Being Creative Amidst Grief
April 10, 2022
Photo of "Remy" the Havanese dog next to a spring green sinamay straw boater.

In February, I started making the most delightfully springy, cheeriest straw hat, which my imagination had been nudging me for a while to bring into the world. I laughed as I sewed delicate floral sequins … while huge amounts of snow piled up outside my window! (I shared the juxtaposition in a quick little TikTok video.)

Just a couple weeks later, that idea of happiness and rebirth contrasting with bleak coldness took on a new, more ominous connotation. My beloved dog, Remy, was diagnosed with cancer and wouldn’t live to see the spring or summer.

Remy havanese

Remy the Havanese

A brief history: In 2011 — before I discovered millinery — I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety (and working in a very toxic workplace). I decided I needed a puppy. I took some sort of breed-matching quiz, and Havanese was the clear winner. Small, easy to train, low shedding/allergens and bred to be companion animals!

Remy (named after the rat in Ratatouille) brought joy to my life and gave me a positive activity to focus on. He helped me recover from the dark place I was in. He was silly and sweet and adorable and an epic snuggler.

And well behaved.

Remy the Havanese dog sits on the floor near some hat blocks.
Remy in my studio, back when I was starting in millinery, and had far fewer hat blocks.

I could leave ribbons and papers and hat blocks strewn about on the floor, and he never touched them. (Our chocolate lab, who overlapped Remy for 17 months, would have undoubtedly have found them irresistible chewing temptations.)

The extent of “havoc” in my studio from Remy was:

  • The time I left a large piece of fabric crumpled on the floor, and Remy snuggled up on it as a bed.
  • One time when I found Remy making odd smacking noises and discovered a small pheasant feather that he was either chewing on or trying to unstick from his tongue.
  • After his cancer diagnosis, when I was too distraught to care about cleaning and organizing, I had packed up a hat to ship and left the bolt of tissue paper on the floor. Remy decided it would be a perfect pillow!
Remy the Havanese dog, uses a bolt of tissue paper as pillow.

I don’t have the words to convey how much I adored this dog. He was 11, and the breed should live a few years longer on average. On March 16, I got the sense that the end was much sooner than we realized, even though the vet hadn’t said that yet. When I asked how long, she said, “A week. A month if you’re lucky.”

Creativity and the difference between Grief and Depression

Everything seemed to stop in my life. I didn’t clean my house. I didn’t cook. If I could manage to have an appetite, I ate takeout. I gave myself the grace to do only the things I wanted to do and not worry about other things (except gathering tax documents for the accountant!).

As a result, my studio currently looks like a bomb went off.

It turns out that organizing and putting blocks back on their shelves or putting unused trims away after testing them out felt like way too much effort for me emotionally.

In some ways, this is a lot like depression, which (as mentioned above) I have first-hand experience of. When I was depressed, I wasn’t suicidal. But Remy saved me from being catatonic, which is that I literally had no urge or motivation to do anything. I wanted to do nothing. Nothing.

But amidst the pain of knowing that my doggie soulmate was about to die, I still … somehow … wanted to create.

Detail of embroidery, beads and sequins on a spring green sinamay straw hat.

And that is the huge difference between grief and depression. Depression tells you nothing matters, even good stuff isn’t good. Grief tells you everything matters. A lot.

Seeing my dog lose his perkiness and his love of meals was heartbreaking. AND…

AND it made it vital to me to create. To express myself. To bring something happy and pretty into the world. To practice my art form, not to fulfill a customer order and not to predict what would sell, just for my own comfort.

I live in Vermont, where it’s still (today in April) cold and gray. The green grass and flowers don’t come back until well into May. This hat was a way for me to work through my grief — an expression of beauty continuing to exist and green days to come. I call it “The Hope of Spring.”

Spring green straw boater with sequins and embroidery.

I also made a leopard-print take on a Homburg hat. Again, I designed it to please my own aesthetic, no one else’s. I used one of my favorite ribbon cockade techniques, the nautilus cockade, and extended it into a pleated band waving its way all around the crown, and echoing the angled cutaway in the crown.

Blocking with felt is also a great way to physically work through some negative emotions! Steaming and pulling on felts over blocks just feels good. (You can see this hat being blocked in this short TikTok video.)

pleated ribbon leopard

Creativity and Grief

Remy died on April 1, 2022.

Grief has me feeling like I want to crawl under covers and alternately sleep and cry forever.

Creativity has me feeling like, “There are so many beautiful things yet to be made! Go. Do things. Make happy, pretty hats to be an antidote to sad things in the world.” As I’ve mentioned before, my perspective on hats is that they exist simply to be beautiful and fun. It’s not a world-saving objective — but it is important.

I’ve had three great non-human loves in my life: theatre, millinery and Remy. Millinery made it possible for me to let go of my dream of being a professional actor. (More on that later.) And millinery will make it possible for me to move forward without my beloved doggie.

Remy Silverman (Jan. 20, 2011-April 1, 2022)

Remy the dog peeps from behind a stack of hatboxes.
Dog nose as Remy peers down at the camera.

Hats to sell or keep?

As for the two hats, I haven’t decided what to do with them. I might keep them for myself as mementoes and because they are beautiful. But if I find that having them around would be a painful reminder of the end of Remy’s life, then I might sell them. If you are interested in either of them, please feel free to email me: info@silverhillcreative.com.

2 Comments

  1. Betty Stewart

    Kristin, your post & Adam’s post touched my broken heart. Last spring within a few months time, I lost the love of my life. A few months later I lost my sweet dog Piki (to a fast developing cancer). I wrote a loving obit for John and planned his celebration of life. I haven’t been able to put my loss of Piki into words. I’ll have to work on that. I’d be interested in your fedora hat if you decide to sell it. Love you two. Hang in there.

    Reply
    • Kristin

      Thank you, Betty.
      I can’t imagine having two losses like that in such a short time. My heart is with you.

      Reply

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