Catharsis through creativity

Dr. Bogusia Skud. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, associate professor of counselor education, in a small group discussing the steps in acknowledging grief. December 4, 2013. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

After 26 people died in a senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, community members started placing teddy bears, flowers and small gifts near the site to honor the victims. Bob and Josie Schmidt, town residents for 31 years, recalled visiting the makeshift memorial on a rainy, cold day.

“Everywhere we went in town, we were reminded of what happened; it was beautiful and touching, but it still reminded us of the pain and the loss,” said Bob Schmidt, an adjunct professor teaching Fairfield graduate classes for counseling education.

Deeply affected by the sorrows that couldn’t seem to go away, he and his wife, Josie, a retired teacher who once substituted at Sandy Hook, composed a song to express their grief. Yesterday, they performed “Rain, Rain, Rain” during a workshop at the Fairfield University Bookstore and discussed how creative outlets like literature and songs can heal people after devastations.

The Schmidts led the first storytelling workshop last year. Today, Newtown continues to heal. “We are starting to see the town as the beautiful place we love,” Bob Schmidt said.

As a member of the Sandy Hook Crisis Response Team, he volunteered at a crisis center and said that seeing people come together “helped me get my balance again.”

According to Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, who also spoke yesterday, the healing process after tragedies doesn’t always have to be personal. “We must allow ourselves to be around people who care for us.”

To start the healing process, the cause of the pain and sorrow must be confronted. Some people might believe that grief must be overcome immediately. “There is so much pressure around us that makes us pretend that nothing [bad] happened,” the associate professor of counselor education said. But grieving has no timetable.

Skudrzyk also disagrees with the myth that showing sadness is a sign of weakness; she encourages people to be open, like children “who are strong enough to admit their feelings.”

Josie Schmidt believes that acknowledging grief and its causes leads to “an appreciation of the beauty of everyday life.”

Catharsis can happen with words on paper, a brush against a blank canvas or notes strummed on a guitar – creativity opens the path to healing and people can choose whatever route they feel comfortable with.

Eventually, attendees were asked to draw four trees, each representing a different season, and then break up into smaller groups to discuss their drawings. The attendees – some strangers, some classmates from Skudrzyk’s course on multicultural issues in counseling and education – started exchanging stories about parents, siblings and friends who have passed away.

Jeff Burgdorfer, a Fairfield graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, associated the seasons with the beginning of a healing process.

He said autumn represents acceptance of the “inevitability of death … which gets you into the state of mind to appreciate what you have in the moment.” Winter provides a time for reflection while spring means hope.

“Josie and Bob created a beautiful healing atmosphere through their generosity of themselves and their music,” said Kristen Baxter, who takes classes at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Closing the workshop, Skudrzyk compared life to an ocean; a community helps others “go through the tides of an ocean that can take anyone off-balance.”

Attendees discovered they have gone through similar experiences and stages of grief. After the workshop ended, people stayed behind and continued their personal discussions. This, according to Skudrzyk, exemplifies how a community can overcome the clouds of grief and sorrow. And like the lyrics of the Schmidts’ song “Rain, Rain, Rain,” she too believes that “together we will chase away those clouds.”

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