Nancy Gershman recently spent two months in Russia, and was surprised that this “Motherland of Suffering” could have so many lessons about hope. She shared her experience with Dr. Gloria Horsley at the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference. She was teaching master’s students in a psychology program how to visualize a new memory designed to overwrite distressing memories. Students were asked to bring in photos of a pet or person who they were grieving. One sexologist had lost a horse, and was so sure he had died a dignified death because “he didn’t bother anybody.” Quietly passing away was considered ideal to her.
Gershman made the student dig deeper, asking what distinguished this horse from others—what made him special? By sharing happy memories, that creates serotonin in the body and a happier experience. Gershman has created a way of drawing out happier memories thanks to her work, Art for Your Sake, where she turns memories into digital art for those in bereavement. She’s shared her work around the world, helping people cope with loss in a healthier manner.
Different Ways to Grieve
As an artist, Gershman “creates a brand new memory.” This is the approach she takes with her own clients, too. “I want her to feel tickled, chuckle about those memories,” she explains. Original photographs no longer pain the clients. Usually there’s nothing spectacular about the photographs people bring, but when Gershman creates a dreamscape using that photograph, it becomes storytelling.
Memories are, and can be, what you make of them. For Gershman, they’re pliable and can become part of a healthy, happy bereavement process. Anyone can order a dreamscape from Gershman, who will work closely with clients in person or over the phone to create a one of a kind keepsake.