By: Audrey Beach
I was only twenty years old when my father passed away after a long journey with prostate cancer. For four years, he struggled with the illness, and for those four years, my family and I cared for him. Near the end of his illness, he entered into the care of Hospice & Community Care, before finally passing away in the Mount Joy Inpatient Center a year later. The grief following his death was all-encompassing and so strong, like a tidal force that hit unexpectedly, pulling me underneath stormy waves without giving me enough time to take a breath. What hit me the hardest was realizing that the time I’d spent with my dad was shorter than the time I would spend without him: he wouldn’t get to see me graduate college, walk me down the aisle, or meet any future grandchildren. That experience of having a father who would see me grow fully into adulthood—to witness all my trials and tribulations, to accompany me during my highs and lows—was irrevocably lost when my dad passed.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to take a college class about contemporary graphic literature. One of our final assignments was to create a four-page comic strip based on an event in our lives. At that point, it had been two and a half years since my dad’s passing. The tidal force of the early grief had now transformed into slow and steady waves, albeit with an occasional storm. I thought about using the comic format to express my own journey of grieving the loss of my dad. It was often difficult for me to express my grief in words, and the idea of doing it through art offered another path. And so I created this comic strip, titled “Surfer Girl.” It certainly wasn’t easy to make—it required me to be vulnerable, to acknowledge and accept feelings of grief and sadness that I so often tried to hide. But it was also incredibly therapeutic and allowed me to address and process through those complicated feelings and emotions. After creating it, I felt as though I had finally found my way back above the tidal wave—I could finally breathe again.
As we recognize Children’s Grief Awareness this November, I think it is important to recognize the different and unique ways that children and young adults experience grief. Our growing minds and hearts sometimes struggle with understanding these deep and complicated feelings. I believe art is one of the ways that children and young adults can express grief and bereavement in a way that can help us process it. I hope that my own art can help other young people by showing that their grief is normal and that they can express it in unique ways. Hospice & Community Care offers children and young adults this opportunity through the Pathways Center for Grief and Loss. With the help of my own therapist, as well as the wonderful counselors at Pathways, I have learned to utilize different tools and strategies to deal with my grief. It was these tools that helped lead me to express my grief through art.