art journal with sue

Notes on Gratitude

This is my friend Sue Schwartz. Those of you who participated in bookclub may recognize Sue’s name. Every week she wrote insightful supportive comments to the primary post and to almost every comment people left on the primary post. She is kind, generous, and deeply empathetic. I am grateful to be able call her my friend.

Many months ago I asked Sue if she would take an art class with me. I knew she was a highly creative person. Over the two years I’ve known her, I learned that Sue’s mom was an art teacher and that she instilled in Sue from an early age a love of art. I also learned that up until three years ago Sue made beautiful one of a kind handcrafted jewelry pieces, a few I am now lucky enough to cherish as mine. But she stopped making jewelry when her husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Sue and I have spent many afternoons talking about Brené Brown, creativity, and the dangerous outcomes we’ve experienced by comparing ourselves to others and coming up (at least in our own minds) short. In our own ways, we’ve striven to break free from detrimental patterns in our relationship with ourselves. Art has helped us to do so. I knew from our conversations that we were on the same page about the value of creativity, a desire for more creativity, and for the connection that comes with being part of a creative community.

I wanted to take a class with Sue because I knew it would be fun, but also because of the learning I’ve done over the last few years about creativity’s role in healing and how important art is to personal growth and wholehearted living. (Read my Creativity Corner posts here and here.)

Enthusiastically, Sue said, “Yes!” to taking a class together. I was so happy.

Little did we know how soon and in what way we’d need the healing and the connection.

Early in January, I found an art journaling class offered through Conejo Valley Adult Education. CVAE holds a special place in my heart because it’s where Sue and I met in a memoir class. She liked the art journaling idea, so we signed up and waited impatiently for class to start.

Then the unthinkable happened. Sue called me one day near the end of January to say that Richard, her husband of thirty years, was in the hospital. Collectively, family and friends and work associates held our breath hoping Richard’s optimistic attitude and determined will to live would once again grab his battered body by the hand and lead him back to health as it had many times in the seven years since he was first diagnosed with immune disorder issues. This was not to be, and Richard passed away on February 18.

Sue gave me permission to share this story with you for two reasons. First, she wanted the other bookclub participants to understand why she stopped leaving comments near the end of the club. I told her not to worry, but that’s just the kind of person she is. Second, she told me last week during class how happy she was that in the face of her devastating loss she decided to follow through with taking the class. She easily could have changed her mind and postponed until a later date or cancelled altogether.

We sat next to one another in the classroom each with a paintbrush dampened with water and dipped in color. She looked at me and said, “This journal is going to be my healing journal now. Not just for art, but for healing art. I’ll be able to draw and paint and write things that remind me of Richard and that will help me to grieve him.” And it will help her because she believes in creativity’s power to do so.

After class we discussed the awesomeness of the universe, how amazing it is that when we’re open to it we get what we need when we need it. Before Richard’s death any number of things could have prevented Sue and me from selecting and then signing up for the class that would turn out to be the right class at the right time with the right classmates and the right teacher. (You’ll learn more about our teacher, Scarlit Bloome, soon. I’ve asked her to participate in my next Creativity Corner. She speaks our language of shame, self-love and acceptance, and healing through art.) After Richard’s death, grief and despair could have shut Sue down completely. Art projects, paint, and markers won’t take away Sue’s pain, but because she was open to serendipity through the creative process they will help transmute her internal pain into external expressions of love and loss.   

In the wake of the last several weeks, I am grateful for many things. I’m grateful for my friend, Sue—for her strength and her heart and her grace and her wisdom. I’m grateful for our classmates whose stories and presence brighten the class. I’m grateful for a teacher who is unafraid of deep emotion, who is comfortable being an artistic adviser and container for experiences that are hard and dark. I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit next to my friend and to support her through this difficult time in a positive and empowering way. Most especially, I’m grateful to the universe for presenting us an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way and for our willingness to do so.      


  1. Lovely story! It's great when people work and learn together. Art journaling looks really fun.

    Please send my condolences to Sue.

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