When I came across the grief workbook co-created by Mary Burgess and Shiloh Sophia McCloud called Mending Invisible Wings: Healing From the Loss of Your Baby (MIW), it became an important part of my initial grief processing during the postpartum period after my newborn daughter died of trisomy 18. Burgess and McCloud put together this book in order to create a way for others to cope with miscarriage and infant loss. MIW is beautiful from the cover image to the thick, blank pages inviting us to become artists and writers in our grief. The exercises include writing and drawing prompts, rituals, meditation, affirmation, breathing exercises and guided visualizations.
I created paintings and drawings, (one of which became the cover for my book), and wrote about specific aspects of my experience that were helpful. I wrote about the birth scene, my feelings during the pregnancy knowing that my baby would die and, through the exercises some beauty was created from my pain and grief. The exercises gave me the space to acknowledge my journey, while processing my experience.
MIW’s exercises gave me different lenses with which to view my experience with Mary Rose. I didn’t think that I could survive my pregnancy, but I did. I recommend the process of these exercises, but you don’t have to buy the book and go through it step by step (though a link to the book is in the Resources page of my blog). You can also create your own exercises to remember and process your experience.
Suggested Exercises and Tools to Heal Grief
Journal Writing: Get a blank notebook or journal. I like books with no lines so that I can sketch and write. You can decorate the cover of the book with stickers, ribbons, buttons, magazine photos or your own pictures. Record your feelings of grief periodically or daily. I often wrote a few lines, or drew an angel with a heart in her center.
Poetry or Creative Nonfiction: Take a poem that you love and find a line that resonates with you. You can use Jane Kenyon’s poem “Let Evening Come.” Use the same title and write your own poem. Another way to write through grief is to start a longer nonfiction essay by writing separate sections. Brenda Miller’s essays are good examples. You can write about the moment of diagnosis in one section, or the shock of the death in another. Write about the funeral or memorial service, or how there was none. You can build a much longer work through fragments and reflections.
Painting: Get a blank sketch book with thicker paper so that you can use watercolors, if you choose. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Think about your baby and your pregnancy. Think about your womb and your breasts. What images come up? Draw them. Paint them. Write about them. Create a mixed media work and dialogue with your body and your broken heart.
Collage: I made a collage of the sympathy cards that I received on a memory box for my daughter’s few belongings. However, a collage can be a poster, a canvas, a journal. I cut up cards, used color copies of artwork of Mother Mary, cloth butterflies and flowers, stickers and acrylic paint.
Yoga and Meditation Music: The yoga stretches accompanied by meditation music such as Wah!’s music allow the breath to change the moment. A yoga practice can be very helpful in the intensity of grief.
Dance and Movement: Belly dancing or other movement through classes offered in your community can be very beneficial. Getting back into the body after the trauma of miscarriage or infant death and postpartum hormones is a good way to heal the trauma. Yoga, belly dance, walking meditation and walking by a lake weekly. The repetition of the movement, the moments away from the daily routine and the actual physical work help us to reset our thought process.
Drumming: The rhythm of a drumbeat can be a very soothing meditation that can lead to healing. In many cultures the drum is used to transcend the reality of this realm and help the suffering person work towards healing. The drumbeat sounds like a heartbeat and connects us to each other, Earth and our ancestors. Shamanic healing includes drumming, and Sandra Ingerman has a few CDs and meditations that are helpful to walk through grief into a place of peace.
Chanting and Praying: Qi Gong and yoga chants have been very helpful for me to process some of the intense grief and weeping into new energy. The sounds of the Qigong or Sanskrit mantra carry higher vibrations as does the Orthodox prayer Lord Jesus have mercy on me repeated over and over. I pray Hail Mary again and again. The repetition is helpful in shifting from extreme grief into a space of quiet meditation or contemplation.
Garden: Create a memorial garden for your loved one. I have a tiny fairy sculpture in a container with a small fairy rosebush. You don’t need a lot of space or an elaborate garden to honor the life of your child.
This essay is adapted from Section IV “The Art of Grieving” from my book Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Newborn Death available at amazon.com. Eight copies of my book are available through a giveaway on goodreads.com this August 2016.