One step at a time. That is how Deborah Derman, a professional grief counselor with more than 20 years of experience, healed after suffering three tragedies and a breast cancer diagnosis.
First, it was the loss of her close friend to suicide when she was aged 27, then a horrific small plane crash that claimed the lives of both her mom and dad. And, as if that was not enough loss, the sudden death of her husband to a heart attack while playing rugby, which left her widowed with two small sons and another child, a baby girl, on the way.
Now, remarried and an 11-year breast cancer survivor, Derman has used her personal losses, along with what she has seen in her professional life, to create the new book Colors of Loss and Healing: An Adult Coloring Book for Getting Through Tough Times
. Tucked into 35 illustrations are personally-selected words that Derman said are full of hope as people move forward in their lives.
What inspired you to create this adult coloring book?
I’ve had a lot of losses and many of them tragic in my life. Fast forward, my best friend gave me a coloring book for my birthday last year. I picked up a pencil and I started coloring one space at a time. Another space. Another space. And I’m not kidding you—it was a lightbulb moment for me. I said ‘Oh my goodness, this is exactly how I have proceeded through all of the things that have happened to me. One small space at a time.’ That’s when the idea hit me. I did not write a book about death and dying; I wrote a book about moving forward and healing. I distilled my thoughts into single words and phrases. And I took each phrase and I tried to visualize it.
This is really a self-help book that uses coloring and journaling. Let’s say you’ve had a terrible traumatic loss that has completely taken over your life. Now, what I want you to do is clear off a place on your kitchen table, your desk, take away your medical report, take away your condolence cards, take away the wills, the death certificates—whatever it is—clear a space. Relax, number one, by coloring and from the point of relaxation—I want you to focus on the words that I’ve put in the book.
How did you come to the positivity in your life? What gave you the motivation to keep pushing forward?
I used to have some pretty tough talks with myself. I cried every day, all day, for months, and months and months. I just cried all the time, but I was pregnant, and of course people who are pregnant maybe cry a little more. Then one day I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You look horrible. This has to stop; you just have to stop. Don’t cry until after the children are in bed.’ I would make a deal with myself, ‘I’d say, ‘okay you can’t make it to seven tonight, it’s ten in the morning, see if you can make it to eleven.’
I remember going through my parent’s house after they died, and I remember finding all these theater tickets, plane tickets and playbills. I looked at my parents’ lives and I was inspired by them. What wonderful people they were, and I, in turn, would be wonderful as well.
And I had that when a friend came over, a friend who had breast cancer, the worst kind of breast cancer that went all over, and she stood with me, and she said ‘You’ll be alright.’ I was so inspired by her courage.
What would you say to someone who is going through a loss right now?
I think when someone is undergoing a loss or they’re in the middle of a very stressful time, it’s very important to carve out a space of peace and quiet because from that place of peace and quiet, you can gather your thoughts and you can figure out what your next step needs to be. And so if you can pick up a pencil and begin to color and calm yourself down and focus on words which give you hope that one day this will be your past—I think that’s incredibly beneficial. That is something that I did not have in my life and something that I truly wish I did.
I think that because everyone processes their losses differently, it’s really important to try everything. Try coloring. Try writing. Even if it’s something you have never done before. Try it.