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The importance of creative expression

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By Janet Ruffin

solitaryfacefinal.JPGJanet Hull Ruffin is an artist, arts educator and poet. She is finishing a book of poems showing what it's like to work with critically ill children in a major cancer center. She focuses on hospital culture, the therapeutic nature of art and spirituality.

She retired from MD Anderson in January 2009 after serving as the art teacher in the Children's Cancer Hospital for more than 10 years. Her position was special because the time she spent with patients and their families was not about diagnoses, examinations or treatments. They made art together. Currently, she volunteers with the Children's Art Project working with pediatric patients.


One afternoon I was pushing my art cart back to my office. When I rounded a corner I saw a man with his back pressed against the wall, eyes closed and tears streaming down his face. Hanging limply from one of his hands was a bouquet of white roses.

That sight both horrified and filled me with fear to the point of panic. It was all I could do to not take off running. But I did quickly get to my office.

After a few minutes, I peeked out the door and saw him waiting to get on the elevator, the bouquet of roses still dangling from one hand. I slammed the door shut. The scene haunted me for days, causing me extreme dread and discomfort. Only when I wrote a poem about what I saw was I able to let it go.

Dr. James Pennebaker gave a lecture when I was employed at MD Anderson. He is a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and the author of several books, including "Opening Up and Writing To Heal."

One of the things he said that I remember, and I'm certainly not quoting exactly, is that it's not always a good thing to write about a traumatic event soon after it occurs because it's possible that you could traumatize yourself again by reliving it.

Powerful moments

When my husband died suddenly 3 1/2 years ago, I tried to write some poetry.

I was not able to write anything and have only recently written a few pieces. One of these is the poem, "Dreams," which I have included. However, I was able to paint and began a series of paintings with mask-like images. This theme continues to evolve.

When we use creative arts to give expression to powerful moments in our lives, it's important to listen and honor our internal signals to determine when and how much to give voice to.

As you wander down the halls, you might note some of the things you see and take some time to discover what your creative response might be.

Dreams
No dream warns me of
my husband's sudden
death. Two years and three
months into my widowhood,
he comes in a dream, enfolds
me in his arms.     Without speaking

we know each other like
the touching of air moving
into itself.         Tears flow, not

the burden of grief kind,
the labor of an underground
river chewing through the
side of a mountain kind. The
kind that allows you to feel
crisp fresh air, let it fill your
body.            Tonight I

dream two paper lunch sacks, full,
tops neatly folded down, sit on the
barren curve of the moon.


Read more posts by Janet Ruffin

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