Tracey Newnham is an artist, illustrator, author, art teacher and designer. When caring for her two young boys and partner throughout his cancer journey, she recognised the need for a resource to assist families experiencing such an overwhelming time. In the Rainbow encourages adults and children to speak up, reach out, love and support each other. This sincere story educates us all about the real emotions shared during illness and grief.
My partner Wes is our hero. In 2014, he fought a lengthy and courageous battle with the neurological disease, brain cancer. Sadly and unfairly, Wes passed away at the young age of 37 years.
Wes was the brave father of two little boys (aged 2 and 3 years) and my best friend. The reality of his passing was incredibly confronting and I was left feeling overwhelmed by my own grief and the responsibility of now being a sole parent with grieving children. Our home was no longer complete. My soul mate, their Daddy was now gone forever.
I introduced the activity of drawing rainbows with my eldest son after his grandfather passed away. Drawing rainbows was a place that he would be able to see the people he loved the most, happy. When we had been told Wes was going to die, I asked him to come to us, to show us and to guide us when we needed it. I asked him to come to us in the rainbows.
After Wes had passed, I would tell the boys that their daddy can be found in the rainbow. The boys made a plan to rescue him in superhero style. Ironically, rainbows began to appear everywhere in the house; broadly splashing and vibrating across the front entrance wall every afternoon. I had never noticed them before. We would put our hands in the rainbow and talk to daddy and tell him about our day. I would always end with a funny story so we reinforced the good times.
To help cope with overwhelming emotions, I began a creative strategy with my eldest son. When he would feel sad, we would sit, cuddle and draw rainbows. Drawing was also my coping strategy. I began to draw as therapy for my own grieving. Drawing became a meditation for me at the end of each day, when the house became quiet and I missed Wes.
With the help of a councillor, we decided to introduce drawing and colours to help my youngest son to refer to his emotions. It worked and gave him the ability to perceive his emotions in appropriate colours and make decisions about how he was feeling. Again, the rainbow and its colours became a metaphor for connection, value, and love. With this success, writing, and illustrations purged out of me.
My eldest son is now six and we have read our story many times to positively redirect his feelings. I sit and read In the Rainbow and show him the blue and red pages to recognise that these are the feelings he is experiencing and that it is okay to feel this way. I was very nervous the first time we read the book together. I feared it would make him sadder. To my initial surprise, his change in feelings from sad to happy transitioned swiftly after reading the story. I was excited. It worked. It really worked!
I have written In the Rainbow for anyone who requires a tool to help during the experience of illness and grief. This includes families in crisis, childcare centres, hospitals, palliative care centres, counselling services, psychologists, libraries, grief support centres, funeral homes, cancer centres, schools, extended families and friends, that just don’t know what to comfortably say or do, or how to cope with a child’s change in behaviour caused by the trauma of death from brain cancer or any other fatal disease.
In the Rainbow is to be read initially with a parent, adult, councillor or teacher giving support to a child by unpacking the information and then allowing them to interpret the meanings over time. Children may revisit the book over time as a reference to being entitled to have feelings of grief and also as a reference to the entitlement of joy without guilt or melancholy. Therefore, reinforcing a resilient mind path, at times when the child is triggered, on events such as Father’s or Mother’s day, birthdays and Christmas. The child can then: build resilience, good mind habits, empathy towards themselves and others and feel empowered to be safe and secure to talk about their feelings.
I hope that children and adults reading this book are encouraged to feel, heal, surrender, release and begin to grow and build a new life full of hope and wonder, whilst understanding and owning their grief.
I would like to personally extend my heartfelt thanks to the people whom I have met and worked with throughout this creative journey. Their support, belief, and encouragement are greatly appreciated. Thank-you all for sharing your time and wisdom.