Creativity Helped Me Cope as a Child

Michele King is an End-of-Life Doula and Expressive Arts Grief Support facilitator. She companions people through serious illness and at end of life with a passion for normalizing conversations around death and dying.

I can still vaguely remember the day like a fuzzy picture in my mind. I was playing on our front lawn with the neighborhood kids. My friend’s mom came running up the driveway. I could tell something was wrong as she had a serious look on her face. She said we needed to go into the house and pack up some things as we had to go to go to our grandparents. It was July 1976, and little did I know my dad had just died as a result of injuries from a motor vehicle accident. I was nine years old and my brother two years younger.

The next memory I have is laying on a mattress on the floor in my grandparent’s basement with my mom and my brother. It was morning and my mother announced she had something to tell us. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for her to tell us our father was never coming home again.

Right after she told us my dad had died, she also told us we had had an older brother that died when I was one and my younger brother had not been born yet. This turned out to be a huge revelation in my life decades later.

I was devastated at the loss of my father. He was my rock, my everything. Although he was away working all the time, he was the parent I had a secure attachment to. My relationship with my mother was complicated then and throughout my life. Later in life I learned that when my older brother had died from a tragic accident and my mother’s depression affected me at a very crucial stage of my development. Her neglect of me resulted in an insecure attachment and we always struggled in our relationship.

To process my grief and make sense of my deep feelings of loss and grief I connected deeply to creativity. At that time, I don’t think people thought children really grieved over death, and there was still a strong stigma attached to seeing a therapist. I was very fortunate to have two grandmothers who were also very creative that taught me to knit, crochet and sew. I sketched cartoon figures from magazines that I still have to this day. I gravitated toward anything that involved creative expression. Only very recently, with scientific studies being done around trauma, toxic stress and creativity, has it come to light that as a child with few resources for expressing and processing grief, that being able to color, draw and create can help heal. Through creativity I was able to cope and process my emotions around my loss. Creativity saved my life as a child and I share it so others may find healing, too.

Posted in