I thought of myself as a mother lioness—a proud single mother of two beautiful children. They were my world, yet 15 years ago, my son died. How do you go on after something like that? Some people say that losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Well, it’s true. What nobody tells you is how to live with it. How can you live with the empty chair at the table, all his clothes and belongings still in his room? What about the song “Home for the Holidays”? My son wasn’t coming home for the holidays anymore.
When I was a little girl, my father taught me that life is all about choices. We make choices every day about everything. Am I going to live out the rest of my life in deprivation or gratitude?
Gratitude … it’s not a word you’d think I would have brought up here. It’s easy to feel grateful when your life is going well—not so much after a loss like this. I have a daughter who lost her brother. He was our soulmate. The three of us were a family, and I had to be strong for her.
Two years ago, a friend of mine lost her son to suicide. I was devastated for her.
I tried to talk her off her cliff. She told me my words saved her that day. Two days later, I ran into another woman I knew whose son had recently died from an overdose. I found myself saying the same words to her. It was two weeks before Hanukkah and Christmas.
I wrote a book, “The Art of Living with Grief.” Paintings I had done proved to be perfect illustrations. I needed to try to help these two mothers get through the upcoming holidays, and they did. One mother told me she took my book to bed with her. People were asking me to print copies for them to give to friends who had lost spouses, and to siblings, parents and other grieving people.
Another year passed, and I continued painting landscape pictures, many using the symbolism of pathways and the many elements that helped me express my feelings. I still had a lot to share and decided to write a second book, “An Illustrated Journey through Grief.” This book is a collection of paintings and meditations on the process of grieving the loss of a loved one. It captures the feelings that one passes through while shoring up under intense pain. The book speaks to everyone no matter what they’re grieving. Grief is a natural part of living and loving. No one escapes life untouched by grief.
I wake up every day reminding myself of what I haven’t lost. I have to choose life every day. This choice is not easy, but neither is life. We encounter many things we have no control over. We do have control over our thoughts and our actions. In healing from a devastating loss, it’s critical to nurture and treat ourselves with love and care. Love and nurture your inner child. You still have a life to live. It’s your choice how you’re going to live it.
Through my books, I have found that helping other grieving parents and people helps me as well. It gives my art and my own grief a purpose.
Living life vibrantly is possible after the loss of a loved one, but do not let anyone rush you! It takes a very long time to build the strength needed to even get off the couch, but in time, you too can choose life.
Claudia Chappel is a professional artist and author of “The Art of Living with Grief” and “An Illustrated Journey Through Grief.” Through these two works, Chappell promotes compassion, understanding and hope to those dealing with devastating losses in their lives. Her books are available through Amazon and online book retailers. Learn more about her work at claudiachappel.com.