Tiffany Hill, MA student in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies and Graduate Research Assistant of the ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Lab (www.commons.royalroads.ca/resiliencebydesign), recently presented at the Association of Death Education and Counselling (ADEC) conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ADEC is the premiere educational, interdisciplinary meeting for professionals working in the field of death, dying, and bereavement (www.adec.org).
While Tiffany holds her roles as student and researcher when describing herself she prefers storyteller, sister, and owner of big feelings and many tattoos. These elements of her identity greatly influence her research, which she spoke about at ADEC over the April 25th weekend in her presentation titled, “Exploring Childhood Sibling Bereavement Through Arts-Based Methods.”
Supervised by Dr. Cheryl Heykoop, Tiffany’s Master’s thesis work, “An Autoethnography on Sibling Bereavement: Navigating the Complexities of Dying, Death, and Grief,” aims to explore her lived experiences of the dying and death of her brother, Theodore, and her grief in the recent six months following his death. Further, she will be reflecting on her use of creative arts-based methods to help cultivate an understanding of grief as a process to be honored rather than a problem to mitigate. This exploration will inform policies and practices to support siblings who are bereaved.
As Frankl (2006) who when describing suffering, states; “for what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement” (p. 112). Therefore, the impetus to conduct this specific research comes form the confidence that by understanding her own grief, Tiffany may offer support and insights to those who have or will experience grief or loss in their lifetime.
Tiffany’s journey has been greatly influenced by creative arts-based methods, as highlighted in her two paintings, done after her brother’s death, titled, “Heart of the Storm” and “Embers”. These methods have the potential to support grieving processes, which Tiffany discussed at the ADEC conference. She explains that children who have experienced the death of a sibling need support. Of the limited existing research on sibling bereavement, most is largely focused on emotional, behavioural, and social signs of grief and conducted using interviews supplemented with external observations. Tiffany has recognized these patterns and believes there may be value in identifying the limitations of generalizing or categorizing these reactions to grief. In her talk at ADEC, she discussed how creative arts-based methods have the potential to encourage children to express themselves and result in more ethical and accurate research. The talk included influences and narratives from her own experience in grief and preliminary findings of her Master’s thesis.
As Tiffany shows through her experience and research, grief is a complex journey and expressing this through art-based means can provide an important outlet. A quote that greatly influences her work captures this process well;
“Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” (Anderson, n.d.).
To learn more about Tiffany’s work or her role in the RbD Lab, visit the RbD Library Showcase located in the Royal Roads Library, running until June 8th.
Partners in the RRU ResiliencebyDesign Lab’s Youth Voices Rising (YVR) (https://crossroads.royalroads.ca/news/rbd-lab-partners-give-youth-ideas-flight) project in northern Alberta recently joined together in a Creative Action Research project. Youth workers from the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation Sekweha Youth Centre and the Fort McKay First Nation Youth Centre met in Janvier (2 hours north of Fort McKay) to learn how to create an Angel Wings Art Installation in March 2018. Leading the training was Reinalie Jorolan, from Zen Touch Art Creations and the Meicholas Art Foundation, who initially designed the installation for the YVR #YouthVoicesWB campaign that focused on how to make community better from a youth perspective.
Loaded with colorful cans of paint, countless paint brushes that differed in shape and size, and cardboard that will last for days, Reinlalie woke up on a mission to teach. She brought the materials and a training manual to the workshop to show the teams how to technically create the installation. As well, together, she and the youth workers explored how the wings could be used as a Creative Action Research process (in partnership with the RbD Lab) to learn about and build on the strengths of youth in the region, and amplify their voices.
In the workshop, Reinalie explained how art can allow those who have been affected by trauma another form of expression, which is important in communities touched by the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire disaster. Working alongside the RbD Lab, she explained how guiding questions for the Angel Wing feather design can help youth identify where they can start building on their strengths.
Melissa Herman, an RbD Lab Research Assistant, supported the workshop and learned alongside the team. She said the installation was more complex than she imagined, especially cutting out the cardboard feathers with a utility knife, “To be completely honest, I have much more appreciation for each Angel Wings Art installation because cutting the detail into a feather can take a toll on your hands. But each feather is absolutely necessary. Each will eventually be painted with images that speak a thousand words; and be an image that will be shared in support of the vision of the youth.”
In the workshop, with painted, stained and dedicated hands, the group produced around 100 feathers while exploring what each centre and its staff was up to—with lots of laughter and learning along the way. The youth centres are about 200 kilometers apart, so the workshop was a great opportunity for the youth workers to meet each other. The youth workers will engage young people in the coming months to create the Angel Wing art installations in their communities.
They will come together again in late April—along with youth workers and youth leaders from the Lake Athabasca Youth Council in Fort Chipewyan—for a “Building from Strengths” workshop, rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing, to learn and explore leadership & youth resilience along a strength-based pathway. The workshop will be facilitated and hosted by the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Indigenous Leadership and Management team and the RRU ResiliencebyDesign Research Innovation Lab as part of the Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo project, funded by the Canadian Red Cross.
Article by Melissa Herman, RbD Lab Research Assistant, and Dr. Tamara Plush, RbD Lab Postdoctoral Fellow
The Resilience Youth in Stressed Environments research project officially launches this month. Principal Investigator, Dr. Michael Ungar, Scientific Director of the Resilience Research Center, Dalhousie University and Dr. Robin Cox, Director of the RbD lab, will be overseeing the research in two Canadian communities – Drayton Valley Alberta, and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The RYSE research project is a multi-sited, five-year, international research project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and developed to study the resilience of young people in the context of oil and gas production, consumption and climate change.
Dr. Sarah Fletcher has been hired as a postdoctoral fellow to work on this first year of the project. She will be supporting and mentoring two Dalhousie doctoral students, Margaret Heffernan and Laura Wright, in the field as they engage in this initial stage of data collection and analysis. Joining them will be Tara Lewis, a Masters student and resident of Drayton Valley, and Katy Hildebrand, an incoming Master of Arts student in the MA of Disaster and Emergency Management at RRU.
The project will be collecting and analysing data over the course of the summer, drawing on the insights and interests of youth using participatory action research and arts-based methods to explore their health, wellbeing and resilience priorities. Youth and community feedback will inform the later stages of the project, which include resilience surveys, environmental mapping and stress biomarker data.
Team members from Royal Roads’ ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Lab recently presented at the 5th Annual Keyano College Arts and Humanities Conference “Coming Through Fire: Rebuilding, Reconciling, Rethinking” in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
The RbD Lab’s presentation—Youth Voices Rising & Creative Action Research: Recovery & Resilience in Wood Buffalo—engaged participants through the visual storytelling method of storyboarding. Here, conference participants creatively explored the question, “If you had all the power, how would you make life better in your community?” as a means to support conversations that matter to young people living in the Wood Buffalo region. The participants, most in their early 20’s, highlighted changes they want to see in their community, such as reducing harmful acts of gender discrimination and the need for improved healthcare services during pregnancy.
The storyboards from the conference will contribute to a social media and youth engagement campaign launching in the Wood Buffalo region later in the year as part of the RbD Lab’s research into strengthening youth recovery and resilience after the Fort McMurray wildfires.