Monday, April 19, 2010

Susan W. Reynolds

Today's post is a potpourri of sorts. We talk much on this blog about how grief serves as an impetus for art. We've reviewed poems, visual art, music and films that trace back to an individuals personal story. Today I am going to interview Susan W. Reynolds, someone acquainted with grief personally, and then take a look at both a piece of artwork and poem she's done. She's involved in a new concept for me, something called "Redesign". It's yet another tool to use in palliative care. In typical interview fashion you'll see the question followed by her response.

AC: Tell me about a bit about your story and your loss?

SR: My husband died at 59, due to lymphoma, five years ago. He died at our lake home, by the water and without our children present, just as he had requested. Hospice was not involved in his care, although a close family friend was an excellent hospice nurse.

I had been a physical therapist in the early years of marriage and loved patient education and working with the team approach in stroke rehab. Most of my married life I was a stay at home mom, having moved our family ten times due to his job changes. Three months before my husband died, both our daughters graduated from college and moved away from home. At 49 I was a widow and now truly an empty nester.


By chance I saw an article about interior redesign and staging and then enrolled in the program to become certified in both. I began doing one day room makeovers for clients, color consulting, transitioning some clients to smaller homes. As I reviewed my clients, I found that the majority of them had recently experienced a large loss, mostly from the death of a spouse or child and some from divorce.

AC: Wow, that's an interesting insight about your clients. What IS redesign exactly?

SR: Redesign simply uses art, furnishings and accessories that one already owns and loves and recombines the elements into a soothing, functional and supporting space. Sometimes items are moved from room to room. Other times items may be taken away. The person utilizing the space is interviewed as to what they love about the space, how they use the space and how the space makes them feel. In working with clients on the grief journey, decisions are make together (myself and the griever) which is different from a typical redesign when the client is off premises and I do the work alone. Allowing the client to acknowledge and support his or her needs without feeling they are dishonoring the memory of their loved one is one of the core of redesign directions, but even greater than that is to revive yourself (the bereaved) and place yourself in surrounding that support you, whether it be the bedroom, your office, your car or the first visit to a restaurant since your loss.

AC: You have a blog as well, RevivalRedesign, that I understand was encouraged by a discussion with a bereavement group as a way to put these ideas down and in a sense move forward. Are their other expressive things you've done on your grief journey?

SR: My first outward expression of grief started with my trying a dance form in which I did not need a partner. The dancing introduced me to a new music genre to listen to and helped me express both wanted and unwanted emotions. I also carved some walking sticks and started painting. I had not painted since high school and had never carved. Working with my hands, freed my mind for short periods of time. This past year, I finally hung two of my paintings, they moved from sitting in a closet to the walls of my home. I also began to write. I still do not enjoy writing, but it consumes me, and expectantly allows inner thoughts and desires to seep forth and hence my blog and now a book is on the way.

AC: This artwork piece to the right you did is an encaustic piece. Can you explain the process

SR: Encaustic art is a very old art form using hot beeswax and plant extracts to color it. Beeswax is still used but other pigments are added for color in its present application. The hot wax is painted onto a surface and the layers fused together with a blowtorch. Colors can meld together with the heat or you can use parceled segments painted and lightly torched to adhere them to the surface. The layers can be scraped away with tools to reveal layers below and/or highly polished.

AC: It would seem the process itself is like grief?


SR: Encaustic painting is a bit like life, layering experiences one upon another. In grief, the layers are all there and we are presented with a chance to reassess and decide which layers to expose or rediscover of ourselves. We may decide which ones to let go as well. My artwork here represents growth toward the surface from the bottom of a darker and murkier sea. Rising to the light also required me scraping some of the layers away and deciding what to keep so as to make my painting visually pleasing for me.


AC: You also use poetry as a form of expression. This piece entitled "On the Bolt, Fabric of Life" found on your blog, is at first glance about sewing and fabric. What did the poem symbolize for you?


SR: The salvage of the fabric is often overlooked and not deemed useful in sewing. In grief we salvage what we have learned from the past. We can stitch it down and cover it up without creativity or growth or in salvaging our lives we can accept our own frailty and weave new experiences into the old patterns. Another piece of beauty arises, incorporating both the old and the new.


AC: Finally, as someone on the grief journey, what comment/advice would you share?


SR: My trials and errors speak for themselves. Don't take yourself too seriously. I had no idea that writing would prove to be my greatest "healing" tool. Try something new. It may lead to an unexpected delight or to another door that opens. Do not limit yourself from the baseline of your past. Find what lifts your spirit now and know that this too can change. Allow room for change and some fun doing it!

1 Responses to “Susan W. Reynolds”

Ed Strong said...
April 23, 2010 at 11:33 AM

Great interview, I too have recently had a loss and have tried to make changes that feel good. I think this article is quite helpful and a reminder for those going through the griefing process. Thank you for the article
Mrs. A. Strong, Atlanta, Ga.