Turn Grief into Greatness

Turn Grief into Greatness

This article was originally published on Thrive Global in 2020. 

When I lost my brother back in 2019, a flurry of questions took over my mind as I tried to comprehend such a death. “Why him and not me?” “Will I die soon as well?” “How will we ever get through this?” Also, “how might sibling death be different from other types of grieving?”

At the young age of 35 years old, the news put me in an immediate state of emotional shock. After the initial questions, my family was left to deal with the aftermath of an abruptly ended life with zero estate planning in light of the young age. Things like what to do with the body, where to have a memorial, and how to eulogize his life are uncomfortable topics to be thrust into.

Painting Through Grief

During that first six months, there’s some initial efforts to cope with the grief by way of counseling groups, talking with friends, and lots of self-reflection. Eventually, I knew I had to throw myself into a much more intensive exploratory process if I was going to learn to process this grief. This is where art has been a total game changer.

After quitting a toxic job and taking some time to reflect before I started a new one, I came up with the idea to paint every day for an entire year. To make the project more structured, I set some parameters around how I would approach it.

Preston Zeller at his Workstation
Firstly, the paintings would be entirely intuitive, meaning, I would sit down to paint with no real intent or “overthinking”. The idea behind this is for my unconscious thoughts and emotions to spill onto the canvas without my ego getting in the way. Secondly, I could use black or white at any time, and then select other colors as I feel them. At least one color had to be from the previous day though.

Lastly, I would share these images online in social media along with bits from my own story of healing.

The end result is part of the journey though. After a year, there will be 365 paintings that tell a story of grieving. Instead of just lining them up, the last step will be to assemble every painting into a 10’x20′ mosaic to create an entirely new image and provide a literal snapshot into my brain during a year of grieving after death.

Why Sharing Your Story is Important

While the artistic aspects of this process are indeed therapeutic, the bigger picture is wholly centered around sharing my story as a way to create an open dialogue on what it means to work through grieving in a healthy manner. Society is increasingly bogged down with distractions which prevent us from processing some of the most important events in life. These distractions can run the gamut of seemingly benign to utterly destructive, but nevertheless all accomplish the same thing.

It’s not until we delve into the depth of meaning and apply that to our lives where an event immediately tragic may surface new possibilities and a higher calling in life.

By sharing my story through art and the healing process within, I’ve encountered so many people who share a similar experience of grief. Indeed, the loss of a loved one may never leave you – there are constant reminders through life to reminisce a moment or trait of the deceased. But death is a commonality we all share, and by sharing an open and honest dialogue, we may be able to better empathize with others working through the grief, whether that’s loss of a loved one or another tragic event.

In turn, we can hope to lean on fellow man more with a common understanding, or willing to do so, in the frailties of life and greater possibilities for our own while we still have time on this Earth.

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