Painting helps many deal with grief

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Local residents share ways to handle loss

It’s the season to be jolly, but for those who have experienced a loss in the family finding that joy again will probably be an arduous prospect.

Everybody grieves in different ways and according to different schedules and comfort levels. One local artist discovered that one way to help others through their own journeys in bereavement is to give them a paintbrush and to let them express themselves.

Monk is famous for painting large-scale tree portraits with the help of dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of other people adding their own brushstrokes at her behest. She has done this at schools and art shows and even the children’s festival. In early 2010, she went to the Vancouver Winter Olympics to take in the spectacle and the humanity and yes, to paint.

Like so many others, she was aghast at the opening day tragedy that claimed the life of Nodar Kumaritashvili. The Georgian luger was on a training run when he lost control of his sled and was thrown off, crashing into the sidewall of the track and striking a steel pole at more than 140 kilometres an hour.

The international community responded with great sadness but with no overall path to dealing with the emotion. Monk continued doing what she was doing, but with a new purpose for her work. The painting of giant Cathedral Grove cedar trees would be called Nodar’s Spirit and it would give many a new way to heal and send condolences halfway around the world to the athlete’s family.

On the Facebook page created to promote the opportunity, Monk stated: “I believe all of Canada stopped and cried and this is one way everyday Canadians can communicate their grief and support to the family. The crowds coming to add their stroke of condolence for the family of Nodar have really connected with this painting.”

This spring she delivered the painting to Nodar’s community in Eastern Europe, where all were welcomed to add their own paint strokes before the work was gifted to his family.

She doesn’t call or claim herself to be a qualified counsellor or therapist, but Monk says that she came to understand something very important when helping people to grieve.

“The main thing that I have learned is to listen and actually hear what people have to say. I only need to be there for people, keep my mouth shut, and really hear. Let people do what they want to do and express themselves in the way they feel most comfortable.”

She explained that giving people the opportunity to make even a simple mark on a very large painting made a profound difference in their grieving processes.

“The painting becomes a vault for their expression of grief and holds memories … they know the painting will outlast them… it is like writing on stone.”

This wasn’t Monk’s first experience with helping people cope with death. A few years ago she was painting during a craft show at St. Albert Place when she was approached by a woman who said that her mother was dying.

“I said, ‘Go be with her.’ She did. Her mother died with her. I gave her a paintbrush and she painted a yellow butterfly flying. She then dedicated the painting to the memory of her mother. She was so calm, peaceful and happy that she was there for her mother and that she could contribute to the painting.”

Christmas doesn’t have to be lonely

The St. Albert Bereavement Fellowship is a self-help, non-profit volunteer society that works year-round to provide support through compassion, understanding, education, and friendship to those who have lost a loved one. It encourages people to find ways to grieve and cope with death, even if it’s just getting out for a casual chat with a new friend.

“We encourage them – if they wish to talk – to just give one of the facilitators or myself a call and we’ll meet them for coffee,” said representative Faye Tkachuk.

The fellowship has an event at the St. Albert Senior Citizens’ Club on Tuesday called Remembering Our Loved Ones at Christmas. It takes place from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Call 780-459-3135 or visit www.stalbertbereavement.com for more information.

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About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.