The Art of Healing: How a 15-Year-Old Found Life
Imagine being a 15-year-old boy weighing a meager 75 lbs and addicted to pain medication, with little hope, separated from the warmth of family alone in a hospital bed. That is the story of Grant Berg owner of Grande Prairie’s Grant Berg Gallery. In this article, Grant takes you on a journey showing you the strength of escape and healing through art.
When I was a teenager it was discovered that I had an issue with my left kidney, it didn’t work. Over the next year, I had six major surgeries, my health declined after each surgery. My health declined to the point that I was 15 years old, weighed 75 lbs and was addicted to pain medication.
One of the painkillers I received would paralyze my leg for the day, I couldn’t walk. A nurse told me that if she gave the same painkillers to a perfectly healthy horse it would die in minutes. The same medication I would receive every four hours, it was a very dark time in so many ways.
The first two surgeries were to try to fix the kidney. The third surgery was to remove it, after which they kept me in a drug-induced coma for a number of days. The number of days is hard to recall exactly. While in this “coma” my brain was awake, to everyone around me, yet my body was asleep.
My body was fully sedated and out for the count, but my mind and ears were wide awake. At the time, my bed backed onto the teen room on our hospital floor and in the morning, they would turn on the radio and have it on all day and turn it off at night.
My mind found salvation in that music, riding the notes and melody, the beauty and power of voices like Stevie Nicks, Lou Gramm and Steve Perry. I was trapped in my mind with seemingly no way out until I found the true magic of music. My mind rode those melodies. I still visualize bars of music like the tracks of a rollercoaster in the night, taking me up and bringing me down, and a turn to the left and the right, taking me for a ride and bringing me in safely for a new ride to come along.
The kidney removal did not go well. Something was horribly wrong. So off to surgery four, I said goodbye to my family as we didn’t know if I would survive the day. I woke up on the operating table for a few moments… unable to move, I couldn’t even open my eyelids to alert the surgeon I was awake. I was sure this was death, as I felt myself fading I thought I was dying…I was shocked when I woke up. I was alive! My life had changed at that moment. At 15 years old I knew the value of life as I faced death.
Once I was able to walk, I would wander through the halls and look at the art on the walls, each painting was an escape from my reality. I would stare into each and get lost, taking a mental trip into a world somewhere else, a world created by someone else.
Once I had looked at every painting on my floor for countless hours, I would go to other floors of the hospital to enjoy their art. All told I was in and out of the hospital for over a year. Getting lost in those paintings, I learned to tune into the energy and vibrancy the artist put into the work. The escape for my mind and soul had changed me forever.
As many of you know, I was in broadcasting for 29 years. Started in TV but my soul needed music every day, so I quit TV where I was a producer of Question Period at the Alberta Legislature.
I made the change to radio and made a wonderful career of it. I also wanted to share the beauty and joy of music with as many people as I could. As I can’t sing, nor play an instrument (damn school cutbacks in grade 3) radio was the best platform. I do write lyrics and poetry and any solid melodies get sung into my phone. I was lucky to surround myself in music and share that with people for 29 years.
The dreams and aspirations of teenage Grant were different than the dreams and aspirations of Grant today. With my new aspirations in mind, I decided to walk away from radio and share my love and appreciation of visual art, paintings and sculpture with the world.
I am not university trained in art; I don’t know art speak. I just know what touches me and what I’m in tune with. The artists we have in our galleries have wonderful souls and people feel it when they come in.
Everyone has a different perception of what art is, to each person that perception is honest to them and their experience. What I carry is honest to me and my experience. While I have mad respect for photorealistic paintings and 100% acknowledge the masterful skill blows my mind, I am drawn to more impressionistic art, Group of Seven and the Canadian school.
It’s not about what you see, rather what you feel. Each artist taking something that is or was real and putting it through their experience and their soul and re-presenting it to the world from the honesty of their soul vs their eye and hand.
From the darkest days in my life, came the most beautiful things that I still share to this day.
As a teenager, physically and absolutely devastated in every way, I discovered not only life but the magic and true value of music and art. So much so that I have spent my entire adult life working to bring that to people. Almost 3 decades in broadcasting and four years owning an art gallery, and hopefully many more.
As many people reading this who are in their own form of isolation, know that music and art are there. Wonderful escapes. If you look at your walls and see box store decor, I get why it’s there, but plan on cycling it out for something that gives you an emotional connection, that takes you somewhere and provides an escape each day from troubles and struggles.
Move away from the superficial and connect with what surrounds you. Turn on the music that dissolves the stress and unties the anxiety. We need art, no different than we need good nutrition, we feed our bodies, but we also need to feed to our souls.
I want to thank the Grande Prairie Hospital Foundation for managing the art collection the hospital has. The hospital has a permanent collection and it’s exhibitions featuring local artists. The value of art in hospitals is immeasurable to the healing process, both physically and mentally.
Be well and take care and take this opportunity to discover the beauty that art brings.
Arts have a positive effect on healing, improve clinical outcomes, decrease the length of stay & can even increase pain tolerance
~Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
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