The Art of Grieving

By Rachel Livinal, Art from Ashes Beat Writer

New Hope Grief Community helps the community process their grief by creating in their Mosaic workshop


New Hope Grief Community, a non-profit organization located in Long Beach, hosted a mosaic workshop on Feb. 26. The workshop was titled “Healing Art for the Heart” and had about 125 people in attendance. 

Mosaics to New Hope have become something often associated with grief. Sue Beeney, founder of the organization, said it is used to make something sad or dark, colorful and memorialized. 

“Their grief as it is now for them post-grief group comes out in a beautiful art form,” Beeney said. “They can visualize, and they can have emotions from it and they can smile. [They] have flashes of memories. It just keeps giving back to them. And they created it. That’s the beauty of it. They put it together.”

A mother shows her mosaic tribute to her son. A piece of a plate that was his displays the word “hope,” and the piece is enveloped in green, his favorite color.

Attendees were set up at tables, according to their general age group. In the main room, adults and teens aged 13-17 were sectioned off. Kids aged 12 and under were put into a seperate recreational area with their own set of tasks to do.  

Chris Cano, the director of bereavement services at New Hope, said that the goal for the workshop, as has been the case for many in the past, was to spread awareness and help for those in need of grief services. 

“We have been offering family camps for years,” Cano said. “They started up in the mountains, for a three day retreat. And what we were realizing [was], we were only capturing middle to upper middle class types of families… So what we did is we moved that experience from the mountains to a one day camp in the city, for the city, three or four years ago, in order to reach underserved populations.”

The mosaic workshop was planned to welcome everyone, but it also was used to bring people together at a time when grief can become even more isolating because of the pandemic’s effects. 

At around 10 am, everyone listened to New Hope Grief Executive Director David Leonard and Sue Beeney for the opening remarks. Leonard welcomed everyone, new and veterans to the program.

”What excites me also is I see new faces,” Leonard said. “So, welcome if you’re new, if you’ve never been to New Hope, and if this is your first time… we’re so glad to have you guys.”

After the opening events, the mosaic process began. For adults, each table had a trained volunteer to go through the process with them. They were instructed to draw a heart on a wooden board, then go to an array of glass pieces and pick out whatever they desired. Some pieces needed breaking, where participants could go out and put the pieces in a bag before smashing them to create smaller pieces for their art. 

Shelly, a participant of the event and New Hope’s grief support program, said it was “fun to hammer things.” She lost her mother and father in a short period of time, which led her to the organization. 

Another participant broke up a plate from the son that she lost to carve out the word “hope.” She surrounded the mosaic with green, his favorite color. She and her other son found out about the event after hearing about it from a local newspaper. 

Volunteers held a different approach for the kids. Children 6 to 8 years old filled out worksheets from New Hope, introducing the topic of the person they lost. After coloring and making a little piece of their own, they played outside with the others. Karen Punches, a longtime volunteer said it’s better to “integrate loss” when there is a little bit of talking, but a lot more play. 

Children aged 9-12 years old made mosaics with pieces of paper cut out in a variety of shapes and other glue-on decorations.

The 9-year-olds to 12-year-olds were able to do a more complex project, where they made a smaller and easier version of a mosaic with a little bit more conversation. 

Cano said the mosaic approach was intended to bring a communal sense of healing. 

“When your life shatters [from losing a loved one], I think part of the goal of this, the symbolism of building mosaics is to pick up the broken pieces, and begin to build in a tactile way, in a communal way,” Cano said. “Making a conscious effort to pick up the pieces and to build something beautiful. And we kind of bravely move forward into the future, holding on to the pieces of them that we can still have knowing that that physical presence isn’t here.”

Rick Beeney said the goal was also to feel connected spiritually or religiously. 

“You take something that’s broken, and you make something beautiful out of it,” Rick said. “Of course, there’s a ‘God’ portion of that. You know, God can heal. We call it ‘new-different’ or ‘new normal.’”

According to Sue, each member who attends the workshop will create their mosaic with the intent of taking it home to finish. After 24 hours, when their piece is dried and all excess paste or dirt has been washed off, they are instructed to add the final touch of material that holds the pieces in place. Sue said these pieces are meant to be displayed in the home, whether they are put on a dresser, a mantle, or even as the centerpiece for the dining room table. 

A mother shares her mosaic, ready to dry, at Saturday’s event.

Rick said the program initially started a long time ago, when Sue noticed the grief that others went through as a nurse. 

Rick said, “[Sue began thinking],‘What’s this grief thing all about? And so she started reading and researching about grief and decided ‘I need to help these people.’ So she started meeting with the loved ones over the loss at VA [Veterans Association], one-on-one or in small groups.”

This curiosity for resources led Sue to found New Hope. 

The non-profit organization received funding for this event through a grant from New York Life and was also donated lunch from Chick-Fil-A. 

This event, although moving, is not the only event that New Hope will host. 

“Our goal is that every other month will offer something so that there’s always something on the website that you can sign up for to connect your family to our family programming,” Cano said.

The ultimate turnout for the workshop was, as volunteer Mike Seckington said, “magnificent.” 

Mike lost both his wife and daughter. He had attended the grief support groups from New Hope and was thinking about becoming a volunteer. The mosaic workshop was something he was already familiar with. His wife had created mosaics for a community garden after losing their daughter in the early 2000s. 

With tears in his eyes, he said what many others said throughout the day: 

“[We’re taking] all of our broken pieces, and we’re going to put them together.”

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