The Art of Grieving (Part 1 of 3): Art Prize 9 Artist Lisa Nawrocki

“Sometimes I start painting in the morning shortly after my husband leaves and I can’t believe it when he walks through the door 8 hours later that all that time passed.  I get lost in art,“ says Lisa Nawrocki, an art teacher at West Catholic High School whose work Simply Put ... Our Mom is Love is featured in Art Prize 9. 

But she couldn’t do that as much on this project.  This time around, she found she could only work for a few hours at a time on it. 

“Usually I get lost in the artwork – but this time I was lost in my mom.”

This year’s Art Prize entry is unlike any of her prior entries. 


In years past, Lisa would include pictures and links on Facebook to her Art Prize entries and talk excitedly with students and family and friends about it.   But this year, she didn’t take pictures of it or make cards and when people asked what she was working on for Art Prize, all she said was that it was a tribute to her mom

I couldn’t share it.  Part of it was that it was evolving. And part of it was that I was grieving while working on it.”

Lisa’s mom died suddenly this past spring.  “My birthday was Easter Monday.  My parents called and wanted to go to lunch that day.  I was making lasagna, I had a million and one things to do, I wanted to get a run in, and I had no time for lunch -- but I said yes.  We went to lunch, my parents went home and my mom laid down for a nap.  While she was napping she suffered a hemorrhagic brain stroke and essentially never woke up. She never regained consciousness and she passed away the next day."

me and mom.jpg

Her death was totally unexpected.




Ironically, just weeks prior to her mom’s death, Lisa was on spring break and reading a book called A Grace Revealed:  How God Redeems the Story of Your Life by Gerald Lawson Sittser, and another by Sittser as well titled A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows Through Loss.  “Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances.  All losses are bad, only bad in different ways.  No two losses are ever the same.  Each loss stands on its own and inflicts a unique kind of pain.  What makes each loss so catastrophic is its devastating, cumulative, and irreversible nature.”  Lisa had no way of knowing then how profoundly prophetic those words would turn out to be. 

mom dad and me.jpg

For Lisa, the loss of her mom was devastating. 

She received four books about grief from various friends and couldn’t read any of them.  An avid runner, she took her grief to the pavement after the memorial service.  But she found herself crying on the side of the road and had to stop running.    

She needed an activity to do to work through her grief, and so she turned to that which is most familiar and most comforting:  art. 

At the same time, she was starting to think about what she wanted to do for Art Prize 9.  She’d entered pieces in prior Art Prize competitions and usually spent her summers off from teaching working on her Art Prize entry. 

The stack of sympathy cards Lisa received from friends and family was huge, and she kept returning to that stack of cards.   She decided that she would somehow incorporate these into her piece and that her piece would be a work that paid tribute to her mom. 

So Lisa got out all of the cards and spread them on the table.

“I wanted people to see parts of these many cards and words I received.  I thought I’d layer them and paint overtop of them."  


"My mom loved flowers and knew the names of all the flowers so I knew I had to represent her with a flower.  I wanted people to be able to read some parts of the cards so I put those in the frame and I collaged the cards as the backdrop of the actual piece.”


Lisa wrote and delivered her mom’s eulogy, and practiced it over and over again in her head when she was out running for 3 days leading up to the memorial service, and those words continued to surface in her mind as she was creating this piece. 

She thought about including just a few words and phrases from the eulogy, but when she first painted the lily it was hard to see with the colors behind it.  So she wrote the words over it and liked how the flower came to life with the darker background. 

I really feel like it was God-inspired and led … the very idea of it, and the fact I didn’t line it and I just started writing it.  At first I didn’t like it because the words had such a curve, but when I got done it was the perfect angle.” 

One of the phrases that stands out from the written eulogy is our mom is love.  That’s what stands out for Lisa when reflecting on her mom’s life and legacy too.


“She loved life.  She loved her kids and she spoiled each one of the 8 of us -- especially when we were older.  My parents have the keycode to our garage and often on birthdays and holidays or after a good sale – my mom would just "break in" and leave a little something on our kitchen counter for us.  She was always there and always supportive.  She LOVED kids and babies and met her first great-grandchild weeks before she died.” 


“I keep reminding myself that some people don’t feel like this when they lose somebody.  All this pain is because of all the love we had before it.” 

For Lisa, this Art Prize piece and the creative process was cathartic in several ways.  The cards and people’s words on those cards were a tangible reminder of how much community and friends and family support she had.     


And expressing her grief through this work of tribute was in itself part of her journey of grieving and mourning the loss of her mom. 

“When I was working on this I was crying too, but it was kind of like a scheduled grief.  I could get it out and grieve and cry, and then put it away again until the next time I worked.  It was almost scheduling time to grieve – I can see that now looking back a few months ago.  That’s what was happening.  And that was good for me to do because I needed to be able to express it and it needed to come out and nothing else allowed me to process through it like this piece did.”


As for the plans for the piece after Art Prize ends, Lisa originally planned to cut it into 9 squares, with pieces for herself, her 7 siblings, and her dad. But then her dad saw the finished piece and wanted to keep it intact.    

Lisa told him, “You can do what you want with it.  For me it’s done what I needed it to do.” 

How about you?  Have you found comfort while grieving a loss through artistic or other forms of expression?  How has it helped you?  

This is the first in a 3-part series exploring the expression of grief through art.  Subscribe to our blog by clicking the "subscribe" button below this to have the next artist's story delivered to your inbox.