Author and painter Terre Reed shares her journey through loss
By Bridgette M. Redman
Grief is a multilayered experience and there are many ways to explore, process and live through it.
Terre Reed, who lives in both Playa Vista and Santa Fe, shared her grief in a book called “The Wind Blows and the Flowers Dance.” In it, she called upon three different art forms to escort her readers on a journey of grief and recovery. She combines poetry, painting and narrative stories to encourage others who are traveling the same sort of odyssey that she did when her husband of 40 years died.
She and her husband, Charlie, were retired and enjoying life. They were traveling through Spain and Switzerland when he started getting a cramp in his side. However, before he could go see a doctor, he had to attend an important family event.
“We were at a command performance,” Reed says. “His daughter, who was 52, was getting married for the first time. You know you can’t miss that. You have got to give your daughter away no matter what.”
When they finally got home in late January 2016, they went to the doctor and her husband was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At first they were told it was operable and not a big deal. But things got worse and he died five months later.
Throughout her life, Reed had been a painter who would journal. She said she never called herself a writer, it was just something she did to process her thoughts. However, as her husband grew sicker, she found she couldn’t take care of him, continue to journal and email all her friends and family to keep them updated on what was happening. She decided to make the emails her journaling. She started to get feedback that people were saving and sharing the emails and then other people approached her asking if they could be on the email list.
After her husband died, Reed was told she had to do something with the emails she had been sending out. She began to create a group of essays that then grew into a book that included her paintings and poetry.
The book was originally published in October 2020, at the height of the pandemic and a time when people needed help with grief. Now, with restrictions being lifted, she is starting to do book readings, signings and other events surrounding the book publication.
After she wrote the essays, she started playing with the book, deciding what paintings to add and moving elements around.
“The paintings allow me to go deep into feelings and painting large means you go into detail,” Reed says. “One of my values is how choices color perception and how that transfers from a painting, which is so visual, to words and how they both express almost the same thing.”
One example that she points out is a painting of a pair of boots, boots that were filled with personality and were a tribute to her husband. Charlie loved to wear red wing boots. He’d get a pair and wear them for as long as he could, re-soling them when needed and not giving them up until the tops were completely worn out.
“Red Wings is the name of the painting; for me, it is a little inside joke about Charlie being an angel and he has red wings,” Reed says. “No one can imagine him with feathered wings, but he’s wearing red wings. It’s something that is uniquely him. It’s very representative of his personality and also the fact that he’s not there anymore. Nobody’s wearing these boots (in the painting).”
It took her four years to write the book and then it underwent more changes and an expansion after the first printing. At first, she was afraid of the cost of having color pictures so the original printing of the book was in black and white. However, when it came time for a second printing, she insisted that the paintings were reproduced in color.
Reed says that the things that make her book stand out from the others about grief are that it is intimate and filled with self-expression.
“I am able to discuss aspects of a topic many find difficult in a calm and gentle way,” Reed says. “The reader is drawn into and engages with the details of my personal life as I was figuring out how to move into the next chapter without my husband. I don’t give advice. I share my first-hand experience.”
She says the thrust of the book is how she moved forward and created a new life for herself.
“One of the reasons that the book is so successful is it’s a very intimate look into my life,” Reed says. “This is me sharing my process as an example and I come out the other side with a new life that is exciting, fulfilling and satisfying.”
She says there are plenty of books on grief that talk about statistics or the five stages of grief. She instead wanted to teach by example, to share her journey and let others find whatever they need from it.
“I’m not telling anybody how they should live their life or what to expect, or how to respond,” Reed says. “I’m simply saying, this is how it went for me. The result is that people feel validated, that the kind of feelings they are having are valid.”
She talks about how loss causes an involuntary change in who a person is. For her, she went from being a married woman to a widow. She was no longer the same person. Everyone needs to find something that is the fulcrum, a pivotal moment that moves them from grief to moving forward. For her, it was gratitude for the long marriage that she had.
“Grief, for me, isn’t learning how to live with the loss,” Reed says. “It’s how to take that loss and incorporate it into my life as I go forward. I bring the loss along. It’s not like I’m trying to get over it or through it. Why would we want to get over a person? It’s always a part of you.”
Because she doesn’t have to let go of the loss, she’s able to start a new chapter that looks different and is exciting in its own right.
Reed’s new chapter has her going back and forth between two studios, one in Playa Vista and one in Santa Fe. The reason she is going back and forth is that she now has a new partner, Lee, who she is in a relationship with—a widower who also was in a longtime marriage before the death of his wife. She met him a few years ago.
“That was a real surprise,” Reed says. “I didn’t go looking, but I was being open in life, not trying to plan everything. You make room in your life for surprise. That has been very wonderful and successful. I still have moments where I feel very sad and miss Charlie dearly. I wish I could share something with him or tell him about something. But then it passes because if the shoe were on the other foot and he was the one left then—our expectation of each other was pretty clear. You need to live your life to the fullest and be present. Charlie is with me and Lee’s wife is with him. And it’s all part of the conversation.”
Reed encourages people who want to read her book to buy local. The Book Jewel in Westchester carries her book and she has gone there to give talks. She wants people to take hope and possibility away from her book and to appreciate the fresh approach of presenting three different expressions on resolving grief—paintings, poetry and story.
“My book has been called a love story,” Reed says. “But it is not just a love story between a man and a woman, but a love story of how I learned to love myself again. The real core of this book is how I rediscovered, redefined, reshaped my life and found joy.”