Creating artwork was never my intention. Not with this exhibit. I went to school for fine art and I love to create sculptures and paintings and photographs, but this was all far from my mind as I stood in my driveway heaving clay pots at the asphalt, cursing and crying.
My daughter had just died and I was feeling desperate and destroyed, overwhelmed by the intensity of my emotions. The sound of the clay pot crashing into the driveway and splintering into pieces was satisfying, if only for a moment, and so that became my outlet. Then one day I picked up a few of the broken shards. I felt a connection to them, I was as broken and useless as they were, and I decided to give them another chance. I brought them inside and sculpted them into a mangled heart. I held this jagged little heart and stared at it and wept. It was me. Broken and destroyed but somehow still here.
Seeing how creation could come from destruction was incredibly inspiring to me, and it opened the floodgates. I explored the depths of my soul as I sculpted, collaged, sketched, photographed and wrote. But it was painting that saved me. I sculpted and sketched when I had an idea I wanted to express, but that's not how it was with painting.
I painted because I simply felt incapable of doing anything else. Most of my paintings were created late at night, when my husband was asleep and I was alone with the suffocating silence of my empty house. I would sneak downstairs and sit on the floor of my living room, painting and crying until the sun came up. It was such an incredible release to be able to pour myself all over the canvas. The pain, the anger, the fear, the longing, it was all there in a way I couldn't have expressed in words. Sometimes tiny glimpses of hope and gratitude would appear, which always surprised me.
I could feel the weight of my sadness lifting as I transferred it onto the canvas, and by the time the piece was finished I was able to climb the stairs to bed and actually drift off to sleep. I credit my creativity as the tool that allowed me to navigate my way through the darkness of that first year after Madeline's death, and I still cling to it today- three and a half years later- as I continue to struggle to adjust to life without my daughter.
Stephanie Paige Cole is the author of Still: A Collection of Honest Artwork and Writings From the Heart of a Grieving Mother. She is also the founder of the Sweet Pea Projectand the artist behind the Beauty In The Breakdown exhibition. Her firstborn child, Madeline Jonna Cole, was stillborn one week after her due date in January 2007.