by Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Occasionally a book arrives in my life at just the perfect time and speaks directly into my heart. My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes: A Journey Through Loss in Art and Color is one such book. On my last blog post I shared the grief I felt over the death of Fr. Samaan Shehata in Egypt. Waiting in my inbox was a book review request from Paraclete Press for author and artist Roger Hutchison’s new children’s book, and to be honest, the book was as helpful to me as I think it will be for many children who need it. Sadly, the number of children who need it is growing more and more quickly by the day.
Roger Hutchison wrote My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes after spending time doing art therapy work with the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of a mass shooting in 2012 that took the lives of 20 students and 6 teachers and administrators. The result of that time is this remarkable book that goes through the different aspects of grief through different colors and illustrations. The book does not explain away death or shy away from how complicated grief can be. One of my favorite parts reads:
Love is red./Anger is red, too./When I heard that you were gone, I felt a/flash inside of me and I felt like I could/not breathe. My ears felt hot. My/stomach tightened./I love you./I’m angry with you, too./Why did you go away?/I miss you./Love is red…and I really love you.
I remember this feeling when I learned my paternal grandmother had died. I had visited her regularly on my trips to Egypt, and enjoyed spending time with her. On my last visit, she took a gold ring off her finger and gave it to me – and I didn’t realize why she did that until I learned of her death a few months later. When I found out, I couldn’t cry at first. She was gone before she could meet my children, or even my new husband. I wanted more time, and I didn’t get it. My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes gives words and colors to these complicated feelings about death and loss, and gives permission to readers to feel all of them.
I had the opportunity to do an email interview with Roger about his experience with the children of Sandy Hook, and about his art therapy work with grieving people:
I was with these children just five months after the tragedy occurred. The shock and pain was still very fresh. My goal was to provide a space where they felt safe and free enough to create art, share their stories, and have fun. I believe it happened. I will never forget them. Being in their presence changed me at a cellular level.
I am hopeful that sharing these stories brought some sort of peace to their lives. There will always be 26 holes in the hearts of these people and their community. I also believe that within the grief that exists, there is much healing and possibility.
While there is grief, sadness, and loss, there is also hope. There is an opportunity for celebration as we gather together, break bread, talk, and are welcomed. Whether it is through cooking, painting, or Eucharist, we come together to remember.
Can you share an experience during that time (or other times doing art therapy with children) that sticks with you?
Most recently, I oversaw an emergency day camp for nearly 50 children impacted by Hurricane Harvey. One morning we gathered around tables and painted together. There were images of swirling storm clouds, fallen trees, and jagged bolts of lightning. Fear and weariness became inspired art – and inspired art became an avenue for healing and hope.
Have the children there been in touch with you since you have worked with them? What do they share when they connect with you?
I have remained in touch with a few of the families. They welcomed me into a space so intimate and personal and I am humbled by their continued love and encouragement. It has been over four years since that special evening. I love watching the children grow. They will, of course, carry this tragedy with them forever but they will never be defined by it.
How can parents or adults use “My Favorite Color is Blue, Sometimes” to help young people process grief?
My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes. is designed to help the reader navigate grief using color. It is a children’s book by design, but can be used by people of all ages. I think sharing this book with a child provides them a gift – a gift that helps them understand that their feelings are valid and real. It’s okay to feel angry one moment, sad another, and filled with joy…all in a short amount of time. I would share the book alongside the gift of art supplies including a sketch book or journal. Encourage creative response without trying to “fix” how he/she is feeling. One special aspect of this book is the list in the back that includes some fifty ways to honor and celebrate the memory of your loved one.
Now that My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes is going to be published, what are you working on next?
Life is simply amazing right now. I serve as the Director of Christian Formation and Parish Life at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church which is located across the street from the Texas Medical Center in Houston. I’ve been married to my beautiful wife for 21 years and we are navigating the teenage years with our 15-year-old daughter, Riley. (Pray for us!) My fourth book, Jesus: God Among Us, is now in production and will be released by Church Publishing, Inc. in February 2018. Jesus: God Among Us is inspired by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s powerful statement and call to the Episcopal Church to be the “Jesus Movement” in this world.
Paraclete Press has provided me with two giveaway copies of My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes. To be entered into the giveaway, subscribe to my email newsletter and share your favorite color in the comments below. The giveaway closes on November 15, 2017 at 11:59 EST.
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