When Naugatuck High School art teacher Rose-Ann Chrzanowski lost her husband in 2005, she turned to art to help deal with her grief.
Over the following months and years, Chrzanowski documented her feelings through drawings and poetry. Now her journal entries have been gathered together in her book, “Irises and Butterflies: Reflections of Grief,” to help others faced with a similar situation.
Chrzanowski says the book’s message is one of hope.
“It starts out in that really dark place where you’re lost and you have all of those overwhelming emotions. …Then it moves towards the light again where you find some modicum of peace,” Chrzanowski said of her book.
Chrzanowski struggled to find her place again after loosing Ray, her husband and best friend of 16 years.
“It’s like learning to walk again,” she said.
The book started with the illustrations, after Chrzanowski’s therapist suggested releasing her emotions through drawing. Although Chrzanowski usually draws more realistically, the drawings in the book are made of abstract faces, colored ribbons, broken hearts, and feathers.
When Chrzanowski started drawing, the images just came out without thinking about it, she said.
“I really think that those drawings came from my heart and that they were guided by him,” she said.
Chrzanowski also wrote all the way through her journey.
“When it came time to put the book together, I found the writings that really went with the illustrations,” Chrzanowski said.
She said her husband sends her feathers as tokens of his continued love for her, even in death. In the book, Chrzanowski describes how she found a heart-shaped stone near the river bank of her family’s favorite vacation spot in Vermont.
“To me, this heart stone is a heart that belongs to both of us. Often Ray would say we were one heart in two bodies,” Chrzanowski wrote.
As she was writing the book, Chrzanowski never thought to publish it, but after sharing it with close friends and family members, they encouraged her to share it with others.
“Writing the book was very healing and it was a very metaphysical spiritual experience for me,” she said.
Chrzanowski hopes her book will be a channel for people to talk about their experiences with grief.
“Most people are keeping it to themselves,” Chrzanowski said.
She said she found a wonderful networking system with people dealing with similar circumstances to help her through the tough times.
“You do feel better when you get it out there and you have people to talk to about it,” Chrzanowski said.
At one book signing, a young woman came up to her, pointed to the book, and said, “This book changed my life,” according to Chrzanowski.
When you take a chance at this and put something out there that’s so personal, you can touch people and make their journey a little easier because they don’t feel so alone, Chrzanowski said.
Chrzanowski gave a copy of the book to everyone in her family, and some of her students asked her about it.
One student in particular was having a hard time in her study hall, but after reading the book, it turned their relationship around, Chrzanowski said.
“It just opened my heart to have her have this reaction to it,” she said.
Chrzanowski said her students are always curious about what kind of artwork she creates in her own time. The book gave her an opportunity to talk to students as a fellow artist rather than a teacher.
Chrzanowski worked next to her students to create the cover of her book, which is a sand painting, similar to a Tibetan mandala.
“It was so healing for me because of the texture of the paper and designs,” Chrzanowski said. “I find when I work alongside my students, they ask more questions,” she said.
When Tibetan monks are finished with their intricate mandalas, the wind simply blows days of work away.
“That’s the way it should be,” Chrzanowski said.
For practical reasons, her class used adhesive paper, but the work still took a lot of concentration.
“You can hear a pin drop on a pillow when they’re working on them,” Chrzanowski said.
Family members also said reading the book gave them new insight into Ray’s loss. Although they’d lost older relatives, Ray’s loss was especially hard to deal with because he died young, at 59.
“My mother said, ‘I understand so much more now,’” Chrzanowski said.
Chrzanowski is planning a book talk at the Metaphysical Holistic Center in Watertown on March 19. She says this is not a promotion for the book, but rather a chance for like-minded people to come and discuss their feelings in a peaceful, accepting environment.
“People are invited to come and hear my story and share their story,” she said.
Chrzanowski will also have a book signing April 2 at the Holistic Center’s psychic fair. The book is available online at Authorhouse.com, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
Chrzanowski said her husband had always told her they would write a book together.
“I think that this was a collaboration from one side of the veil to another. I felt like he was guiding me to do this,” she said.