Working Together to Transform Trauma

A Window Between Worlds provides art as a healing tool to help participants recover from trauma.

A Window Between Worlds provides art as a healing tool to help participants recover from trauma.

For 25 years, A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) has been using art as a healing tool to help women and children recover emotionally from domestic violence.  Recently, they expanded their wonderful mission to reach others impacted by trauma, including veterans’ groups, hospices, public schools and more. 

Their name reflects their objective:  to provide a view forward for people who have experienced trauma, a window of safe space to express their emotions, their hopes and fears, and transform their pain in the process.

We are honored to have both our books featured in the AWBW curriculum to help children and families.  We donated 250 copies of our first book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs to AWBW - one for every domestic violence shelter they served.  We also co-created a healing art project with them, and helped teach it to social workers at an AWBW leadership workshop.

When it came time to collaborate with LeVar Burton on The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, Olivia Piacenza and other staff members at AWBW offered wonderful guidance and feedback based on decades of experience working with traumatized families – which helped us create a practical and engaging resource for parents and professionals. We’ve co-developed a great “Rainstick” art project and “Whale Breathing” exercise with AWBW that you can find on our Rhino activities page.

On June 30th, 2016, we will be participating in AWBW’s Art Transforming Trauma: Building Resilience through Art conference, to celebrate and explore the transformative power of art. This will be a day of learning and creativity, on a personal and community level, featuring collaborative panels and workshop breakouts offering tools and resources for using art to build resilience and transform trauma.

We feel so blessed to be part of A Window Between Worlds’ inspiring mission of love, healing and creativity!  You can read more about the magical work they do at www.awbw.org.

Please, Reach for a Paintbrush…Instead of a Gun

When the emotions are swirling inside of you or your child, pull out the paints and let them out onto the page.

When the emotions are swirling inside of you or your child, pull out the paints and let them out onto the page.

On my way to my weekly dance class yesterday, I passed a convoy of police cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing, hurtling down the highway. It is a sad statement on today’s world that my immediate thought was “There must be a mass shooting happening somewhere near here.” I turned on the radio to discover that UCLA was in lockdown mode, with an active shooter. This morning, the news reports had more details – the victim was William Krug, a professor of engineering and a father with two young children – the shooter was an aggrieved former student, with a gun and a hit list.

It has been an intensely emotional week - from the poignancy of celebrating my son’s high school graduation to the excitement of planning a much-needed summer trip. The senseless tragedy at my alma mater- the reminder that nowhere is really safe, not even a college campus, hit me hard. I took a cue from Rhino, and stomped and shook out a little of my grief in dance class. Today, I needed to buckle down and be a grown-up - tackle all those responsibilities – the revision of my latest draft, the piles of laundry and dishes, the need to pay bills and buy groceries - but I was in massive resistance. I needed a little tent time with my inner child first.

No goal, just me and my paintbrushes and scraps of paper I keep in an art basket in my “office” (a big canvas tent in my backyard).  When I paint, it’s not about the end result. I am not striving to be the next Georgia O’Keefe, I just need to let those turbulent feelings OUT. In this case, a ragged piece of recycled cardboard fit my mood, along with one of my favorite mediums, watercolor resist.  Scribble with crayons or oil pastels, and wash over them with watercolors. Cheap, easy, meditative. I put on calming music and let myself drift in reflection, dipping the brush in the water, letting the paint and my tears blend on the paper in a swirl of colors that reflected my emotional state. After that, I started painting strips of watercolor paper – letting each strip represent a different feeling.

There has been – and always will be – death and destruction in our world. As Papa Mouse tells his daughter in The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, “Bad things happen, and we can’t always control that.”

We can only control how we respond to the storms in our lives. Some people have so few resources in their emotional toolbox that they get stuck in their anger and fear and turn to violence to solve their problems. In the process, they create an even bigger storm for everyone around them.

Let’s teach our children to reach for paintbrushes instead of guns...to beat on drums instead of each other...to sing instead of screaming insults. Let us all find safe creative spaces to express our feelings, where we can unload our sorrow and rage onto canvases, not campuses.

Today, I am wearing orange. Today and every day, my thoughts and prayers are with those touched by the tornado of gun violence.

Life Is Like a Patchwork Quilt…Love in Every Stitch!

I’m sewing a quilt for my son to take with him to college in the fall. I just started putting it together – but this project has been more than 18 years in the making.

I’m using recycled denim – jeans from his childhood that range from size 2 to size 14…the pairs that were too scuffed in the cuffs to pass down to his little brother. Ripping out seams, cutting the patches, and pinning blocks together (in my haphazard way) seems like a metaphor for my journey as a mother. Plenty of time for reflection – part of my mind wanders while the other half is trying to figure out how to fit these pieces together in a cohesive way. Or – if not perfect – at least respectable and finished in time for graduation. My son’s childhood will be wrapping up the same way – his car has a few dents, and he’s squeaking by in a couple of his classes, but I feel grateful and blessed that in less than two weeks, he will be marching up to the podium to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” to receive his diploma.

The stitches in my quilt aren’t very neat or orderly – and neither was my parenting, to be honest. “Creative chaos” sums up my household. When I was pregnant with my son, my first child, 18 years ago (that feels like a blink of an eye and eternity, all rolled up into one crazy time warp!), I didn’t know where motherhood would take me. There wasn’t a map – just like there’s no pattern for this quilt. Piece by piece, we found our way here – although some patches were harder to integrate than others. In first grade, a little girl in his class died in a car accident – my heart is sad, thinking about Jordan as my son approaches another milestone that she never will. When she died, we stitched together not a quilt, but a mosaic birdbath. Perhaps I’ll write about that another day. My mind meanders like my seams – I keep breaking my thread here and there.

In the fall, my son will off to the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), far away from me in Los Angeles where he was born and raised. He is setting off on his own heroic journey –and part of my heart will travel with him. I’m going to hide a few Xs and Os and hearts in this quilt, just like Courtenay did in her illustrations for Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs. Maybe my son will see them, maybe he won’t – but I’ll know he’s safely tucked up with a lot of motherly love, even when he’s far away from me.

Making a quilt like this can be a wonderful project for remembering a loved one who has died. The act of stitching has been very therapeutic for me – and even little hands could help with the sewing. If a whole quilt seems intimidating, try starting with a small quilted project, such as a pillow sham or wall hanging.

If you don’t like to sew, but you love the idea of a memorial quilt, you can turn to someone like Rosie Rhine to help you. I found Rosie’s website online, and reached out to her (I couldn’t resist her company name! http://rhinoquilting.com/). Rosie is an amazing quilter (go to her website to see a multitude of inspiring designs). She has been creating custom bereavement quilts for eight years. Clients send her clothing items that belonged to their deceased loved one (Rosie can incorporate anything from christening gowns to sweaters to uniforms to t-shirts or dresses), and with love and care, Rosie crafts the fabric into “a beautiful, tangible, usable memorial.” Her designs range from traditional log cabin or block patterns to elaborate storybook quilts and abstract seascapes.

To see more beautiful quilts, go to Rosie's site: www.rhinoquilting.com

To see more beautiful quilts, go to Rosie's site: www.rhinoquilting.com

Rosie’s quilts have comforted many people, warming the bodies and hearts of children who have lost a parent, parents who have lost a child, and widows wanting to remember beloved husbands. “I love reaching out to anyone in pain and helping them out - and I imagine you do too - no matter their circumstances,” Rosie told me recently. “The pain of loss and grief reaches across all boundaries.” She tells each customer that her goal to “create a living memorial…a quilt which honors their loved one’s life, captures their spirit and helps you heal.”

Rosie cherishes the work she does, and the people who come to her for help -- and that’s evident in every stitch. Have you ever sewn a quilt to help yourself or a loved one heal from grief? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience!

Below are just a few of Rosie’s amazing bereavement quilts – you can learn more about the story behind each quilt on her website.

To see more beautiful quilts, go to Rosie's site: www.rhinoquilting.com

To see more beautiful quilts, go to Rosie's site: www.rhinoquilting.com