Wednesday, March 10, 2010


My Mother died three weeks ago. I have been writing and creating art in my journey to process this pasting.

Here are some journaling and art making suggestions from my Archetypal Journey course that I teach that I found useful for myself to work with.

 Journal Writing with Death
1. When death comes at the end of a fruitful life, it is usually greeted with a minimum of fear. When it comes early and our soul work is not completed, we can react with fear, grief and frustration. What would be your biggest regret if your death came earlier than you wished?
2. Death returns us to the womb of the earth. In ancient matriarchal times there were communal burials in round tombs. If any kind of burial were possible, what would you choose? What burial ritual would you like to have for your body? Would you want music, poetry or silence?
3.  What is your image for regeneration? Create one and dialogue with it.

One day I was about to step on a dry leaf, I saw the leaf in the ultimate dimension. I saw that it was not really dead, but that it was merging with the moist soil in order to appear on the tree the following spring in another form.
      - Thich NHat Hanh

4. We are creatures of habit. We don’t like to lose anything in our lives even if the habit, object, person, or feeling is not beneficial. We become attached to the instinctual ways of our bodies. What habits would you like to discard and which ones are you attached to?
5.  There is a seductive part of death. Often people who have had near death experiences have experienced the warmth and attraction of ‘going into the light.’ Returning to the womb or source can have a strong appeal. When one partner dies, sometimes the other one longs to join him or her.
Connecting or going home to spirit can be a strong desire. What is your experience of witnessing this aspect of death?

Art Making:
1. Paint some of the deaths that have occurred in your life.  List the losses, pains and sorrows that you have endured.  Have these losses been turning points for you?
2. Sometimes we don’t move ahead in our lives and challenge ourselves because we are
too comfortable. John Steinbeck wrote in his journal about the danger of comfort; " In fact I have never had it so good and so comfortable . . .  the perfect pointed pencil, the paper persuasive, the fantastic chair and a good light and no writing.  Surely a man is a most treacherous animal full of his treasured contradictions.  He may not admit it but he loves his paradoxes."  Draw the comforts are you afraid to move past. What would the costs be?
3.  Piet Mondrian wrote that, “The purer the artist’s “mirror” is, the more true reality reflects in it.”  Letting die what is not your true reflection, is getting back a truer reflection of yourself in your mirror.  Draw a mirror and then write or draw what you think is cloudy in your reflection.
5. A collage for your Death Archetype could be a record of the deaths that you have experienced in your life. It could also be done as a shadow collage portraying what you carry around in your shadow side. Another way of doing this collage would be to show the patterns, feelings or thoughts that you would like to release from your self. The collage could talk of the big changes in your life. Use symbols to show how you feel about death. Have you experienced a death of a close friend or relative?  Have you thought about your own death? When you think about going into the unknown are you excited, afraid or both?  Michael Novak wrote that, “The more deeply I go, the less clear my self-knowledge becomes, the more ambiguities and perplexities and unresolved contradictions I discover.”

This is a journal  piece I wrote about my Mother's dying:

I am leaving tomorrow to say goodbye to my mother and attend her funeral. Just last week I was telling my partner that my relationship with my mother was something that I feared I would never make peace with or find resolution. However, by Focusing with what emerged from hearing the news from my sister-in-law that my mother was dying has brought me to a place of realizing that my body knows how to make peace. What came was so surprising and different from anything that I thought peace would look like, that once again I am struck by the power of Focusing. My childhood was something that I tried to escape. Born into a family of depressed and angry people, I spent my childhood being sick and feeling responsible for my mother’s, and everybody else’s problems. I had some joy, happiness and beauty inside me that I felt I had to hide until I could escape. I did eventually flee the family, but when I did, I took with me a deep sense of responsibility for other people’s pain and wounding.  During a Focusing session, I got in touch with the something in me that felt it “wanted to turn away”. This is a familiar feeling that I have when I am in the company of my family, dissociating from the pain, feeling that I can’t show my authentic self and a sense of survivor guilt. As I stayed with this feeling what it showed me was an image of an old hurt child. I was shocked at oldness of this little girl. She was so weary from carrying and feeling responsible for other people’s pain. Staying on the edge, letting this something in me be just the way it wanted to be, needed to be, eventually brought some fresh movement. It wanted to die. It was done. There was lightness, freshness and a sense of rightness with that knowing. This something in me that felt like a very old burdened child who believed somehow she was responsible for other people’s pain and never really knew what she was supposed to do with it, could now finally let it go. She was ready to die with my mother, or maybe she could help my mother die. When I was little my mother always tried to make me to lie down with her when she napped. She loved to nap, but I did not. I would lie there and count the minutes until I could escape. This part of me now wanted to lie down and sleep. It did not have to guard, watch or figure out anything. Its work was done. What purpose it served in my life, the problems it caused—none of that really mattered now. What mattered was the strong feeling that it was done, tired and was naturally dying.  My mother had this old porcelain doll that she gave me when I was very young. I had a wig for it and dressed it up, but it always looked sad, forlorn and even rather scary. Thinking about it now, I think it reflected how I saw myself as a child. Years later when I had my own children and my mother was visiting, she told me two things that she had never forgiven me for. One was that I threw that doll away. Today, I made a little doll to give to Mum, one that I hope will make up for the lost porcelain doll, but also a doll to reflect this part of me that is done, finished. I would like to place her in Mum’s grave. She could lie down with Mum (unlike me who never could) and be with her. Their work is done.


Jennifer White said...

Karen, I so wish I would've had this kind of insight eight years ago when my mom died. I had a different relationship with her then you did with your mom, but I see similarities in some of the thoughts you outlined in this post. I'd love to be able to reach through my laptop and give you a huge hug right now, my friend.

The way in which you so openly and truthfully wrote this, I feel that I have still more work to do with the death that I have had during my 42 years of life...not only working through the past, but also reaching out to what lies ahead for me in the future.

Sending love... xo

Karen Wallace said...

Jennifer, Thank you so much for your response. Mum's death has started our family talking in new and open ways which was unexpected. That has been a blessing. I hope things are falling in place for you, I need an update. Love you. Karen

Elena said...

Oh I send you heartfelt sympathies. But what a beautiful, though provoking, post!!

Karen Wallace said...

Elena, Thank you so much. Warmly, Karen

NynArt said...

Hi Karen,

I'm an art therapist and creative coach in The Netherlands.
I work in two different kind of jobs. As art th. with adults, refugees, single trauma's and PTSD.

Your blog is very inspirating! I added your link to my blog today.
Is that okay?

Greetings from Holland,

Nynke Meijer

Carolyn Abramofsky said...

I thought your writing regarding your mom beautifully put. Since my mother passed, I have become closer to one of my sisters and one of my brothers has made a point of our meeting once a month for family breakfast. We sometimes compare notes about our parents. There are six of us and we are of three different generations and thus have different viewpoints on my parents and growing up.

Valerie Reichmann - Integrative Psychotherapist said...


I would love to have more details on the mirror exercise


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