Dr. Deborah S. Derman has experienced true hardship, including the suicide of a close friend, the death of both parents in a plane crash, the death of her husband, and a breast cancer diagnosis. She has dedicated her life to helping others through their own grief, eventually earning her doctorate focusing on grief and bereavement. Her new book, Colors of Loss and Healing: An Adult Coloring Book for Getting Through Tough Times, provides readers with a quiet, contemplative activity for healing.
“When I was widowed in my thirties, pregnant and with two small children, I did not know how I would survive,” says Dr. Derman. “The emotional and physical pain were just too great to handle. I made a deal with myself to try to live for just one hour at a time. I looked at my watch at 10 a.m., thinking that I would just try to live until 11 a.m. Colouring, for me, is a beautiful metaphor for taking things one small step at a time. Just pick up a pencil, and fill in one small space. Don’t worry about filling in the whole page or completing the whole book. Healing from loss is a lifelong process. We need to make meaning of the loss as we move forward in our lives.”
SDTC: Why is our society so reluctant to face those who are grieving?
I am not sure why people are reluctant to talk to others who are grieving. Certainly we will all face loss in our lives, so grieving is not just for someone else. Perhaps we are afraid to make someone cry. Maybe we are far too worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. In truth, saying the right thing is so easy! Just express your sadness, and provide meaningful help. It’s not difficult at all. The most important thing to remember here is that even though expressing condolences may be hard for you, the feelings of the grieving person are far more intense, and really need to take precedence. You can’t go wrong with kindness and compassion.
You’ve experienced some terrible losses. What has surprised you about yourself throughout this journey?
My biggest surprise is that I remarried! I was sure that with three little children, no one would ever love me again, or would be able to embrace and love my children. I was so wrong! I have a wonderful new husband who loves us all!
How did you discover that a colouring book could help people with their healing process?
Typically, people who are undergoing challenging times in their lives can experience anxiety, fear, and worry. Colouring creates a quiet place in which to take pause, to reflect on life, in the context of a quiet, calming activity. This centered place provides the much needed space with which to reflect on feelings, begin to problem-solve, and to reduce worry by seeing things in a calmer, clearer light.
I received a colouring book for my last birthday – the first adult colouring book that I had ever received. As I began to fill in each small space with colour, I realized that this process of one space at a time was a beautiful metaphor for healing. We heal one bit at a time, until we get to the place that the page is filled in, and our healing is well underway.
My patients were the ones that discovered colouring way before I did! They were the ones that told me that they colour either alone or with their children, and have this quiet, calm time to express their feelings and concerns.
What were the challenges and rewards of writing this book?
The most challenging part of writing this book was the vulnerability that I felt when exposing my most hurt and injured experiences. I was concerned that my life story would be too overwhelming for the reader, and that they would simply turn the page on me. My book is still new, so it is still unknown how people will respond to such a difficult story.
The most surprising and rewarding part of this book is how much I enjoyed the creative process of turning individual words into visual illustrations. Every illustration in the book is from an image or an idea that I created, which was then drawn by my illustrator, Lisa Braun. I used images of things that I find beautiful and meaningful in my own life.
You can get your own copy of Colors of Loss and Healing here.