The author of the book Artful Grief, Sharon Strouse, spoke with Dr. Gloria Horsley during the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference about collage therapy. “This book came out of the experience of losing my daughter to suicide in 2001. She was an artist herself.” It took a year, even in therapy, before Strouse realized she wasn’t tapping any creative means of processing her grief. She was feeling very lost, finding that traditional therapy and support groups were somewhat helpful but not the catharsis she needed to really begin healing. She found hope in collaging.
Making that first collage kick-started Strouse’s process of creating. She delved into the grief and trauma, but says, “It gave me my life back.” Collages are simple, and ultimately “just” torn pieces of paper applied to any surface. Strouse began with images in magazines. She started by sitting, asking herself, “What am I feeling now?” and letting those feelings travel through her and directly onto the page. Survivors are in fragments, too, and the organizing, grounding impact of collaging can be a very accessible project for anyone.
Putting the Pieces Back Together
Strouse recalls that after that first three-hour collaging session, she felt her nervous system begin to restore. She could breathe and sleep for the first time, deeply, since her daughter’s death. It became a critical part of her healing process. It’s been 14 years, and Strouse says she’s still creating. It’s no longer about her daughter, but about her life. It’s become a process and a tool for helping her get into the moment. Collaging is a means of expression that doesn’t necessarily have to be shared.
“The paper becomes the container,” she says, “and that’s beautiful.” Writing also became part of her process. Strouse began writing her book when it became clear collaging should be a gift for everyone. It took three years to write the book, but Strouse is adamant that she couldn’t have done it without the collaging first.