The Power of a Journal and a Photo


BY: Mollie Borgione, ATR-BC, PC

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​This past September, the Healing Arts art therapy program of the Bereavement Center offered Words and Snapshots, a five-week photography and journaling workshop series. During those five weeks, three strangers developed a bond in a way that only those who have experienced deep loss can. As one participant noted, “We experienced a real connection of kindred spirits. The ability to share was huge, very comforting.” Another said, “Five minutes after you’re in here, it’s not about paper, it’s about people.”

Attendees were asked for a self-assessment of their grief journeys: what brings them comfort and how they care for themselves in their grief. They also were tasked with imagining their futures without their loved ones and deciding how to fill that empty space. They were directed to reflect on the impact their loved ones had on their lives, which enabled them to discover their own way of carrying the memory of their loved ones with them into the future.

The group members answered these questions by taking photos, then journaling about them and anything else that came up as a result. At each session, they shared their photos and writings with the group as much as they felt comfortable. This requires an ability to be vulnerable, to share from the heart. And this they did, with laughter, a spirit of generosity and sometimes, sobbing from the depths of their pain. A participant reflected that “being in touch with the photo and what’s inside is incredible, wonderful…It gets to your soul.”

All group participants had very intimate and lifelong relationships with their loved ones. Two group members had been caregivers for (and eventually lost) both parents. One young woman had cared for and lost her mother. One gentleman had been by his wife’s side through her battle with cancer, recalling how they had been side-by-side since they were teenagers.

Sometimes it was painful enough just to show up for the group—the act of taking a photo of something that was a reminder of their loved one was just too much at times. Nevertheless, they supported each other through the tears and gave each other hope and encouragement. It was a privilege and an honor to witness the group’s process and courage.

The participants expressed their gratitude for the Healing Arts program. “It helps with healing. You don’t have to be an artist. The ability to create is helpful, it’s an outlet.”

The Healing Arts Program offers diverse projects throughout the year, in several locations throughout Cuyahoga County. It provides grieving people with a creative outlet for their grief and is open to the community. The program is made possible by a project support grant from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

Click here to see the Spring Healing Arts Program offerings.

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