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Painted tree

Creating an Essence Tree

Symbolically, trees represent our growth and development through life. Roots are our foundation, the trunk our source of strength and power. Limbs represent our talents and abilities. And leaves are the many manifestations of our gifts, the results of flowering or producing in the world. The enduring beauty and stillness of trees invite us to absorb their essence so that we can gain understanding of who we are.

As a grief support activity, the essence of your relationship with your loved one and the essential elements of your loss experience – emotions, thoughts, physical sensations, change in circumstances and more - can find visual voice in the making of an essence tree. Your tree can be depicted realistically, metaphorically or symbolically, and the meaning conveyed as marks, lines, shapes, colors textures or images on any part of your art creation: background, roots, trunk, limbs or leaves.

Getting Started

There is no right or wrong way to make an essence tree. To get you started, here are some helpful suggestions and options.

The size you choose to make your essence tree will depend on what you wish to express and the materials you choose. Some recommendations:
  • 3’ x 6’ large/doorway size sheet of heavy duty paper or– wood, house wrap, cardboard, or canvas
  • Small 18” x 24” sheet of heavy duty paper or – canvas if you are going to paint. Heavy duty paper is all that is needed if you are only going to use color markers, colored pencils or crayons. Some heavy paper will also allow for paint.
Materials can be layered in whatever way feels right to you; try and make choices based on whatever colors and materials you sense will best express the feelings, thoughts, and sensations you are experiencing in your grief. If you are new to creating expressive art, work in whatever medium – crayons, markers, pencils or paints – that seem most manageable.
  • Your choice of coloring implements: acrylic paints; oil-based paint sticks; color markers; crayons; color pencils; glitter paints and glue
  • Paint brushes: various sizes
  • Optional embellishments ideas: stencils; glitter; any small objects that can be attached to your tree with strong glue

Steps for Creating Your Tree

Once you pick out your materials, think about the background and/or context within which your life is set and in which your loss has occurred, such as: history (traditions, meaningful experiences etc. that you shared with your loved one); environment (where your history with your loved one was shared); spirituality; and culture. The background of your tree can be filled in once your tree is completed, done as a first element on which to build other elements, or added to as you go – whatever feels right to you.

Step 1: Drawing the roots of your loss
Roots are symbolic of stability and being firmly established and can also represent blood relatives/ blood ties. When a loved one dies, it can feel as if the stable ground on which your life rested is now lost. Consider these questions as you draw or paint your roots:
  • In what way am I/was I rooted to my loved one?
  • What is at the root of my sense of loss?
  • What does the establishment of new healthy roots look like?
Step 2: The trunk - drawing that which supports you
As a grief support activity, the trunk of your essence tree represents your core, your values, your vision and version of how you became you and what role your loved one played in that formation. The trunk is also symbolic of your strength – what holds you up, gets you through in difficult times.
Consider these questions, as you draw or paint your trunk:
  • What are my strengths and how can those strengths aid me in processing and healing my grief?
  • What are my core values and how can those values aid me in processing and healing my grief?
  • What role did my loved one play in helping me form those strengths and values?
Step 3: Branches and leaves – reaching out
The branches and leaves of a tree cycle with the seasons of the year and life; buds emerge in spring and grow to fulfillment during summer, reaching out to accept the sun’s offered warmth and nourishment. In fall, leaves turn brilliant colors, and then fall. In winter, trees hibernate to rest and renew. Then in spring, the cycle begins again.

The branches of your grief essence tree reach outward, representing your need to reach out or accept help from others at this time, to express your grief, and to grow as your grief journey unfolds.

The leaves represent those people and things that are helping to lead you back to a sense of healing and wholeness.

Consider these questions, as you draw or paint your branches and leaves:
  • What is the current season of my grief?
  • What must I shed to move forward in my grief?
  • Who and what is helping to nourish my growth and healing at this time?
  • What continues to cycle through my life even in the midst of my loss?
To see essence tree examples, see Creating An Essence Tree on the Remembering A Life Blog.

Adapted from a workshop created and facilitated by Elizabeth Lewis, a certified grief support specialist, stress resilience teacher, spiritual counselor and motivational speaker. Elizabeth travels widely in the United States and Italy presenting talks and workshops on a wide variety of subjects including trauma healing, resilience-building, forgiveness facilitation, mindfulness, and healing art and writing. www.elizabeth-lewis-coach.com
Folding a Paper Crane

Folding a Paper Crane

Just as the grief journey is a transformative process, origami, the art of folding a perfectly square piece of paper into a beautiful sculpture can be transformative in creating a state of mindfulness. Making precise and repetitive folds requires focus, concentration and attention to detail, creating a peaceful environment of relaxation and reflection.

The traditional paper crane is probably the most famous of all origami models. It’s designed based on the Japanese red-crowned crane which, in Japanese mythology, is known as the “Honourable Lord Crane,” the wings of which carried souls up to heaven. The Japanese name for this model is “Orizuru” which simply means “folded crane.”

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes (the lifespan of a crane in years, according to the legend), will be granted a wish by the gods. The wish could be for happiness, health or good luck.

The paper crane became an international symbol of peace after Sadako, a Japanese girl who developed leukemia following the bombing of Hiroshima during WWII, set a goal of folding 1,000 cranes while terminally ill in the hospital. The ending of the story varies. Some say she far surpassed her goal, ultimately folding approximately 1,400 of the paper birds. Others claim she fell short and that friends and relatives folded the difference after her death. Regardless, today, thousands of origami cranes are on display, as symbols of peace, in a variety of locations that have experienced unrest or violence, including the 9/11 memorial in New York City and Pearl Harbor.

Folding Your Paper Crane

Folding a paper crane is relatively easy, but precision plays an important role in the look of the finished product. Still, there is no need to strive for perfection for this to be a relaxing exercise. The simple act of folding can do wonders for the soul, even if the beak is a bit crooked or the wings aren’t quite right. In fact, many Japanese practice wabi-sabi, a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. This aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete," perhaps mirroring our own experiences of grief.


  • One perfectly square piece of paper. You may purchase origami paper online or in person from a craft store, or you can cut your own square of paper - but it must be perfectly square.
  • Folding instructions. These are readily available online. Here is one example:  https://www.origami-fun.com/origami-crane.html
  • Thread for hanging your crane, if desired.

The How-To

  1. Find a quiet area free of distraction.
  2. Play some quiet music if you like, or fold in peace.
  3. Sit with a solid surface in front of you – this could be a table, a lap desk, or other hard surface that provides you enough space for folding.
  4. Select a piece of paper.
  5. Before folding your crane, you may want to write something on the “wrong” (the nonprinted side of the paper). This could be a memory about your loved one, a message, a mantra, or a hope for the future. When the crane is folded, what you have written will not be visible to others and will be known only to you.
  6. Follow the instructions (see Supply List) to fold your crane.
  7. To add thread for hanging (optional), thread a long needle and knot the end; put the needle through the hole in the bottom of the crane and pierce it through the top of the crane. Draw the entire length of thread through the crane and display as desired.
  8. We’d love to see your cranes if you’d like to share! Post on social media using #RememberingALifeCrane.

Additional Ideas

  • Have origami paper and directions available at a funeral or memorial service so guests can each fold a paper crane that can be given to the family or taken home as a remembrance.
  • Gather a group of family and/or friends after the service to create paper cranes in memory of the loved one.
  • Display cranes on a decorative indoor tree or create a mobile.
  • Fold a crane and send it to someone who is grieving. Include a supportive note that includes memories of their loved one.

Remembering A Life Coloring Pages

Remembering A Life Coloring Pages

Looking for a simple and fun way to relax, and lower stress and anxiety? Start by looking no further than a box of crayons or colored pencils. Whether you have fond memories of coloring as a child or you’re still a novice, coloring as an adult can have very therapeutic properties.

Coloring may help you:

  • Experience relief by entering a meditative state
  • Lower stress and anxiety levels 
  • Let go of negative thoughts and welcome positive ones
  • Focus on the moment to achieve mindfulness
  • Promote creation over consumption by unplugging from technology

The best part? You don’t have to be an artist to do it!

It’s easy to get started. 

Simply download the Remembering A Life coloring sheets, print them, and start to color! Whether you prefer colored pencils or markers or want to revisit your youth and open a fresh box of crayons, it’s easy to create a masterpiece! (And, despite what you may have heard, it’s perfectly acceptable to color outside the lines!)

How will you use Remembering A Life coloring pages?

  • Post your finished creation somewhere where you will be able to enjoy it often
  • Send a completed page to a family member or friend who is isolated or is grieving the death of a loved one
  • Make it a family activity, with each person choosing a page to color
  • Send printouts of the pages and a box of colored pencils to a friend or family member who could use a little stress relief
  • Send one or more colored pages to essential workers at hospitals, police stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. to brighten their days and let them know they are appreciated
  • Post a photo of your masterpiece on social media using #RememberingALife and tag someone you’re thinking of or share a story about a loved one who has died.
To learn more about coloring, visit the Remembering A Life Blog: Coloring for Relaxation - It's Not Just for Kids by Elizabeth Lewis.

Download Coloring Pages



Mask-making can be both a powerful and tension-releasing avenue for self-exploration and self-expression. Mask-making can be a way to allow unexpected sides of yourself to emerge, or embrace those parts of yourself you have yet to befriend.

Types of Masks

There are a wide variety of approaches to mask-making. The type of mask you choose to make will depend on what you want to explore and express. Here are some ideas for your consideration:
Inner and out self mask. Decorate both sides of the mask: the outside is the face you show to the world; the inside represents the private you.

Duality mask. Express an inner conflict through your mask with a half-and-half, divided face. Inner conflict shows itself as a lack of consistency between what you feel and think or between what you say and do.

Feeling mask. Make a mask that expresses an emotion with which you are uncomfortable or find hard to trust; or express an emotion you would like to heal or release. Creating a feeling mask provides a way to explore the uncomfortable emotions that arise out of grief and loss.

Fantasy mask. Create a mask conveying a part of yourself you would like to develop or the person you would like to become/be. Making a fantasy mask is an opportunity to temporarily take on a new persona as a way of improving your self-confidence.

Supply LIst

All supplies can either be purchased at your local craft store or on-line; common household items such as magazine photos, crayons, markers, paper bags etc. can also be used. Let your imagination be your guide.

Mask Form Options

Premade plastic face mask forms can be found at local or on-line craft stores
Note: A dinner-size paper plate (a great children’s option) or a brown paper grocery store bag can also be used to make a mask by cutting out holes for the eyes and mouth. The below directions are for using a premade mask form; the directions can also be used as a general guideline for decorating any type of mask.

Additional Supply Options

  • Glues: Mod podge glue for adhering paper, tissue paper or fabric scraps and light-weight items; a strong glue for adhering heavier decorative elements
  • A ½ inch paint brush to apply mod podge; other small paint brushes for applying paint
  • To decorate the mask base: colored tissue, pieces of fabric, construction paper, magazine images, stickers
  • To decorate the mask base – additional options: acrylic paints or color markers
  • Finishing decorative elements: trinkets, feathers, yarn, leaves etc. or any other item that appeals to you or has personal meaning

Decorating Your Premade Mask Form

There is no right or wrong way to decorate your mask. To decorate your mask form you can paint or use color makers directly on the mask form. To cover your mask with fabric, tissue paper or construction paper, follow these directions:

  1. Cut or tear tissue paper, construction paper or fabric into ½ inch by 2 inch strips. Then...
  2. Put a thin coat of mod podge on a section of your mask; place overlapping paper or fabric stripes on top of the mod podge and then apply more mod podge over the adhered stripes of paper or fabric. Do this until the entire mask is covered and coated with mod podge.
  3. Either as the mask is drying or when the mask is dry, apply additional decorative elements such as paint, yarn, feathers or other trinkets and embellishments with either mod podge (light- weight items) or a stronger glue (heavier items).

Now that your mask is complete:

  1. Name her/him.
  2. Let your mask speak to you in the first person by answering the questions:
    “I am…”
    “I feel…”
    “I want…”
  3. Display your mask in a place where you can view it periodically over the next week or longer. Look at the above questions again; write on any topic that may come up. Honor the parts of you that this mask represents in any way that feels right.
To learn more about mask-making, read The Healing Power of Art (Part 2): Mask-making on the Remembering A Life Blog.
Creating a Mandala

Creating a Mandala

Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘whole world’, ‘sacred circle’ or ‘magic circle’.  Mandala-making is used for insight , healing and self-expression. Making and filling-in a circular design with colors, images, shapes and symbols, reflects the wholeness of the person creating it and provides a pathway of connection with the intuitive and unconscious parts of ourselves where insight and deeper understanding reside. The practice of drawing a mandala does not require artistic skill or experience – only a desire to learn more about what is going on inside of us as we move forward through loss and grief.


  • White paper in the size of your choice (8 ½” x 11” multi-purpose paper can be used).
  • A paper plate; the plate will be used as a template for your mandala.
  • Your choice of crayons, pastels, color markers or color pencils.

The Steps for Making Your Mandala

  1. Lay out all of your coloring implements in front of you for easy access.
  2. Relax the body and mind. Take a moment to do this quick relaxation exercise:

    Close your eyes. Breathe a bit slower and deeper than usual to comfort. Focus on taking air in through the nose and letting it out through the nose or mouth. Do this several times.

    Now focus in on the feelings inside of your body. See if there are any areas of discomfort, tension or pain, as well as areas of lightness, comfort and ease. Do an inventory of your body. Start with your head and face. Move down to your neck and shoulders, then to your arms and hands. Check each area of tension. Then move down to your chest and abdomen, your back. Then your pelvic area and buttocks. Your thighs and knees, calves and feet.

    Go back to any areas of tension. Continue to focus on each inhalation and  exhalation as your breath, allowing the tense areas of your body to relax, one by one. Each time you release your breath, release the tension right along with it. Name each area and as you release the tension from that area say to yourself: My (body part) is feeling very relaxed.

    Now focus your attention inward. Notice any forms, colors and shapes dancing before your mind’s eye; using as little though as possible, select a color, form or feeling from your inner vision as a starting point for your mandala. If nothing appears to you, that is o.k.

  3. When you are ready, open your eyes and look at the colors before you. Guided by your inner vision or simply in response to the colors, choose a color to begin your mandala. You may feel as if the color has chosen you.
  4. Draw a circle using your plate as a template. Continuing to use as little thought as possible, begin to fill in your circle with color and form. It is usually easiest to begin either at the center of your mandala, working outward, or begin at the edges, working inward. If you feel moved to draw beyond the borders of your circle, feel free to do so.
  5. A mandala usually takes 5 – 20 minutes to make. Create your mandala at the pace that feels right to you.

Steps for Interpreting Your Mandala

  1. Turn and look at your mandala from all angles – what feels like up - like the top? Put a T at the top.
  2. Sign and date your mandala anywhere on your paper. If you make more than one mandala in a day number each mandala in the order made.
  3. Name your mandala; try not to over-think the name - go with your first response.
  4. Ask yourself: How did I feel when making this mandala? How do I feel when looking at my completed mandala? What is my mandala trying to tell me that I need to know? How does the name of the mandala relate to the three questions and the answers to those questions?

Only you truly know the meaning behind the colors, shapes and symbols of your mandala; however, doing an on-line search to gain knowledge regarding the universal meanings of specific shapes, symbols and colors can provide much food for thought and thus a deeper level of insight. Some examples of universal meanings include: red as the color of love, suffering or anger; a bird as a symbol of the process of transformation, flights of thought, or messenger.    

Giving Color & Shape to Your Emotions

Giving Color & Shape to Your Emotions

Giving color and shape to your emotions can be a great first step in exploring your inner language of imagery. Consider doing this relaxing and enjoyable exercise to get you started:

Step 1: Write down the below nine emotions at intervals along the left margin of a piece of paper; you can use either a piece of white drawing paper in the size of your choice or 8 ½ “ x 11 “ white multipurpose paper. Crayons are the preferred coloring implement for this activity.

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Afraid
  • Playful
  • Loving
  • Confused
  • Depressed
  • Peaceful

Step 2: Starting at the top of the list, say to yourself: “The color and shape of ___________ is.” Allow yourself several moments to slowly breathe in and out as you consider this statement. Your color and shape of happy might be anything representational or non-representational - a green sun,  blue wavy lines, a sky blue heart with fluffy white clouds etc.; your inner language of imagery is unique to you - there is no wrong way to do this. Whatever color you are most drawn to when asking this question can be an indication of the color to be used; with that color draw whatever shape most represents for you the shape of the emotion you are trying to express. Continue to do this until you have gone through the list of nine emotions.

This activity can be done in a group or with children. Sharing the finished results of your exercise can help reiterate the individual nature of your inner language of imagery, providing a greater sense of appreciation of your own color and image vocabulary and that of others.