- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - If I could tell you one last thing .

“I would say anything just to hear you laugh .”

“I love you.”

“I miss you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Last words to a loved one.

What started as a project for youth attending Mourning Hope Grief Center’s summer camp, Camp Erin, has transformed into a community-wide public art project, the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1TY8WS2 ) reported.

A project where anyone who has ever lost someone they loved can share the words they never got a chance to say on a community graffiti board.

Ten boards - blank canvases - were placed in public locations throughout the community earlier this spring.

On July 15, all 10 will go on display at Lincoln’s Rocketship Gallery, 941 O St. The boards will remain on exhibit through July 28. As space allows, visitors will have an opportunity to add their own final words to the art, said Carly Runestad, Mourning Hope Grief Center executive director.

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I will always love and miss you. Cancer sucks! I miss you so much. Hope Johnny Cash is giving you a concert Grandma.


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Art projects often play an instrumental role in the healing process — especially with children, Runestad said.

“While their hands are busy, they talk,” she said.

At Camp Erin, kids ages 6 to 13, not only focused on their words but on their style, “tagged” the board with their last words.

“The board provided another opportunity for kids to tell their stories and share their emotions,” Runestad said. “For some kids it works through physical actions, for some it’s through music and for some it is through dialogue.”

For a group of middle school-aged boys at last summer’s camp it was graffiti art, introduced by Schoo Middle School art specialist Adam Schwaninger.

“They really connected with Adam and the project,” Runestad said, recalling how some kids spent upward of 90 minutes crafting their tags.

“It offered another option to express their grief,” she said.

Some wrote simple words.

“I’m sorry.” The words of a young girl to her father.

The girl’s last spoken words to her father had been much more hurtful: “I hate you.” Her father died in a head-on collision later that day, Runestad recalled.

Powerful emotions.

“Hope I’m doing good dad. I miss you.”

“I hope you’re proud of me.”

Struck by the power of the boards, Runestad decided to make “If I could tell you one last thing .” a public art project. Ten giant boards were posted at Bryan Health, South Street Temple, Tifereth Israel Synagogue, First-Plymouth and Southwood Lutheran churches, HoriSun and Aseracare hospices, Mourning Hope, Nebraska Wesleyan University and Lincoln Southeast.

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I just didn’t know how fast you would go. Love you til I die . see you at the other side.

— Mom

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Gretchen Baker, social worker at Lincoln Southeast High School, wasn’t really sure how the students in her school’s Mourning Hope group would respond to the project.

For many, the loss was new - and raw.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said.

And with the board measuring 4-feet-wide and 8-feet-tall - it was a really big canvas to fill, Baker said.

But the group had formed a unique bond over the past few months - they helped one another compose their thoughts, they encouraged each other to be honest with their feelings.

“I love you! Sleep with the angels and have sweet dreams about whatever you want.

Reach for the stars Mama.

This is NOT goodbye, this is just a goodnight!”

After her current Mourning Hope students wrote their thoughts, previous group members were invited to post. Then the board was opened to the entire school.

“The board got full rather quickly,” Baker said.

A sobering reminder that far too many people are grieving the death of a loved one — be it a grandparent, parent, uncle or aunt, friend, sibling or child.

Taken by illness, accidents and tragic decisions.

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You taught me to never take anything for granted. I wish we could have made each other more of a priority …

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There is no formula for mourning. No timeline. No degree — distinguishing what deaths are harder to cope with than others.

“Every loss is important, no matter the relationship,” said Southeast student Ell Kinsey, 16. “If it is important to you — it is important.”

She was extremely close to her grandfather, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer this past September.

She recalled how the family gathered around his bedside to say goodbye, while his favorite polka music played on the stereo.

Her grandfather’s final understandable words to his granddaughter were a familiar invitation: Do you want to dance?

“And I never answered him,” Kinsey said through sobs.

If I could tell you one last thing - gave her the opportunity to take away her biggest regret. She wrote: “Yes, I want to dance.”

Allana Blakeman, 18, and Aubrie Howard, 16, have grief in common.

Both lost their mothers unexpectedly on Nov. 7, 2015. Blakeman’s mother died of a blood clot in her brain. Howard’s mother took her own life.

“After you lose someone you shut people out,” Howard said.

It’s hard to talk about and even harder to watch everyone around you living their life and not knowing your pain.

“Well-meaning people say I feel your pain,” Blakeman said. “But you have no idea.”

And when it comes to suicide - they really have no idea, said Alex Hughes, 17, whose uncle killed himself. If Hughes could say one last thing to her uncle it would be: “Thank you for being there.”

“I should have said it more,” Hughes said. “My uncle treated me like a daughter. He was there for me a lot.”

When it came time to write on the board, Howard wrote straight from the heart.

“I could have filled that whole board,” Howard said. “The last time I saw (my mother), I didn’t know it would be the last time. I would have looked at her more if I had known that would be the last time.”

Her message: “Mother: Someone who will love you unconditionally ‘til her last breath. 11-7-15. Love you Mom, Aubrie.

Like many teens, Blakeman and her mom had disagreements. Unfortunately, one of their last times together was tension filled.

Blakeman wrote on the board: “I love you to the moon and back.”

“That was something she would always say to me,” Blakeman explained.

“The last time we were fighting and I wouldn’t say it back. I wanted her to know that I do love her to the moon and back,” she said.

Ove three months last fall Madisyn Swenson, 15, lost her grandfather, an aunt and an uncle.

Her 80-year-old grandfather died of pneumonia in October. As family from across the country gathered to say goodbye, Swenson could not hide her growing anger. Many of these people she had never met before. Why had they been absent for so long, when all her grandfather ever wanted was his family to be together?

She wrote on the board: “I love you and you will never be forgotten.”

He worried about being forgotten, Swenson said.

The boards offer another way to talk about the person who has died. A way to remember, smile, celebrate or even say what you never would have told them to their face.

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I wish you would have been smarter. But in the end you will always be loved.

— Mom

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Talking encourages healing. Shared memories acknowledge the value of that life.

Dana Clements lost her grandmother to Alzheimer’s this past December. She wrote on the board: “Thank you for showing me the way. I will never forget your words.”

Her grandmother was full of wisdom and encouragement Clements recalled. She often told her 15-year-old granddaughter: “Your life is what you make it.”

“In the weeks after her death, I thought about what she told me a lot,” Clements said. “It kept me going.”

The boards not only helped family members, but caregivers, said Becca Henry, provider relations coordinator at HoriSun Hospice.

They too feel the loss when someone dies, Henry said.

The board is good grief work for them, said Nicole Ramsey, HoriSun bereavement coordinator.

“It gives them time to reflect,” she said.

Putting thoughts to paper or canvas offers a permanency that is lost with the spoken word, Ramsey said.

“You can say things as many times as you want, but until you put it down . it’s nice to see,” she said.

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Mom is taking good care of grandma. You don’t have to worry about her! We miss and talk about you often, sometimes with laughter and sometimes with tears.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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