Health / Fitness

Grief to Gratitude provides healing

Robin McIlvain leads a workshop on coping with loss in San Juan Bautista.
Robin McIlvain proudly standing in front of her salon's sign as owner. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Robin McIlvain proudly standing in front of her salon's sign as owner. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Checking the foils in her client's hair after being put under the dryer. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Checking the foils in her client's hair after being put under the dryer. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Items that were in the grief to gratitude packets that participants all received. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Items that were in the grief to gratitude packets that participants all received. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Pastels that were used in the two art exercises. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Pastels that were used in the two art exercises. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
My first art exercise where one color was used to describe each word. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
My first art exercise where one color was used to describe each word. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
My second exercise was creating an art piece layer by layer. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
My second exercise was creating an art piece layer by layer. Photo by Marisa Sachau.
Participants getting ready to let balloons go into the air as a symbol of letting go. Photo courtesy of Robin McIlvain.
Participants getting ready to let balloons go into the air as a symbol of letting go. Photo courtesy of Robin McIlvain.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Marisa Sachau

Robin McIlvain believes grief is something that we all deal with in some shape or form. It is not necessarily always about dealing with the death of a loved one, but rather it can encapsulate being “stuck” in life and not finding a way to move forward.  

“Grief comes in so many different ways,” said McIlvain. “You could grieve your pursuit. Some people still grieve their idea of how they pictured their life to be and didn’t end up being that way.”

McIlvain has been an “unofficial” therapist for her clients for years. You can find McIlvain, a hair salon owner, cutting and styling hair at Salon 218 in Hollister. She has been a hairdresser and business owner for 27 years. 

McIlvain said she believes the hairdresser’s chair provides comfort for her clients simply by offering them a place to talk and listen. 

“Hopefully, you can plant seeds in their life that are positive,” she said. “Right now in the times we’re living in, a lot of people just need hope that things are going to get better.”

McIlvain has lived in Hollister for 28 years, but her father’s family has lived in Hollister since 1878. Although she was raised in Westwood, Hollister has become her home and the community she serves. 

She began creating a grief workshop for the community when she and her husband started attending ministry school about three years ago, where she had an experience that made a lasting impression on her. 

“I was exposed to an inner-healing workshop where they used art and I got so much freedom from it that I wanted to share it with some women here in town that I’m very close to that have lost kids too,” said McIlvain. 

Because of lockdowns early in the pandemic, McIlvain was not able to start the workshops as soon as she had wanted. She said she had a dream earlier this year to do the workshops again. She collaborated with Pastor Susan Schaad and two others to help create a program for healing from grief through art. 

McIlvain lost her son, Russell, in a car accident in 2015 on Hwy 25. Since then, she has been working through her own feelings of grief over the loss of her only child. 

“Your grief changes as you evolve, cause it’s been seven years since he’s passed, so it’s not like a pinprick anymore, it’s just like a finger poke,” said McIlvain. “It never goes away but it doesn’t sting as much as it did.”

McIlvain has learned to not let grief prevent her from living life to the fullest. She came to realize that a terrible loss happened in her life and that she needed to accept it.

McIlvain leads the Grief 2 Gratitude workshop to help people who are going through their own grieving experience. Her strength comes from helping people heal and turning traumatic moments in their lives to ones of freedom. 

She knows that when most people first arrive at the workshop, they are too shut down to begin dealing with their grief. 

McIlvain said, “With the workshop, it is allowing them to at least have a crack in that wall that they’ve put up, to at least let the healing process start. My hope is to give them hope, to live a somewhat normal life going forward.”

The last workshop happened in January. Her future plans for the workshop are to create more activities that deal with various kinds of grief and develop steps of the healing process. She would also like to make it accessible to participants online.

 

The Workshop

The workshop lasted approximately two hours as McIlvain guided attendees through a meditation of inner healing with art. Eleven participants were led by artists in two exercises. Three tables were set up with a group of participants at each one.

McIlvain began by showing her vulnerability and speaking about the initial grief she had suffered when losing her son and how she couldn’t understand how her only child was gone. 

She said she felt a numbness and betrayal for six months as she grieved. A part of her identity was gone, she said, and she asked herself, “Who am I if I am not a mother?” 

McIlvain coped by returning to work two weeks after her son died. She said she felt this would be emotionally beneficial for her.

“Grief is a process,” she said. Although she gave descriptions of the stages of grief—denial and anger, hopelessness, sadness, and the new normal—McIlvain emphasized that everyone’s journey through grief is different. Yet, McIlvain believes that we are all connected to each other through grief, because we have all felt it. 

There is confidentiality in the workshop so what people share stays in the meeting room. No one is pressed to share more than they wish.  

The first exercise consisted of drawing on a white paper folded into four squares. In each square, the words anger, sadness, joy, and gratitude are written. The participants used one color to describe each word and how they visualized it. It did not have to be an object or symbol, but rather what comes to mind when they first hear each word. 

The second exercise was drawing on a piece of gray paper. McIlvain directed each layer to be drawn with a certain theme in mind and with only so many colors. By the end, people were surprised and happy with their results. One participant at my table wanted to have no gray space left, but instead filled with color. 

At the end of the workshop, everyone said something they were grateful for. The responses ranged from joy to having a new job to simply being alive. 

McIlvain said, “Loss is a part of who we are, but not what defines us.”

 

 

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Marisa Sachau