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Posts tagged ‘life’

Week 33 // Point of Return

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I wanted to talk a bit in this post about the idea of claiming yourself again on the journey of grief. It seems, as I am discovering, that there comes a time when you begin to truly be done with the heaviness of grief at its worst. After years of feeling and crying and aching and longing… years of shutting yourself out from the world and from life, years of clawing your way through the mud and fighting for your very life… I think there comes a time when a shift begins to happen. And you begin to return to yourself and to life.

As I was talking to my grief coach this week, I shared something that I’ve struggled with the past three or four months in relation to this project. I explained to him that for several months now – without entirely realizing it – I was moving into a new landscape in my life but was holding back from showing it in the images. Some part of me felt uneasy to show that shift. For me, creating images out of a place of pain is far easier than from a place of strength.

I suppose it has something to do with why so many of us struggle to show our boldest and most bright selves. We are all fighting a fear of shining too bright and of what people will think of us if we do. Beginning to capture the parts of this journey I could never plan – like returning to life – has been a deep struggle for me.

There have been some extremely long months of being in serious battle over each image and the entire project. It wasn’t an internal battle as well – with not wanting to embrace this part of the journey yet. Not wanting to boldly admit that I am feeling healed enough to move toward life again. But as each of the images unfold in the past few weeks – I’m discovering such a deep alignment with exactly where my soul is right now… and I’m seeing how incredibly healing and beautiful it is to fully own wherever I am.

This week’s image ties back to several other shots in the series in a very prominent way. Visually it ties very closely to Week 15: Surrender. That image was representative of letting ourselves sit within our pain and perhaps give that pain to some higher force.This week speaks of surrender too, but in a little different way. Not surrender into the pain, but instead, surrender into the life that is left.

The other image that it ties to in a very major way is Week 19: Between Two Worlds. That image spoke of feeling torn between two worlds – the life I have now and the life I had with him, as well as this earthly life and the beyond. It was about being caught in the middle of the tension of all of those worlds.

This week, there is something very different going on with those boundaries within me. There is a feeling of lightness stirring in me that hasn’t been there before. A feeling that I am moving more fully into life again, stepping above the darkness and returning to myself.

I cannot express how impossible it all seemed two and a half years ago that I would be coming to a point like this. And more importantly, for it to feel okay. I feel assured that he will be as much with me in the skies of a new life ahead as he was in the landscape of our life together. Simply put, it is feeling strangely okay to live life again. To fill my world with everything there is left in life and not worry that it will mean he is less a part of it all. I’ve feared that for so long… but gently, slowly, over time, I’ve come to see it isn’t the case at all. He goes wherever I go. He will always be my wings, bringing me back to myself.

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“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. To see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 32 // Standing on Faith

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The past few weeks have been, for me, some of the most pivotal in the series. Some very drastic changes have occurred. It runs incredibly deep because I don’t plan any of this out… they are merely visual representations of what is happening and where I’m at.

The most crucial event has been losing the dress that I planned to use in the entire series. It has forced me out of a comfort zone I had landed in. And with the loss triggering the feelings of losing him so suddenly – it shook me awake in a way I needed. I was becoming complacent, going for the safe shots, even ignoring some of the best shots because of the time and effort they would require. It was the kick in the gut I needed… the moment that would ask of me, “And now, what are you going to do? Give up? Or push harder, and dream bigger, and find a new way?” It is precisely the question I felt asked of me when he died.

I decided to find a new way.

With the exception of my trip to Hawaii, the entire series has been photographed on the ranch my fiancé’s parents own… the place he grew up. Where my feet have walked, also have his over many years before me. There are often moments when I’ve hiked about just wondering if his feet ever stood in the exact place mine were in at that moment. Other moments still where my feet stand where we both once stood. There has always been something deeply spiritual about it – something that connected me to him in a very real way.

But, as with all journeys, there comes change. There comes a time to move forward. A time not to forget – but to remember from a different vantage point… one in which you can begin to know the new unknowns as you continue to explore the old ones. And I can say with whole-heartedness that – after 7 long months of recording (and living through) some of the most painful parts of the journey of loss – I am ready for a new landscape… for the series, and for my soul.

I am ready for the unknown in a way I haven’t been before. It feels strange to say this when I have no clue how I got here. There will still be healing to be done. My grief will go with me. But it is time to explore someplace new now, too. I feel it in my bones. The beach has proved to be just that. The beach where I grew up, to be exact. We built many beautiful memories in both of these locations – his childhood landscape and mine. It feels like reconnecting to that other half of the world we shared to be shooting at the beach now. It also feels like reconnecting with my own past which came well before him. Both of my parents are buried here in my hometown. And many of my memories. And I wonder how on earth it has taken me so long.

As a result of moving into a new landscape, I am finding myself rejuvenated with creative energy too. New creative challenges… like the expansive white skies – which required me to change from wearing white to black (initially a technical decision, which has yet again become symbolic). And I’m feeling very strongly drawn to more silhouetted versions of my figure – dark against the light, instead of lightness amidst the dark. It displays a shift from innocence, to strength – which is precisely the experience beginning to move through me internally.

I want to close this post with a memory. Five years ago, on the very beach where this week’s photo was taken… a pair of feet stood next to mine. It was a hot, humid summer night in May. He and I were best friends then – just on the edge of a friendship becoming more. We went out to the beach that night to star gaze, and as we walked the beach, we looked out into the blackness of the ocean. It was so ominous… a deep, inky black. We imagined and laughed how there could have literally been a giant squid or a sea monster ten feet in front of us – that water was so black in the night that you’d have never seen the beast.

And then we just stood there for a long time, our feet planted firmly – facing right out into this ominous unknown landscape. Quietly strong together.

In that moment, I remembered thinking that this was the sort of partnership I wanted to have. Someone who would stand beside me, feet planted, ready to take on whatever was out there in the unknowns of the future. I remember knowing in my bones for the first time what a true partner was, and that I had found him.

I always wished back then that I knew as much about photography as I do now. That I could go back to the ghosts of us both on that beach and photograph that moment in time. But it is there in my heart, and always will be. And it has led me to this week’s image… which is part of that story. Another version of it. Not realizing until after I shot this – It feels as if the reflection of my own feet planted in the sand are meant to be him reflecting back at me. And that really, he is never very far away. It is my faith in this and in myself which roots me most strongly for the unknown ahead. No one we love who dies is ever far away I believe…. They are right beneath us and within us, helping to anchor us and guide each step forward we take.

Week 31 // The Barrier

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While I was out shooting on the beach for last week’s image – wandering the grassy, windswept dunes – I came across a peculiar sight. Every plant on the beach was bright green and vibrant with life that day. Rich olive green sea grasses and succulent fat-leaved emerald vines with ripe yellow flowers. There must have been an unseasonable amount of rain recently because everything was really blushing. You could feel it – like all of nature had just taken in a deep breath.

But then, right in the middle of it all, I noticed this one particular type of plant. They were large – towering over me by at least a few feet. And every single one of them, as far as my eyes could see, over each rolling dune down the beach, was dead. All of them. There was such an eerie metaphoric nature to it… these clusters of death pitted right down in the midst of so much life. It seemed almost deliberate. Certainly hard to miss when you are closely observing a landscape as I often am.

With mosquitos biting boldly at my ankles and arms, (I will remember to add insect repellant to my camera bag from now on!) I grabbed my gear and climbed into a thicket of these otherworldly dead plants to explore. The leaves were a silvery blue-green hue – like faded sage. I had no plan. No idea what I even wanted to capture. I just began shooting, trying different ways of interacting with this mesmerizing space.

It is images like this one that make me realize how important it is sometimes to let go of our plan and follow wherever our feelings and intuition guide us. To not be so alarmed if we do not have a plan, and to trust that one will unfold for us.

Out of all the variations I shot for this image, this is the one that spoke to me instantly. It is because of the personal meaning which began to come out of it for me as I sat with it in the days after shooting. Mostly, it is in the eyes. There is a very specific kind of darkness there – a hollow vacancy which takes me right back to the year of my fiance’s death.

It was June when he died. 2012. I recall by the time autumn arrived, there was so little energy left in me. After endless minutes and hours and days and weeks and months of fighting and cryin – of screaming desperate animal sounds into the air – there came a time when there was nothing left in me but to just sit and stare blankly. And so I did, many days, just sit outside on the back porch at the ranch and stare off into space. Broken. Hollow-eyed. Feeling the cavernous wind against my skin – which only to endlessly whisper of how far away spring was. Or that spring, for “us”, was never coming back again.

I don’t know if others saw this expression externally in those early days or not, but I do know that this is what it felt like on the inside. Every moment of every day for a long time. Vacant. Lost. Staring into nothing. Searching. Without words.

And then death – the quiet, dangerous barrier that divided me from everything. From him. From my future. From my past. From myself. From everyone else. On the other side of his death, I couldn’t see any other part of me or life that once existed. I could not see the woman who loved to rock climb and kayak, or the woman who dreamed of being an artist someday. Or the woman who loved animals and old western movies. I couldn’t see anything but the woman who just lost everything.

When people looked at me from the other side of that barrier – it felt like all they could see about me was death too. As if I was nothing more than the remains of his death and a reminder to them of things they didn’t want to know intimately. With the exception of a few individuals, it felt like no one could see me.

Two and a half years later, the spring is beginning to come for me. Life is starting to be vibrant again. I am able to see the other parts of myself again, as are others, it feels. I am starting to actually love life again – which astounds me to even say. There is still a part of me standing in the thicket of his death though. I think there will always be. And I think there should always be a part of me that stands there. To me, it is the place that always serves to remind me of how glorious the rest of the landscape is that surrounds me in this “after” life.

What I know About Fear – Part 2

Firstly, I have to thank you all for the wonderful responses to my last post – Part 1 on Fear! I have been blown away by the positive response… particularly because this was a vulnerable post to share. I found myself immediately wanting to take it down, totally unsure of what the response would be! Yup, I was… what’s that word? Afraid! ;) All of your comments have really proven to me that is was worth putting out there though. So thank you!

In the first part of this series on fear, I told you a bit of my personal history with fear and how it has evolved through the years and through experiences that life has brought me. In this post, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned about fear just specifically in the past 4 months since losing Andrew.

Having had to face one overwhelming fear after another in the past months has given me a perspective I did not have before all this happened. The funeral arrangements, the viewing, the funeral, designing the headstone, going back to Dallas to clean out his apartment, trying to go back to work, deciding not to go back to work, packing up my cats and a carload of stuff and saying goodbye to the city we called home, packing my apartment (that part is still in progress, I decided to make a slow move to it wouldn’t be quite to overwhelming, still is), birthdays and holidays without him… every single huge, unthinkable, insurmountable task screamed “this shouldn’t be happening. This is wrong.” And each of those things feels like a ladder that reaches up into space that must be climbed. Hell, even a normal day sometimes feels like that still. But I did discover something of value in each and every one of those steps…

I discovered first-hand that human spirit is a remarkable thing. We can withstand absolutely incredible amounts of trauma and pain… far more than we ever truly know until it happens to us. I am dumb-founded still as to how I manage to get out of bed everyday and find some level of joy somewhere in that day. Some days are better than others, of course. As each painful task or event comes, I think that surely I will drown in the pain of it – or get halfway up that ladder into space and slip and fall. Aside from the overall living with this loss, speaking at his funeral was the hardest thing I will probably ever do in my entire lifetime on this earth. It was at his family’s church, the church where I sat by his side for Christmas service the last 3 years. The service was horrible and beautiful all at the same time. I remember afterwards so many people coming up to me and saying how much grace and poise I had and just how beautiful my words were and how it helped them… and I remember how odd it felt to be complimented for such a thing. I felt proud, that I made him proud, but what a horrible thing to even have to feel proud over. I knew, no one could even imagine how I ever got up there to speak. I couldn’t either, to be honest. All I knew was that in my mind, it wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t about being brave or having guts, it was about doing the right thing. If anyone on this earth was going to speak about the man I love and what our life together meant, it was going to be me. He deserved that – and it didn’t matter how scared I was. He would have done the same for me, this I know, and so fear didn’t matter. And that was just it – something in my life became more important than fear in that moment.

I found out what happens when a thing becomes bigger than your fear. This is a big deal in moving forward with anything in our lives… something has to mean enough to you, so much, that the fear doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, it has me looking back at many times in my life when this very idea lead to positive changes that had been waiting in the shadow of fear. It has me thinking back to when Drew and I first started dating… I’d been in a bad relationship before and was terrified to date again. But he was my best friend, and eventually over time, the idea of building more with him became bigger than my fear of a bad relationship, and I let go. That was definitely the best decision I ever made, as it led to a more beautiful relationship than either of us had ever imagined. And today, choosing a new direction in my life, a new career path, the desire for change finally became bigger than the fear. The fear is still there, and I still feel it, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Because now I want something enough that fear is not going to stop me. There will be hard days still, many hard days to come, but I will still stay committed.

I have learned to feel afraid and do it anyway. We learn through loss that today is all we have. We might as well fill it with the experiences and people that we love most. Fill it with our most authentic selves – whether that is joy or sadness or anger or love. Say yes only to the things that feel right with our souls or bring us joy today. Do things that truly matter to us and help others. And do things we are afraid to do, things we’ve never done before, with the perspective that we’d rather fail on a new adventure than succeed on a path we’ve already walked before. And also be honest with ourselves – truly, bluntly honest, about the things that fit into that life. Deep down, we really always do know what works and what doesn’t.. it just gets buried.

I want to feel life, not just live it out. And fear is just a feeling, one of many. It’s not a pit of lava or a thousand bullets or a raging bull charging at me… it is just a feeling. It is a natural feeling to anything new… and it will come. I think I’d rather it come over something important and meaningful than over something mediocre that my heart is not on fire for.

I have learned to sit with my fears. Our fears have the best of intentions. They believe they are protecting us from scary or dangerous things in this world. And sometimes they actually are. But other times, they overreact and hinder us. I’ve learned that it’s important to acknowledge fears, and to take the time to sit with them and see what they are really trying to say to me. Having lost both of my parents and now the person I was going to build a future with, I’m very afraid of losing people – and I probably always will be to some extent, but I know this, and so when it comes I try to listen to make sure I have the support from myself and others that I need. My fears about financial security are a big one too, especially now that I’m working to follow my dreams of being a self employed artist. I’ve had a stable job since I was 17, so of course I’m going to feel fear about trying to change that. That fear must be listened to also, and reminded that I have always landed on my feet in the past, and even though we’re trying things in a totally new and scary way, I will not let anything bad happen. I am in charge, and I can be trusted (or trust myself) to make the right choices. And with that, the fears can relax. They can be like small children that way, fears… sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that it’s all going to be okay.

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So now, I have a part time job at an art gallery that barely pays for my gas money. But I love my boss and coworkers – and I get to be surrounded by great art, learn about talented local artists, and meet new people each day. I can feel Drew’s spirit beaming to know that I am here. I’m staying with his folks for now, quite possibly the first time in my life I have ever truly let my guard down and just allowed people to help me, really help me, to get somewhere new in my life… and am grateful each day for their support. And the rest of the time I am feeling life… the joy, the horrible pain of grief, the anger, the love, the beauty. I’m writing and painting and reading and sharing… I’m crying and trying and exploring and falling down and getting back up and figuring out this new path I am on. It’s kind of messy, I will say, but there it is.

As I look back, I think about where I was a few months ago… completely petrified with making the decision to quit my corporate job, leave Dallas and commit to this big idea. Barely even eating I was so freaked out. It was the scariest and saddest and most immense decision I’ve ever made – but it’s also been the most healing thing I probably could have done for myself right now. Every day I am glad I didn’t allow my fears to get in the way of making this change… even if I have no idea where I’m going yet.

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I’m curious to know… is there something big in your life you have always feared? Are you still fearing it now, and is it holding you back? Or have you found something bigger than your fear that helped you to move through it? I would love to hear about other people’s experiences with fear, particularly relating to your dreams and making them happen!

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