Connections Through Grief and Art: A Perspective of the Give Grief a Voice Project

On Saturday, October 23, Buzzy’s Bees will unveil our third set of art pieces created for families facing the unexpected loss of a child. Everyone is welcome to join us virtually for a panel discussion.  Our online art auction in support of this program begins today.  For those who are curious about Give Grief a Voice, Kelly Tilford shares her point of view as the Program Director.

There are many ways that a family might experience the sudden and unexpected death of a child. We’ve met with families who have lost children due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexpected Death in Childhood (SUDC).  We’ve met with families whose children died from tragic accidents. We’ve met with families who’ve had previously ill children that were fully expected to recover, but they didn’t. Despite these differing causes of death, there are universal themes to our families’ experiences: tragedy, loss, grief.

Before I started as Program Manager, I suppose I had an idea that these universal themes must mean that there’s also a sameness to the stories and even the art. Now that I’ve had the chance to see how the program operates behind the scenes, I have a better perspective. The connections that our writers and artists establish with our participating families lead to collaborative story-telling and art. Let me tell you that there is no sameness. These are one-of-a-kind pieces and particular to the participating families. 

Some stories, for example, are about the family’s loss, but not all of them. I set up a family-writer interview once for a parent who was suffering mightily and visibly. This parent’s pain and grief were palpable even through the screen of a virtual meeting. Yet, the parent’s deepest wish was to not tell a sad story about their child’s death.

I confess that I was skeptical. The parent was so deep in their grief that they were struggling to understand the emails I was sending. They were having difficulties reading and retaining information. When we met with them, the effort to maintain composure was obviously too much. How, I wondered, would our writer be able to capture a happy story of the child’s life when the parent’s grief was so present and substantial?

I’m a believer now. What emerged from that single interview was a story that so richly describes the child: their spunk, their feist, their complete and utter joy at living that you would swear you’ve met this child on the playground before. I could not read this story without smiling and, yes, I was smiling through the tears because there is still loss. That’s also true.

I did not expect this connection to happen between the family and their artist. Our artists don’t meet with the participating families. The families select the artist from a digital portfolio that we bring to the writer’s interview. There is no identifying information in the portfolio. Yet, the connection is no less felt. 

Sometimes, it’s a particular object that speaks to the artist– a toy that they may have in common, for example. Other times, it may be a shared experience that appears to be a small part of the story but, for personal reasons, it resonates with the artist deeply. Once, a family described a tiny coastal town where they spent a lot of joyful time before their child’s birth. After reading the story, the artist emailed us to explain how they, too, were personally connected to this tiny coastal town referenced in the family’s story. They’d grown up in the area described and had been looking for property there the weekend before we sent them the story! 

If, like me, you very much need the family to know that their artist also feels deeply connected to the small town described in the story because it feels like the world’s best gift that desperately needs to be unwrapped and known, don’t worry. The artists include personal statements with their pieces for the families.  

If I could share one thing with someone who wanted to learn more about our program, it would be this: our process is a true collaboration between families and talented creatives, who deeply care and connect with our participating families. In fact, these shared connections between the writers, artists, and families happen with such frequency that, to an observer, it feels less and less like a coincidence and more like kismet.