Published in the August/September 2021 Issue of Memento Mori 

By Susan Cushing 

Grief is a transformative experience, forged in loss, love, and overwhelming pain. Encompassing a full spectrum of emotions from consuming sadness to anger to peaceful acceptance, it is one of life’s episodes that we all will inevitably face. No two people experience grief in the same way or in the same time—the only common thread being the undeniable impact on virtually every aspect of life. 

No one understands or empathizes better than artist Morgan Tanner, who has created an entire cottage industry out of helping to heal the grieving heart. Morgan is a talented and inspired artist, who—through her own experience of loss—has created a unique and powerful option for those experiencing grief.  

“Telling the World’s Stories,” Morgan’s dramatic and emotionally charged paintings depict abstract representations of emotions—such as anger and denial—but not of her own; rather those of the people around the world who have turned to her to put a visual and tangible face to their deepest phases of grief. 

It took the tragedy of losing her mother for Morgan to find her true calling as an artist.  

“I’ve always painted,” Morgan says, “but it wasn’t focused. I painted what I thought was pretty, I never had a mission or a story behind what I created. Then, seeing life through the lens of losing my mom, that’s really when I started to create art that had a meaning to me.” 

Portraits of Grief 

Morgan, an only child, lost her mother at the tender age of 20. The sudden and violent loss was particularly devastating. When her mother’s car swerved off the road at 65 mph, it brought an end to what, until then, had been a seemingly idyllic life. Morgan’s father lost the love of his life and wife of 25 years, while she lost her mother and best friend. But the worse thing for the young woman was the haunting image of her mother hooked up to a ventilator.  

“It was a horrible time and one of great adjustments,” says Morgan. “I turned to painting originally just as a way of working through my emotions through each stage of grief. Through that exercise, I realized that I was able to get some clarity around my feelings, but I still felt like there was a disconnect. Seeing photos of my mom really made me sad, just made me remember that she was gone.”  

Morgan went through a period of reflection. “I didn’t feel like I had anything that reminded me of her in a positive way, everything just seemed to stir deep feelings of sadness and loss.” To get beyond those feelings, Morgan forced herself to become more purposeful with her painting. “I asked myself, ‘what are the things mom loved; what did we love to do together?’ This led me to focus on all her little quirks and things that would make us smile. These were happy memories that I never want to forget.” 

Focusing on the happy memories led Morgan to discover Healing Gifts. “That’s what I make the paintings for—something that symbolizes all the things that you never want to forget about the loved one that you’ve lost, to encourage healing and creating a life that you love after experiencing.” 

Compassionate Palette 

Having made the discovery of how much this focused art helped her through some of the darkest days of mourning, Morgan considered how she might share this unexpected experience. Still dealing with those confusing and complicated emotions, the young artist was not even thinking about sharing this with the world. At least not yet. 

“I’ll admit, the first time that I reached out to someone and offered a painting, it was more of a ‘I love you and I know this is so hard because I’ve gone through the same thing.’ I simply explained how my painting had helped me and asked if they would be willing to see if it could do the same for them.” 

Once Morgan decided to approach others, she received mixed responses. “The first person I asked responded very enthusiastically, but the second one thought that it sounded a little too strange,” she explains with an understanding smile. “It’s not for everyone, and I realize that.” 

That first painting she created for someone else was for a college friend who had lost her brother. The  

response was overwhelmingly positive: 

“Morgan Tanner Art is special because unlike most art, this is truly made in remembrance by someone that knows the grief, has walked in the same shoes, and knows words can’t contain the depth of hurt and missing you’re feeling. By hand, Morgan pours her heart into a painting, which she shares in just a bit of that journey and it’s beautiful, precious, and everything else that is good.” 

After such a positive experience, Morgan says that’s when things “clicked” for her. “Her reactions to the painting and hearing her say what a difference it made in her life, I think that’s when I began to realize this might be something a lot of people would like.”  

A Year of Introspection 

The various events and subsequent effects of 2020 proved to be the impetus Morgan needed to finally share her compassionate gift with the world. 

“Going through a lot of self-reflection last year convinced me that I didn’t need to sit on this idea anymore,” she says, “I think we all were almost forced to take a look at what our priorities are. That’s when I realized that I could use my artistic skills and talent along with my personal experience with grief to help people who really need it.” 

During her time of self-reflection, Morgan says she feels she was also indirectly inspired by her mother. 

“I remembered one conversation,” she says, “and the only time my mom said this, ‘Morgan you’re going to do something great.’ At the time, I don’t think I took it very seriously, more like the kind of encouragement any mother might give. I was working on my engineering degree and really couldn’t imagine how that was going to lead to ‘something great’.” But her mom’s words finally have meaning in Morgan’s life. “That one comment, that single time, has stuck in my mind and it’s made me realize this is what I can do to help others; maybe it is my something great.” 

Putting the Heart Back Together 

It seems Morgan has discovered an equally important gift—that of communicating and compassionately translating others’ experiences, memories, and even pain onto a canvas for a one-of-a-kind piece of art. 

The process is both time-consuming and one that frequently evokes Morgan’s own deep grief. But she’s found a way to help others traverse the often lonely and dark passages of losing a loved one and bringing them to the other side, not only with a treasured piece of art but a bit of healing along the way.  

“I actually step through with each person, almost like a coaching, for a few weeks,” Morgan says. “We’ll talk through some of the negative thoughts through the experience of losing someone that they are hanging on to. Based on my own experience, I know this is something many people go through, but it prevents the healing from beginning.” 

It’s a true emotional breakthrough, Morgan explains. “Throughout that process, it’s so beautiful to see someone be able to transform from the negative into the positive in their memories,” she continues. “It helped me so much, but it took a long time to figure it out.” 

Morgan and her clients work through specific exercises, such as writing letters to people or things that have hurt them in the past and to their future selves about the life they’d like to live, which allows them to imagine a life after their pain. “Throughout that period of a few weeks,” she explains, “I’ll have gathered a lot of information about what negative feelings or experiences this person is having trouble overcoming as well as what positive things they are certain they want to keep and all the good memories.” 

The end results speak for themselves. Highly personal and emotional, Morgan’s creations at focus on creating life after loss. They are not only beautiful and inspiring, they represent a journey through the darkest recesses of grief to the glorious place of peaceful remembrance while honoring those who were lost.  

Susan Cushing is a freelance writer for Memento Mori.