How Pictures Heal: Honoring Memory and Loss Through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

We all take, save and inherit photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning, mystery, hope and connection into our lives. In my upcoming webinar for the TLA Network, “How Pictures Heal,” these treasured personal archives will be the bridge to writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. (Learn more about the class here.)

The first thing I invite participants to do is to choose a photo of yourself to write from. Any photo, from any time in your life. It’s best to trust your instincts, and choose a photo that arrests your attention and seems to be whispering – it has a deeper story to tell.

Here’s what happened for Grace, a recent participant in one of my workshops, when I invited her to step into the three-dimensional world of her photo – in her own words:

When I was asked to find a picture to write about, I went to the one that I felt more sorrow, the picture that I look at, and wished I could go back to and stop time. There were so many questions, I just saw three cute kids, kind of looking like triplets, the way we looked so much alike.

I chose it not knowing how much the writing would come to life, I went back to that five-year-old who was plucked from her tropical safety net in Costa Rica, to come to America, where the cold hit me from my nose to the bottom of my terracotta soles. I am answering the questions that kept me in that time-warp of sadness. Today, opening up my mind and remembering things I thought were lost in a bottomless pit, the phoenix is rising, and the void of my past and memories of light not darkness are helping me stop, smell, and feel the sunshine that disappeared the night the plane landed in Logan Airport.

Grace’s 1965 passport photo, Costa Rica (Grace is on the far left).

Grace initially wrote what I call the “raw material,” from her photo, by answering question prompts I offer. Then, she continued developing the memory and her writing, and eventually composed a short personal memory piece, “Passport to Snow (1965).” Below are some excerpts from her photo-inspired memoir vignette (shared with permission of the author):

Grace – Always know, that if you keep both feet on the ground everything is going to be all right. ~ Tia Flori

In Costa Rica, where I was born, we run without shoes. We run around in the dirt, but we are always clean. Jabon. Soap. Smell of clean. A nice, shiny black soap with a scent I cannot get out of my system. Sweet, the smell of my grandmother.

I love to wiggle under my grandmother’s porch to eat the chalky dirt. I crave the gritty taste. Light brown to a red, like a spoonful of cinnamon. Me and my sister, Iris, are under the porch, eating dirt. The dirt is moist, like moss.

I am always in trouble…

At five, I feel my feet suddenly stepping into the unknown. I am being led by the hand, by my cousin Gloria, and my grandmother, to stand on a blank, white, piece of paper. What am I putting my feet on this paper for? The cobbler is drawing my feet with his pencil. First the paper was blank. Now I see the imprint of both my feet, left and right.

A few weeks pass, and a beautiful pair of ankle high shoes arrive. First, I smell the fresh paper they are wrapped in. Then I inhale the aroma of new leather. The white patent leather shines bright like the Costa Rican sun. The shoes are sturdy and strong: white with laces, with a terra cotta sole.

I have never had shoes as special as these made for me before. My mother and father are in a place called Sudbury in a state called Massachusetts, in the United States. They tell my grandmother, make sure the children get some shoes, because it’s winter here.


Who Should take this class? How Pictures Heal: Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, with Kelly DuMar
 TLA practitioners at all levels of experience
 Anyone interested in personal and artistic development
 Professionals and para-professionals who work with memory challenged seniors
 Family members of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and caretakers of those with memory challenges, will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development
 Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos.

We’ll create a safe and supportive environment, offering respectful support that inspires the development of every writer’s voice. I look forward to working with you!


Kelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who generates enlivening writing experiences for new and experienced writers. Her photo-inspired creative writing method elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, girl in tree barkTree of the Apple, and All These Cures, Kelly is also author of Before You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by dramatic publishers. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist, former psychotherapist, and Fellow in the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. She founded Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly tele-conference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Currently, Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. You can learn more about Kelly at www.kellydumar.com

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