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Sometimes our grief is too much to hold. Sometimes it is too heavy to carry and needs to be set down, allowing us to rest. Sometimes it is too overwhelming or sad and needs to be contained for a time, allowing us a moment to simply be and to breathe. At a time when we can feel very much otherwise, creating a container for grief can be a way of regaining control.

Technically, this is referred to as compartmentalization and it is considered healthy and adaptive coping. Grief is too much to carry all the time. Allowing ourselves to contain it, to set it down, to distract ourselves, to attend to other things, creates balance and is restorative.

Creating a container for grief is not about boxing it up and putting it away, never to be addressed again. Instead, it is about creating a safe place to hold it while we figure out what to do with it, what it means for us, and what lessons it holds for us.

  • A container: such as a shoebox, wooden box, hat box…
    Note: Your container should have a lid or other method for opening and closing it.
  • Assorted craft supplies of your choosing, like:
    • Construction and scrapbooking paper
    • Pieces of fabric
    • Cut images and words from magazine
    • Copies of photos that can be crafted into the container
    • Any kind of glue-on to embellish your container: rhinestones, buttons…
    • Polymer clay to make symbolic objects to place in your container
    • Items that create comfort and protection for what you place inside the container
  • Scissors
  • School glue and/or Modge Podge
  • Applicator for the glue (like foam brushes)
  • Markers, colored pens and/or pencils
  1. Once you have chosen your container decorate it any way you wish, outside and inside. Options include collage/decoupage, covering with fabric or painting.
    Some things to consider:
    • When working with glue and Modge Podge, it is best to not cover the bottom of your container. Even when dry the bottom surface can stick to wherever the container is kept.
    • Collage (cutting and pasting words, images, and symbols) is an easy way to create an awesome container. Working a small area at a time, brush Modge Podge directly on the container (remembering not to work the bottom); place the word, image or symbol; and gently brush over them with more Modge Podge to provide a protective coat. It is helpful to brush from the center or the word, image, or symbol to the outside—this keeps it from shifting or wrinkling.
    • Be careful as you are working on your container that the lid or other method of closing is kept separate and is well-dried before placing it on or closing your container. You want to be able to open and close your container as you need.
  1. With your container complete, it is time to consider what you place inside it. Using materials of your choosing, consider the following:
    • What is special and what you wish to keep from the life shared with your person who died?
    • What memories that gave you the most joy or made you feel the most loved by this person?
    • What difficult feelings or memories that are hard to face and difficult to hold, including regrets or things that feel unfinished between you and your person who died?
    • What things feel cluttered and jumbled, that need be sorted out to better understand even what they are?
    • What questions do you have. What information do you need to better understand your loss and support you in your grief?
    • What changes that you anticipate because of this loss—changes in your immediate world including future plans, and those changes that happen inside of you?
    • What gives you hope—for yourself, for the one who has died, and for the future?

Create representations of your grief that can be held in this protected space by writing your reflections from the questions above on individual pieces of paper and creating or finding symbolic objects that represent these things.

Your container can include memorabilia—photos, trinkets and other objects that help you feel connected to your person who died and your memories of the life you shared.

Every relationship is unique. So is every loss. And so is every grief. Take your container from its safe place when you are missing your person who died and wish to feel close. Open it on special days when you want to share the occasion with this loved one. Or consider opening it and sharing its contents with someone you trust, to better understand and support you in your grief.

“I imagine my grief as something precious. I think of it as something fragile and valuable that I place on the shelf in my living room, where I keep other things that are also special to me and likewise, fragile. I know I can take it from the shelf and hold it, sorting through it as I need. And when it is too much to hold, I know I can place it back on its shelf, safe and protected, until I need to hold it and sort it again.”


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