Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
I discovered my greatest tool for healing was creating a work of art by planting in my garden, writing in my journal, or painting cups and saucers. It was the safest place my mind could imagine.
In each clay piece, I painted the story of my wounded heart… Moi. It was urging me to resurrect my life.
But still, I cried.
As I set the cup and saucer into the hot kiln, I fired up the hope that I would, in fact, find joy again.
And so, I continued.
I painted the second cup with the word, “Toi,” (pronounced twaaaa!). It means “You.” As I painted, I imagined hearing God’s voice saying “You… you are healing.” You. Toi.
So there I had Moi and Toi, and in between was God… healing me with every sip of cappuccino in my magical set of cups.
Find rituals to heal your spirit.
I make quite a ritual of my afternoon cappuccino. Rituals are comforting. We have them to remind us when everything feels chaotic, we can still find center in our daily practices… our routines. They take us back to the present and restore our confidence in things that feel certain.
You never expect it to happen to your child. Never. They haven’t lived enough life. My son was only 16 years, 3 months, and 10 days old when meningitis took him from me. From my husband. From his sister and brothers.
What is enough life? It’s life beyond yours. They always need to live longer than you.
That wasn’t to be true in my life. But it wasn’t my grief alone; it was the profoundly tragic way I suffered as watched my three living children grieve. Each one with a wound so deep it was impossible for a kiss and a hug to heal.
I gathered them up every day from school, and on afternoons they didn’t have sports or dance, I took them to the ceramic studio to paint. We spent hours there.
“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” — Vincent van Gogh
I’m not a brilliant painter, but that wasn’t the point. Art was there to heal me, heal my children. When I look back, I can say without a doubt, creativity helped us. The studio was our safe haven.
I shared my special cups with my husband. Our morning cappuccinos were a time to set our intentions for the day. Sometimes we’d start out with tears for our beautiful boy, but other times, our creativity would kick in, and we’d spin ideas, characters, and plots for his television shows. (David was a producer and writer for television and film.)
But after my son died, my husband’s creative aliveness and spirit died, and years later, so did he. He was just 54 when his heart stopped beating.
I thought I should be immune to bad things happening after my son died. My husband’s death shocked the hell of me, and I thought I couldn’t survive. I could barely breathe as I woke up every morning as the sun rises, knowing I’d have to look at the faces of my precious children and see the shock and grief in their eyes.
No one is immune, but resilience is there if you choose it.
No one is immune, because living life is the guarantee we’ll experience perilous transitions, disappointments, and heartache. But it’s also the promise of resilience, just as the rose reminds us of our heartiness and our love that endures and blurs the lines between life and death. It’s the cycles of life… but we have to choose how our lives will spin from that day forward.
My resilient life has taught me that everything is perfect right now. If it seems imperfect, it’s just the perfect order of how things have to happen. If you are in chaos, you are also on the brink of transition. Trust it. You can’t have one without the other.
There’s always just today. That’s it. Today.
Today, I’m having a cappuccino with “Moi,” and God turned over “Toi” to the care of someone else. A man who came along four years later and said, I’ll love you. I’ll love your children; we are together, forever.”
Moi and Toi, forever… however long forever is.
It was a new beginning. The springtime of my life emerged just as the roses on my cup promised renewal every day with a hot, frothy, cappuccino.
My children have survived.
And my children are happy. They have survived. If you ask them how they healed, I know they will say, in part, because of their creative expression. As young adults, they are each creative in their own way. One is an artist, another is a fitness and motivational trainer, and the third is a writer.
I still paint when I need to be soothed… or I write… or I plant flowers in my garden. Creativity calmed my wounded heart and taught me that we are more than our physical selves.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
You can’t use up creativity, nor can you use up love. Even in loss, our hearts continue to feel and grow the love for that beautiful spirit that left us behind. That’s what we are left with… LOVE, and that never dies.
We are loving beings who must navigate what life gives us by making the right choices.
“Carpe every damn diem.” ~Justine Musk
Choose to survive, choose to love, choose to live, no matter what. The only promise in life is one moment in time… this moment… the present.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve got creativity on your mind… I have a complimentary sample for you. A short ebook on how to establish some simple habits to set your creativity on fire: How to Develop the Creative Mindset.
**Previously published on Medium**