The Unexpected Way I Coped with Tragedy

How I found peace after several personal tragedies

November 30, 2016
sprout growing

When I was 27, a dear friend and neighbor knocked on my door to pick up the vacuum cleaner I borrowed from him. I found out the next day that I was last person he spoke to—he killed himself, using the vacuum hose, shortly after he saw me that night.

Nine years later, I was a happily married mother of a toddler, eager for a visit from my parents. My 16-month-old son and I were at the airport waiting to greet the private plane my father was piloting with my mother and their best friends aboard. Out of nowhere, the plane fell from the sky and crashed in front of us. All four passengers died.

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Then, almost 4 years later, my husband died suddenly of a heart attack while playing rugby. I was 39, suddenly widowed with two small children, and pregnant with our third child. My parents were gone, and my siblings lived across the country.

Several years later, I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. I had to face my worst fear: Would I die and leave my children orphaned?

I know my history sounds almost too terrible to be true. I recall that after each crisis, I was devastated and overwhelmed by unrelenting fear, confusion, and pain. But I remember my sister saying something that has carried me through the hardest of times: “One day this will be your past,” she said. She was right, although I did not and could not believe her then.

Over time, I learned how to navigate and survive the many challenges that life threw my way. I survived breast cancer, raised three great kids, married a wonderful man who has become the adoptive father of my children, earned a Ph.D., and found my calling as a grief counselor.

I received a coloring book for my last birthday. There were so many little spaces to color that the task of finishing even one illustration seemed daunting. I did, however, pick up a pencil and began to fill in the spaces with color. The act of coloring was soothing and calming. After several hours, I had completed a whole page and soon completed the entire book. It suddenly occurred to me that coloring is a beautiful metaphor for progressing through grief and loss. All you have to do is begin somewhere, pick up a pencil, and complete one small space at a time.

I cannot count the number of sleepless nights I spent in anguish and sadness many years ago. It seemed that every catastrophic event I could invent became real in the deepest part of the night. When you feel those moments of despair, start coloring. The meditative process will relax you and focus your thoughts. Clarity of thought will guide you as you move forward.

Clear a space dedicated for coloring. Remove your bills and mail from the table. They will only serve to distract you. This is your time to be calm and focused. Take a few minutes each day to sit and color. Take as little or as much time as you’d like.

Color whichever illustration appeals to you at the moment. The right way is your own way. Everyone’s journey is different, and your thoughts and feelings will be uniquely yours. Coloring gives you the time, however, to take pause. Experiment with color. It is your journey and your process, and it is unique to you.

Many times, people will color with friends or families. When people color together, conversation starts to flow. Words that were previously unspoken can now be shared within the safe structure of this activity. Communicating thoughts and feelings are incredibly important to the healing process.

Get started with these pages from my coloring book, Colors of Loss and Healing. I created the book with the hope that something good will come from my tragedies, that I can help others cope with loss.

The illustrations in Colors of Loss and Healing also contain words that can give you a blueprint toward healing. As you color, reflect on each word. Use the journaling pages to write your thoughts or draw your own picture. Think about the images that are personally relevant to you in your own life. What meaning does each word have for you? What images come to mind? Grief is not an orderly affair, and these words can apply at any time in your healing process.

As we go through difficult times, we need determination and confidence that we will survive, and survive well. We need good counsel to tell us we can and will live fully again, and we need to make meaning of the challenges that life has brought our way. We need to become deeper, wiser people. To get started, all you have to do is color one space at a time…one page at time…one day at a time.

Start your journey to healing by downloading the Breathe, Cherish, and Live coloring pages. 

Breathe coloring page
Lisa Powell Braun

Cherish coloring page
Lisa Powell Braun

Live coloring page
Lisa Powell Braun