Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘widow’

Week 32 // Standing on Faith

Portrait_Week32b

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 30 // Warrior Woman

Portrait_Week30

(The music I would play with this image)

I have wanted this shot for a long time. Despite having the visual of this in my head for most of this year… I’ve learned I cannot entirely plan when they will be created. They come when they are ready. I am so thrilled this one was finally ready.

I’d been wanting to take a trip down to the coast for some time now for the series and finally could not ignore the calling any longer. So last week, I packed up all my gear and drove down to my hometown just a few hours south of here. Padre Island National Seashore is just a 20 minute drive from where I grew up and is somewhere I spent a great deal of my time as a child. The wilds of that beach ground me in ways no place else on earth does. I only had one morning to shoot, and what luck that a beautiful overcast sky rolled in just in time that morning. I shoot almost entirely under overcast skies or at dusk and dawn when the light is softest.

The weather made for a bit of an added challenge. About every ten minutes or so for the entire morning, an intermittent drizzle would start up. That’s not a terribly big issue normally – I have a poncho for my camera – but when you have to angle the camera upwards facing the grassy slope of a sand dune… well, the whole front of the lens is defenseless! At least I got in a good workout having to run up and down the slope every time it began to drizzle. Arg.

It was worth it for this shot though. It is so much more than what I first envisioned all those months ago. It represents a very new place and energy within this journey for me…

Portrait_Week30_2

image detail

Tears come to me while trying to write about this image. She is the warrior in me. The part of me that has stared into the face of unfathomable pain and death and has not backed down. She wields the darkness around her – commands it, uses it, does not let it overtake her. She is the part of my that faces the unknown with bold determination.

Even on the very week of his death, when I was broken beyond anything I have ever felt or imagined… when I could not even feed myself… there was an ever-so small part of me standing up on this hill. I even recall telling a friend in those early days that “life can take everything it wants from me, but it will not ever stop me”. That part of me – so inexplicably determined – was declaring my right not only to survive, but to thrive. And ever so slowly… crawling through mud, climbing from pits, struggling beneath grief, she has grown strong. She has been waiting for this image for a long time.

I know this was the time for it to come because of a few major events of the week which fueled me with some serious strong energy. Something I haven’t shared within these blog posts is the other weekly obsession of my life: Crossfit. This intense sport focused on a combination of high intensity cardio, strength training and olympic style lifting has had me hooked from day one – which coincidentally enough, was just a week after I began this photo series.

So these two long-term committments have been with me week in, week out, all year… pushing me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And the weekend prior to this shoot, I competed in my first competition.

I never dreamed I’d be competing in a thing like this – or in anything athletic. I quit believing I was an athlete around the age of twelve. This year has changed that. And this past week at the competition, I got back in touch with that little athlete I was so many years ago. I found her, and discovered – to my complete joy – that I am still every bit the fierce competitor I was all those years ago. I just didn’t give her a chance to shine until now. When I walked out of that competition, I felt strong. Stronger than I have felt maybe ever in my life. And prouder than I’ve ever imagined to be of myself. I can say with certainty that the physical and mental journey of growth in Crossfit has fed into my work immensely… probably most notably in this week’s image.

I also gained a bit of a viral surge this past week via a few wonderful blog posts – which were shared by others blogs, on Facebook and Twitter. Then a few more blogs contacted me to share it, and just today I had another request! Comments have been flowing in from so many (thank you ALL!). The exposure has brought me to tears and broken my heart wide open in the most amazing way. I have poured so many endless solitary hours into it’s making, doubting if it will ever make much of an impact out there to anyone. Lonely hours. Frustrating hours. Deeply emotional hours. Tired hours (speaking of, it’s already 1am as I write this!). I have wanted nothing more than for it to have a great value to others going through the darkness of grief. To inspire them in some way. Give them hope, or at least an image to relate to.

Suddenly, with this surge of exposure, it feels like the tides rushing into me – each comment and share washing away me from all the solitary time spent. Allowing me a glimpse of where I dream it might go one day. It gives a bigger meaning to his death and my “after” life. The more people it reaches, the more deeply connected I feel to him – as if we are co-creating this thing together. I rather think we are. Still a team somehow, just in a very different way than ever before.

Thank you.
And remember how strong you are.

_

“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 29 // Knowing Unknown

 

Portrait_Week29_KnowingUnknown

It has been a week since I last wrote, in quite a state of turmoil about losing the dress I have shot this series in each week for the past 8 months. It rained that day… all day. Unusual for Texas. And it was chilly out… so the skies had that solemness that only winter can bring. It all seemed to match my mood entirely to well. I spent a few hysterical hours on the phone with a girlfriend of mine. At one point I jokingly said “well… this means that it’s going to either have to be a totally different dress, or NO dress at all.” The moment I said it… I knew. “Dammit” I told her, “This means I’m going to have to go get naked in the woods doesn’t it?” To which she agreed with a sly grin I could hear on the other end of the line. And so there in the midst of the loss – a glimmer of where to go next. A very horrifying glimmer, but a glimmer nonetheless.

Know matter how much I didn’t want to… I knew I had to shoot it. I couldn’t let the raw emotion of the day pass me by. I could not back down from the challenge to go somewhere that felt so vulnerable. So I grabbed my gear and out I went into the cold and rain. There in the quiet of a dry creek bed, with only the sound of the gentle rain tapping on damp fall leaves, I set up my camera with a rain poncho over top… stripped down to nothing, and began shooting. I would like to point out to anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m an extremely modest person not at ALL comfortable with my own nudity being out there… particularly in such a permanent fashion as what I am doing right now. But I discovered something in doing this shoot. It is not in fact the most naked I have ever felt…

The day he died and I was left behind… everything was stripped from me. I was too lost to even move. Waiting, wondering. I could not feed myself for weeks. Or drive. Or do much of anything on my own. For months I did not spend more than a few hours by myself for the paralyzing fear of being alone with my own heart. I was completely broken open. Nothing has ever made me feel so fully exposed as his death. To my surprise, even physical nudity does not compare to how naked I felt then. But it as close as I can articulate it visually I think.

It has not been an easy, this project. There have been many weeks in which I just wanted to walk away from it. Many days it has brought me to tears with frustration. The past few months especially have been a struggle… my motivation dwindling. And so perhaps the loss of the dress came exactly when I needed it to. It has shaken up everything. For the first time in months, I am feeling some excitement about the unknowing of it all. I’m feeling a spark of desire to explore how I will deal with my body for the remaining images… what coverings will I use? Fabric? Nature? None? And what part of my story will this now begin to tell? Perhaps it is about stepping outside the confines of a label like “widowed”. Or exploring beyond who we thought we once were to find that we can in fact be all number of things in this life. Or about stepping more fully into our true selves. Or all of this.

I don’t know where it will go… and that is both scary and exciting. To be right where we are… at an ending in the middle. An ending unplanned. And thusly a sort of new beginning before we wanted to begin again. A new direction when we did not want or ask for one. That is life, is it not? And death. If we so choose to live it as such – which my fiancé very much did. It is one of the most important lessons I learned from him after all… that no matter what direction life takes you, there lies an adventure waiting before you.

_

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of living with loss. If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or 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 28 // Unity

 

Portrait_Week28

 

I’ve been shaped by death nearly all my life. Not only the recent death of my husband-to-be, but reaching back to nine years old when I lost my mother to breast cancer. And at 27 when I lost my father. Death has challenged me to look at everything differently and one of the most significant aspects has been a relationship to soul.

This piece speaks to the idea of our perpetual oneness with soul. It explores a continuation – of being created from and dissolving back into this unified soul space once gone – and of the relationship that exists with this while we are here on earth. I was not a particularly spiritual person before my fiancé died, but I have been drawn to spirit and to soul ever since in some surprising ways. Many of my images have begun to feel more like a partnership – between myself and something greater. Frequently I have visuals appear at random in my mind – clear as day – and something seems to be willing me to create them physically. I know there must be some greater force at play there because these are the images that always seem to resonate the deepest with people (and with me). It is a curious journey and one of the greatest gifts to have emerged from his death.

_

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of living with loss. If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or 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 27 // Future Gone

Portrait_Week27_2

I know a lot of the entries I’ve posted recently have been quite long, so this week I decided to keep it short. This image for me speaks of struggle. Of those times when the pain of grief covers our eyes and ties our hands so that every movement we attempt to make in our life feels restricted… or that we cannot even begin to move at all. It is an intentionally uncomfortable image. I was actually standing when I shot this, leaning over as far as possible as to create the illusion of laying. The image is cropped tightly to remove any visual indicators to tell you whether I am standing or laying, and then rotated to do more of the same. It is meant to speak of the disorienting nature of grief – of suddenly not quite knowing which direction is up anymore – and of just how paralyzing that feeling can be.

Week 26 // Stardust

 

Portrait_Week25

This image marks the halfway point in my year-long self portrait project. This is both exciting and also a little bit nerve-wracking. When I look back… it is hard to believe that just six months ago, none of these images even existed. It’s almost impossible to believe in fact, because they are so much a part of me that I cannot imagine a time when they did not exist. Perhaps in some way, these images have existed inside me far longer than I will ever realize. It’s a curious thing to wonder about. It’s nerve-wracking because, well let’s face it, I have no idea where I am going from here. I have so completely started my entire life over since my fiancé’ died… diving head first into the unknown… its naturally scary to wonder just what will happen when the final day of this project comes.

What will I do with all of these images? Will I be able to showcase them as I truly dream to – in a solo exhibition printed large and sprawling across walls, ten feet tall? Will I be able to find a publisher to create a book of this journey, as I so dream to? What on earth will I do next year? At halfway, I’m struggle more with worrying about what lies ahead… with the next stage of building this new life. But, as I remind myself often, there’s no going back. So I might as well keep on moving and just trust whatever is going to happen will all work out okay. (We all know that’s easier said than done though!)

This week’s image is quite different from all the others I’ve done up to this point. It came about in part by accident. While processing the original image, I switched to the wrong blending mode in photoshop and created something of a double exposure look. Originally it was just a duplicate of the figure, but once I saw the effect, I instantly got a visual in my mind of using stars and nebulae. So while the original feel of this image was more of a searching into a white void… it became instead about a beautiful, mysterious interconnectedness. It became about the connection that each of us has to all those we love who have died… our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, cousins, friends, sisters, brothers, grandparents and far away ancestors. They all make up this grand, collective energy that I believe wants to help guide us in this life.

I personally do believe we are very much connected with the spirits of those passed and the universal energy they create and reside in. I know it in my heart, because I use that connection every single day to guide me and help me decide things in my life. I’ve followed intuition along every step of the journey since my fiancé died. To me, those gut instincts come from that greater universal collective – not really from me at all. Often times, I get very specific visuals for photos to create – that seem to arrive out of thin air. Some of the most popular of my images in fact have been such. And those I believe come from some collective energy of souls guiding me. We are all connected to that every day. Even if we aren’t aware of it, I think in the quiet moments – if we get still enough to really hear it – we all can find the guidance we need… it lies in the stardust.

 

“You are stardust, as am I… And one day I too will return to the sky.”

-Excerpt from a poem of mine, Stardust

 

Week 25 // Let Go

Portrait_Week24cI’ve felt this way a lot lately… like I am just beginning to walk out into a great big unknown. Like it is time to loosen my grip from the past and begin to step into the present and embrace life more fully. My life since my fiancé died has been a huge unknown – but for the better part of of these two years I have been in hibernation. I have, in a strange way, carved out a comfortable existence living within the beauty of my past. And it can be easy to want to stay there. I cannot see anything concrete ahead of me for my future after all. To face walking out into the vastness – with a fear that I will be alone and that his love will not follow – quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

And on another level, I have known for a while I need to start to build a community of photographers and galleries around me to continue to grow as an artist. This too scares the hell out of me, because it means everything to me. To take my images – which are very much a part of my soul – out into the scrupulous art world in bigger cities feels incredibly vulnerable. To walk out into that means that I have no clue what the landscape will look like or where it will take me. That’s scary for any artist.

But the past few months have been different. I have felt deep in my bones a push to move forward. It feels strangely automatic – like my soul is gently prodding me that it is time. And also a little bit like he is telling me so too. But it isn’t something I’ve been ready for at all. Cue the freaks outs and fears and tears that have run rampant in me for months now. It’s a daily struggle that few in my life have even known is going on.

There is a tremendous amount of pain in accepting that its time to let go, and begin to step out into this big unknown future that I must create now. The struggle has been in the fear that if I let go of whatever small solid ground I feel like I have, that I will lose my connection to him and perhaps to myself in a way.

I want to be clear here, by “let go” I do not mean let go of him. I think people get this confused… that somehow we got the meaning of this phrase all mixed up with the idea of letting go of a person. It doesn’t have anything to do with that. Why would anyone want us to let go or someone whom we love and who brings beauty into our world even after they have died? Of course not. The phrase “let go” is about trust. It means to let go of the fear. The fear of losing our connection to them. The fear that we are incapable of handling what’s ahead.

So that is place I have been for the past few months, the next lesson that I have been asked to learn I suppose. Trusting enough to let go. Learning it has meant being caught between this paralyzing fear of losing more and this insatiable pull to embrace my future and create more. It has meant learning to choose trust when I really want to choose fear… because I find trust is often more about a decision to commit than anything. This part of the journey has brought me to this image. To this new place where I’m gaining enough strength to decide to let go and trust… both in the unknown and in the idea that he will be with me no matter where life takes me, for all my years to come.

Week 24 // Veiled

Portrait_Week24b

I’ve been wanting to experiment with this sort of imagery in the project for some time now. I’m finding already in the first shoot that there are a lot of stories to glean from it. There’s many different meanings tied into the idea of fog when relating to grief. It represents the odd, hazy way that we operate in the world after a traumatic loss. It also speaks to the insulating quality of that haze… how – even though it is confusing and sometimes frightening to us – it is a very real necessity in our healing. It is a brilliantly evolved automatic response to extreme trauma. I also see fog as a spiritual symbol that can speak of the boundaries and connections between this life and the next, between souls still living here and souls living on in the hereafter. For the next few weeks I’m thinking that I’ll be exploring the stories that lie here.

People who have been through any kind of horrible trauma will be able to tell you about a thing called “the fog”. It was one of the most frightening and confusing aspects of my fiancé’s death. It felt very much like being only half existing in this life, and half existing in some surreal other world that no one else could seem to see. It felt insulating and isolating at the same time. It was sometimes calming and other times incredibly frustrating. I was entirely incapable of organizing my thoughts for even the most basic things after he died. I could not plan or make appointments or pay bills. I went 6 months without paying a credit card that only had $200 on it because I couldn’t remember and because I just didn’t care anymore about a thing like credit. I could not remember much of any new information. I forgot entire chunks of old information – including simple tasks I had spent the past four years doing at my job. For about the first year after his accident, I floated in this world most of the time. I felt completely handicapped – as if I had suffered some blunt force trauma to the head indirectly from his accident. And in a way I did, because emotional trauma really can affect your brain function in some very tangible and major ways. That in itself was scary.

The fog is absolutely necessary for healing though. We need to be removed from our overactive brains and the bustle of daily life. We need to be disconnected, to have a veil up for a time so that we have the quiet needed to listen to our own pain and feel through it. Even though its new and unfamiliar territory – I think it can help to see it as a beautiful response of self protection when we need it most.

If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post. Or 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.

Adventures in Order

A fairly organized wandering through life's chaos.

happy buddha breathing

Be real. Breathe deep. Live life.

12 Months of Creativity

Lessons on life as an artist

a wee bit warped

Art by Shelly Massey

L2ny's Weblog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

My Painted Life

Tahirh Goffic Fine Art

James Michael Sama

Keynote Speaker | Leadership Consultant | Life Coach

Loving Language

Learning languages and connecting with others.

James J Need

Writer & Mind Coach

Stitch Snap Sketch

crafting a pretty and handmade life

The Practical Art World

A guide for artists navigating the business side of the art world.

Cultivating "Happy"

My Journey Into Healthier, More Purposeful Living

%d bloggers like this: