How Art Therapy helped me cope with the loss of my father.

Written by: Pearl Lee Co-founder/CEO of Full Circle - Art Therapy Centre

I lost my father in 2012, February 4th, right after dinner.

I was among the luckiest people on earth. I was able to witness my father take his last breath. His face turned from pink to white within seconds. His last breath was complete like he really gave it his all in this lifetime. He was finally at peace.

My dad is my superhero. He somehow just had a solution for everything. He was relentless, intelligent and stubborn - something that I have proudly taken on. He did not share much about his feelings. Sometimes, I might as well have been talking to a calculator. But, he was the best father I could have ever asked for. He could be scary sometimes, but once in a while, I caught him fully in his element, calm and free. During those moments, I could see his passion in life and how much he loved his children and people. When he was calm, he would take his time to teach me everything he knew.

I was desperate to keep my connection with him after he passed. I tried to think of what he would have done, or said. I wished I had called him more often.

Seven months later, in September, I began my study at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute to become a certified art therapist. Our class took part in a group Art Therapy facilitated by an art therapist. The Art Therapy group gave me a way  to cope with the loss of my father.

The most significant artwork I made was a tombstone for my father. It had a calm background of ripped out pieces of magazines, yellow, orange and blue. In the center, I put an image of a lion standing tall wearing a pair of spectacles (like Mufasa from the Lion King standing at the edge of Pride Rock). The idea seemed weird when the art therapist suggested it. But I'm glad I went along with it.  It was the beginning of the way to maintain the connection with my father. The process of creating gave me time to appreciate him more and to be grateful for the time I had with him.

Towards the end of his illness, my father became very weak. He was unable to feed himself or to use the bathroom. I was heartbroken to witness someone change my father’s diaper. I knew he would  never have wanted that, but he was too weak to do anything about it. I was unable to do anything either. That was the memory I had for months after he passed, his being helpless and frustrated.

The artwork of the lion gave me an access to the father he was to me. He was not his cancer. He was like the majestic lion. He was someone who worked relentlessly to fulfill his role as a son and a father. He was someone who persevered against disbelief and criticism to work towards what he truly believed in. He  failed countless times and got back up countless times too. I found my father again through the lion.

Through the continued creative exploration of the memory of my father and what he means to me, the symbol for my father has since evolved to an elephant. Each time I create one, there's a new connection. It reminds me that my father had my back when things are tough. That reminds me of the values he taught me and of his confidence about what I can do in this world.