Grief is one of the few truly universal experiences. Regardless of how lucky we may be in other areas of life, all of us lose a loved one eventually, and while everyone handles it in different ways, it helps to know that others have gone through something similar. Perhaps that's why Mari Andrew's illustrations about grief have resonated so thoroughly with her followers on Instagram. With just a few strokes of her pen, her hand-drawn artwork manages to be both highly personal and relatable at the same time, attracting thousands of likes and comments from the bereaved with each post.
Instagram feeds are normally a place to post fashionable selfies and well-lit pictures of last night's dinner, but Andrew's illustrations take a different approach. The New York-based writer and artist often looks to her personal life for inspiration, putting to paper her feelings after heartbreak or the magical things she has seen around the city. She tells Bustle that she took the same approach when illustrating life after her father passed away from a heart attack more than two years ago.
"My inspiration for [illustrations about the grief process] does come from personal experience, but also the experience of talking to friends who have gone through grief as well, and stories from my grief support group," she writes to Bustle over email. The result is a series of drawings about life after loss, peppered throughout her Instagram account.
In one Instagram post, she explained that as time goes on, she has found that grief becomes a manageable part of life. "It's different for everyone, but my personal experience is that grief doesn't ever go away, but it does change shape and it becomes something you can hold rather than something that overwhelms you — a part of you, rather than a burden," she wrote. "Whatever you're carrying today, my heart is very much with you."
Then again, looking at the illustration above, you must have figured that out already. That's the beauty of Andrew's drawings — they visualize what so many grieving people feel every day. Songs that were innocuous in the past become painful to hear; average small talk becomes a conversational minefield.
Andrews is quick to note that these illustrations don't apply to everyone, and it's true that there is no "right" way to deal with death. In 2016, Dan Reidenberg, chair of the American Psychotherapy Association, told the Huffington Post that one person's coping mechanisms may be wildly different from your own. "Some people grieve very hard, very quickly and then move on,” he told the news site. “Some people grieve privately. Some people grieve intermittently. Some people want to sleep a lot, some people want to talk."
That being said, there is solace in knowing that other people have lost a loved one as well, and Andrew says she kept that in mind when creating her illustrations.
"When I was grieving, stories and art were my life rafts. I was so grateful to storytellers and musicians and filmmakers and any artist who shared their personal journeys through such a confusing and strange time," she tells Bustle. "Feeling less alone during a profoundly isolating time is such a gift; it is a privilege and responsibility for me to share this part of my life, as I do all the less sad parts of my life!"
Given the number of people commenting on each drawing to thank her for visualizing their distress, Andrew has made thousands feel a little less alone. To see more of her work, including drawings about relationships and modern life in the city, check out her Instagram page and website.