Grief Work and Expressive Arts by Student Matt Mulligan

Art installation called "The Colors of Grief" that includes a photograph, flowers, cards and framed abstract image
The Colors of Grief

Our Expressive Arts Emphasis Art Exhibition Opening in the Haybarn Theatre Gallery always creates a special container for us to experience each others’ work made during the past semester.  This time during the fall semester, several students created work as an expression of grief.
There had been losses of loved ones in recent months as well as the grieving of the losses experienced by those from our ancestral lines. Grief experienced in the imaginal spaces of dreams also informed the creative work that was made.
Here, Matt Mulligan presents the Expressive Arts work he did as he moved through the grief process after the death of his beloved Aunt Mary:

“I was inspired to create the modern art by the grief I felt around the passing of my Aunt, Mary McElroy. I titled it The Colors of Grief.  The frame came from a painting I found in my deceased grandmother’s bedroom. The painting is filled with an array of colors to represent the many different feelings I have experienced while grieving. The white lines represent the many different ways I had to keep my grief under control as I navigated within a society which, in so many ways, shuns the grief experience.

“The altar itself represents my realization that grief should be something that you both suffer through and celebrate simultaneously. Here is my description of my alter:

  • My Aunt’s portrait when she was in her 20s is accompanied by her baby picture. I like it very much because she has the same look in her eyes.
  • There’s a cigarette and dark chocolate; two of her favorite things.
  • The house numbers were original to her house. My family had lived 68 Crichton (Pronounced “Crait-in”) Street in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, since my Great Grandfather built the home in 1884. When my Aunt passed away, the house was put on the market for the first time in 130 years. Three generations under one roof.
  • My aunt loved small pitchers, one of hers is displayed.
  • The candles, according to tradition, stand for north, south, east, and west.
  • The scent of the marigolds attract the spirit of the deceased.
  • The cookbook on the table belonged to my great grandmother.
  • The “candy” skull is a traditional ornament for Dia de los Muertos.
  • The card with the wet burrowing owl is the last card I received from her.

“Grief made me feel as though I might disappear completely. It felt like I was losing pieces of myself. A friend, a Goddard grad, told me that I must build an experience around my feelings.

“Building this altar, among many other mindful activities, has become a part of that experience. Celebrating everything my aunt meant to me, even celebrating my utter sorrow at her loss, has helped me emerge a stronger, better person all-around. My Aunt Mary gave me more than I can mention here, during my lifetime.

“It’s fitting then, that the gift I received in the wake of her passing has been the greatest of them all: a new stronger vision of myself as I move through all the days that follow.”
Matt Mulligan is a student in the Psychology and Counseling Program. He is a fundraising specialist who lives in Central Vermont.

Important Announcement

The Board of Directors for Goddard College have made the difficult decision to close the college at the end of the 2024 Spring term.  


Current Goddard students will have the opportunity to complete their degrees at the same tuition rate through a teach-out with like-minded institution, Prescott College. Updates and scholarship funds will be available in the coming weeks and months. Information will be posted to

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