A Creative Sympathy Gift for the Motherless Child

Photomontage enhanced by the symbolism of two
chocolate kisses, sitting on a couch against a graffiti wall.

When my mom died, grief grabbed me so tightly I could barely breathe. It wouldn’t have mattered whether I had dreamt the exact hour and minute she would pass away, or if we had fought like cats and dogs the night before. When it happened it was a black day. 

Had I been unable to move past my sadness, I probably would have turned to secular or faith-based bereavement programs. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Time healed me. But 25% of people’s hearts live “in a place whose size is zero,” (a line borrowed from my wise old son, Sam). These are human beings who don’t have the energy to seek out new objects of affection. They live inside their heads, poring over the same photographs, allowing happy memories and catastrophe scenarios to fight for the same airtime. Outside, the real world looms, an unholy place filled with happiness and irony. In a word, they’re Profoundly Depressed.

Now to some of us, all that melancholy comes off looking almost martyr-ish. Wouldn’t they be happier if they just packed away the triggers that make them sad? Or is there something else we could be doing with those photographs to make them smile more and ache less? Something life-changing that when they see it, they’ll burst out crying – only not tears of sadness, but tears of joy?

There is, and it’s called therapeutic photomontage: a custom portrait of the departed composed from multiple, superimposed photos.

Dreaming Their Way Back to Happiness

The Profoundly Depressed want nothing better than to wake up from their nightmare. So it’s no leap of faith for them to embrace a wishful reality where salvation is almost palpable. No other medium has this uncanny ability to make a believer out of those in quiet despair than digital photomontage. Playing with the people, objects and landscapes in a personal photograph, a digital artist attuned to healing can create an entirely custom made reality, layering different elements into a single photograph until it feels like a snapshot from a dream … and not a nightmare.

If you know someone who’s profoundly depressed, here’s what you can suggest. Say you found an artist who’s helping you make a healing dreamscape about Aunt Myra. (As if it’s already in the works.) Tell her it’ll contain everything she loves about Aunt Myra, and will show it in a completely magical way. Ask for favorite photographs of Myra, but also ask Myra’s friends, family members and caregivers for photographs so you can have yet another perspective. Narrow down to candid photos where everybody’s expression feels authentic – in other words, no forced smiles or awkward poses. Don’t worry if there aren’t any good photographs of Myra with, let’s say, her husband or her favorite poodle. A good digital artist can extract Uncle Sid and the poodle from other photos, and then expertly reorient Sid and the poodle to look as if they’re engaging with Myra right there in the picture.

You remember when I said “a digital artist attuned to healing”? These sought after artists specialize in art for your sake. What this means is that your insights and their intuition greatly affect the piece you co-create together. That’s why you don’t want to spare a single detail. Tell them the back story on every photograph, but also about the Black Day itself, and ghostly visitations, too (anecdotes provide strong visuals). You see, everything is relevant when it concerns the sad person’s state of mind before and after the loss.

In the therapeutic photomontage, the more depth of field there is, the truer the shadows and the more realistic an object’s scale, the more believable it is as wishful reality. The idea is to make the healing dreamscape as ripe for interpretation as possible. Allowing the Profoundly Deoressed to make as many free associations as they want is an integral part of the therapeutic process. It lets them actually see a new beginning … or even an alternate ending to the past.

Ideally, the dreamscape holds everything and anything. It’s a place of comfort, and also of safety. The God-Fearing are likely to feel less oppressed as they realize they’re not inherently unlucky or a target, and that the Black Day was merely a random act. In a similar vein, the God-less begin to look at their lives more philosophically, less judgmentally and richer in meaning.

By definition, everything in a dreamscape holds meaning, and this is no accident. A sensitive artist deliberately puts them in to draw out the Profoundly Depressed in an imaginative way. That’s why they often add unique objects which evoke specific memories and feelings – say, a spinning apple, a runner’s bib, a cascade of rose petals – if the interpretation invites playfulness and not a feeling of dread.

By revealing hidden messages, the dreamscape appears to talk to the Profoundly Sad, while also giving them someone to talk to. It erases that sinking feeling we’ve all felt at one time or another when we got separated from Mom in the department store: Hey, you left me behind.