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Posts tagged ‘widow’

Week 23 // Iron Will

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This week I wanted to share one final shot from the ropes. Unlike most of my images which are very still and calm – I was drawn to the movement of this one. To me, it likens the energy of a wild mustang fighting to break free.

There are times in the midst of grief when we are so fully depleted and exhausted that we haven’t the strength even to hold our head up. I’ve talked a lot about those times in my past images. But there are also times when we have the chance to rise up… bucking the despair off our backs and fighting like hell to break out and embrace life. I think sometimes fighting can be a bad thing – when you are resisting feeling the emotions that need to be felt. But there is a different kind of fight, too. Fighting not against our emotions, but FOR the expression of them. It is the kind of fight that throws us up into the wind with our faces skyward to remind us that our story is worth expressing. And not only THIS part of our story, but the rest of who we are too. Painters, dancers, writers, mothers, humanitarians, friends, sisters…. although we are tied closely to our pain, there is still a soul within each of us wanting to be fully expressed.

I’ve felt this kind of fight in me so often since my fiancé died. More than in all my previous years combined. And the thing I am learning is that this beautiful fight is not in spite of the pain and the grief, but because of it. Being tied to the pain and having to struggle with it daily has made me fight harder to enjoy life, to express myself, to have compassion, and to stand up when I feel like falling. My pain has brought me the lessons which have taught me that I have the capacity to rise up and not give up. And pain has somehow (even though I don’t want to admit it) made my life far richer than I ever knew possible.

Of course we can’t always succeed at fighting for a new life after losing someone we love. We all have times we just get exhausted and must give up for a while to recharge. And that’s okay. It’s vital to be kind to ourselves, allow rest, and trust that we will regain our energy eventually. There will always come a next moment, or a new day, that will bring a renewed strength. It may not be tomorrow, but it will come. We must trust this as best we can. And when it arrives, let’s choose to rise up and fight to express our soul and embrace what is left of this beautiful life.

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 20 // Mortal Coil

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I received so many likes, shares and comments from last week’s portrait, I have to thank you all. I really never have any clue what other people will think of this stuff when I put it out there. It always feels a little bit risky, and there is always a little bit of “what if no one likes it?” that goes on. I don’t think that ever goes away! My sincerest thanks to everyone for all the support last week and throughout the entire project thus far… this surge of support came to me truly when I most needed it. When I’ve felt really depleted… you guys really gave me a boost.

I’m continuing to explore ropes this week and likely for a few more weeks, as I’ve been so completely lost in the feeling and meaning behind them. There are so many ways to interpret ropes as a symbol; tension, struggle, strain, resistance, support, strength, cooperation, chaos. This week, I wanted to capture the weight of grief… the way it knots up around you, weighs you down, and exhausts you. I have been tired since the day my fiancé died. At first, I could barely function at all. Two years later, I still feel like I am only operating at 60%. There is this other force inside me that is always requiring that other 40% of my energy. Like any emotion, grief needs room in our lives. If we don’t allow it space, it will take it on its own anyway. If we struggle against it, it won’t let up any easier. It will only wear us out quicker, until we are left exhausted and depleted in its embrace. I try my best to remember to leave room for my grief – to respect it as a part of me – but I still fight it sometimes. I’ve been fighting it on and off for the past few months honestly… and holy hell can I put up a fight. Lately, I think I’ve run out of steam and have been leaning into it a bit more.

I’d like to share a little about the tear-stains in this image… entirely unintentional. My camera gear was having issues and I had a very limited amount of daylight left to get the shot. It was also about 100 degrees out that day. And a few other things had not gone my way that day too. Needless to say, after only a few minutes of failing to figure out why my gear was not working correctly – I had a complete and total melt down. Like a five-year-old. It was ridiculous. I messed with it for at least 30 minutes to no avail, and went into a complete crying fit at least three separate times… which at first was about the stupid camera and how hot it was outside, but soon turned into cursing my entire life and how I just want my old life back and how much I hate the fact that this is my life and that I’m stuck “even doing this project in the first place!!” Eventually I did get it all working again, and once I got started, things began to flow a bit better. But the getting there… ugh.

I tell you this for a reason. Because like the journey of grief (and life) – this project is not easy and is frequently quite a battle. Sometimes it takes my breath away and surprises me with incredible gifts. Other times, it is a harsh reminder that I am SO not where I thought I would be at 31 years old. And sometimes, shit just goes all wrong and triggers all my emotions and I come unhinged in a completely irrational way. And that’s where those tear stains came from. I decided to leave them as a reminder of how grieving leaves us feeling exposed, often ridiculous and constantly exhausted. It is such for each of us in this journey of life and death.

Week 19 // Between Two Worlds

 

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It’s taken me quite longer than a week to finally create this image, but I am so thrilled to be sharing it today. The visual first popped into my mind a few weeks ago, when I was feeling a lot of resistance about this whole project. I felt really stuck, and really tired, and totally unmotivated. A big part of that was coming from the fact that, lately, I have been moving more and more into a new life the past few months. A life that my late-fiance is no longer in, and a part of my own journey in which I must begin to allow room for new people and new experiences that he is not sharing with me directly.

It’s beautiful to feel healed enough to begin to take the first steps into whatever my new life will be… making friends where I moved to, trying new hobbies I never imagined I’d try before, growing and changing more and more. I am surprising myself almost each day. It all feels really good, except that it is also a constant reminder of who I wish was by my side for it all. And even if – after two years – that fact is not as immediately excruciating as it once was, it still makes every normal thing in life incredibly exhausting. Because I can no long just make new friends, or try new things. Now, every single thing that is new in life must also pass through my grief. It must be examined from the viewpoint of who I was when he was alive and who I am becoming (which is still so up in the air!). All the new, wonderful, exciting things must somehow fit into this whole complex and intricate emotional world that already exists inside of me. I have no clue how I am doing it.

I think that every new phase or part of grief must be equally challenging in entirely different ways… because navigating this feels no easier or less tiring than navigating the first weeks and months after he died. It feels different. And challenging and scary in completely different ways. But it still leaves me right here… right at this image… tied between two worlds. Exhausted and spent, emotionally, mentally, physically. With each wave of new people and experiences, I am left trying to figure out how to balance it all into this one human being that I am. And at times it can feel like the pull of both my new life and my old life are too much to bear all at once. At times this project itself begins to get too heavy for me to bear, too. And so I give in to the exhaustion, floating, unsure of how to move next. Feeling like I haven’t the strength to move at all.

So that is why it’s taken so long to finish this image. Because I’ve been fighting even creating anything for weeks. And after struggling with that resistance long enough, I realized, it was the very struggle itself I need to talk about in my images right now. And that is when this visual jumped into my mind. I knew instantly what it should look like. Crazy how that happens, once you just surrender, or try to look at a situation differently, bam – there it is.

I’m sure others will find their own meaning for this image, which I always love – especially when you share those ideas with me (so please do!). For me, its about learning to become quiet even when I feel stuck or feel like fighting various parts of my grief journey… because in the stillness is where we will see what we need to. It is also about a yearning to find balance between different worlds… my new life and my old life. This earthly world, and the world that he now exists in. It is about feeling ungrounded, floating, and uncertain of the future… but still finding the strength to hold myself up in that uncertainty the best I can each day. I leave you with a close up below…     -Much love-

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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 16 // The Listening Place

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When life as you know it ends abruptly, you fall into such a dark place. It leaves you questioning everything. In the space of grief you lose all sense of the faith and trust in the world you once so effortlessly knew and trusted. Things like waking up tomorrow. Or everyone you love waking up tomorrow. And that you’ll go to work tomorrow and do all the other normal life stuff that you’ve done every day before. When that normal life is shattered, you are shocked into whole other kinds of existence that is unpredictable and feels dangerous.

Suddenly nothing is certain or known, and all of life becomes an unfathomably large volume of big and complex questions and fears. It is that carefully complex system that goes on underneath my skin at all times. A whole undercurrent of questions and thoughts and scenarios that run through me… like “Where are you? Are you up in the sky somewhere, or right here next to me still? What is God really to me? How do I truly define that higher power and what is my honest soul connection to that? How to establish a connection to you, and to God? What do I do with all of this? Do I have a purpose, and if so how do I find that? Am I being led right now, right this very moment? Will I meet someone today who is going to be an important part of that purpose of mine? And will I know it? When will I love again? Am I even capable of falling in love again? What am I supposed to do now?” That’s just a tiny fraction of the things that continuously course through my veins now. Even in the middle of a crowd of people, often times this is where I truly am… in the listening place.

I am learning gradually to sit in this space – still and quiet – and to listen for the guidance I need. Listening for the soft whisper of the answers I search for – which often times comes in the form of just one word: Trust. Trusting is a lot easier when your life is settled and you feel like you know what to expect every day. It’s a whole other battle entirely when you cannot see anything in front of you. When you’re walking into blackness. When nothing feels like a known and everything feels like danger. That is the place where you can build something powerful though. The kind of inner trust and faith that moves mountains and is unshakable.

I have found when I remain quiet and allow myself this protected listening space inside of me, that I am able to connect with something larger than myself. And from this listening place I find a deeper trust than I ever knew existed… in myself, in a higher power, in the love of my soul mate, and in the unknowns of the journey ahead. That guidance does not always come quickly, or clearly. And it takes me an incredible amount of energy sometimes to decide to trust things a world that feels so unpredictable now. But I keep on trying, trusting, listening, and asking for guidance… and in the stillness of the listening place, eventually, it always seems to come.

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

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I’m in Hawaii this week and next visiting a friend, so this week’s portrait is from the beautiful island of Kauai! I wish you could see it here – lush rainy jungle the likes of which I’ve never seen. Powerful coastlines, ancient volcanic ruins, and an immense canyon where you would least expect it. It’s one of the lesser inhabited islands as well, so there are many areas where it feels almost as if you’re the only people who have ever been there. I would venture to say the spirit of this place rivals the Grand Canyon for me – which is my favorite place on earth.

I’ll have to post some more pictures soon just from the hikes we’ve done, but for now… the portrait…

I stumbled upon this incredible location right down the beach from our hotel Friday morning last week. We’d tried to book several other hotels with no luck. Being that I am a firm believer in how the universe and those in spirit guide me… I have no doubt I was led right to this spot to capture my next image. I went out early in the morning while my girlfriends were grabbing breakfast, just to climb around on the lava rock and take some pictures… and my jaw dropped when I came across this broken-heart rock – split almost evenly three ways.

In the journey of grief, to lay in our pain is to lay also within our love. The heart may be broken, it may feel a pain that is unbearable, but it is only because that is where our love resides so deeply. Losing my fiancé has taken me on a journey of learning to find acceptance of my pain… learning to surrender into what is broken. It’s never an easy thing to do. I can always feel the cracks and the breaks beneath me. Learning to accept today does not mean I’ll be able to accept it tomorrow necessarily. It’s a constant exercise to practice in order to find some level of peace.

This image also reminds me of surrendering to something greater than myself – be that called God, the universe, or my spirit guides. A medium I visited once told me – when I feel the most lost and the most in pain – to lay myself out on the ground and spread my arms open to the sky…and to lay this way and pray. I’d never thought to pray in such a way before (and was never really big on praying to begin with before Drew died), but I have done it many times since my visit with her and there indeed has been something powerful about it for me. It feels like I am physically giving myself to some greater whole and I end up always feeling comforted and connected instead of isolated and alone. This image reminds me that – in the raging waters of life, in the pain of a broken heart, there is still a space of peace to be found. I need only be still, and open my broken heart, and love will come through.

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

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The debris we are left in during grief can seem insurmountable. Let’s face it – for a while – it IS insurmountable. For a while – months, maybe years, you just have to learn to be in. You have to learn how to find some version of peace with it. This image talks about being stuck in that aftermath of losing someone you love. You are surrounded on all sides… by grief, by pain, by anger, by every other raw emotion in existence. You are also surrounded by thousands upon thousands of pieces of yourself that have exploded out from you – particularly if it was sudden loss. And there you are… right in the middle, knowing that there is no way you can ever fashion this mess back together into the life you had. The pieces are too many. And the most important piece cannot be put back where it was.

There was something about this boggy, dark place that spoke to me when I was out looking for places to shoot. It called to me. It LOOKED like a place I have been and sometimes still find myself. And I will tell you… it was NOT fun to crawl down into this muck. It was scary. I could not see what was below the surface, and all kinds of debris was stirred with each step – slipping past the skin of my legs – feeling like danger. It was dirty. I had big and small bits of debris all over me… in my hair, covering every inch of my body. It was COLD. Being that we just had an unusually cool week here in Texas – that water literally stole my breath away as I dunked myself down in it. Definitely NOT pleasant.

I got to thinking as I began to write about this image though… isn’t that what it should have been? For me to create something that symbolizes a place so full of pain and despair… shouldn’t it feel uncomfortable? Shouldn’t I be willing to crawl down into the mud and the rotting debris, into the icy water that steals my breath? Shouldn’t this project sometimes require me to get extremely uncomfortable? And is it worth it? To both of those, I answer yes. It’s worth it if it makes a different in even one person’s day.

As this project has progressed… I’ve started to have a much different feeling of its purpose. In the past month or so, during the process of each image, I am initially thinking of my own feelings and searching for what will express my story. But immediately as the idea forms, and as I bring the images into the computer to work them, it’s no longer about me. Instead, lately I am thinking of the one person that this image is meant to go to. This is a bit strange to explain, but it feels like being a vessel I suppose. As if my soul knows the exact person it wants to create this image for – someone I have never met nor talked to or seen before. The reason I’ve started to feel this way is because I have found that person several times already. They will write to me or I will hear of their experience seeing my image, and I know instantly that they are the one I made it for and that it found its rightful place. I’m not sure how I know – it is just a knowingness inside me. It’s kind of an eerie concept to me, but there it is.

My hope is of course also that these images will help many many people feel less alone in their grief. Because we always need more of that. I have an enormous support system of amazing people, many who are grieving themselves, and I still have moments where I feel completely and totally and profoundly alone in my grief. That will always happen. Because my grief is not your grief. My loss is not your loss. And there will always be parts that are only mine. But I believe that the more ways we express our grief and engage in the grief of others – through words, music, paintings and photos, kindness – the less alone we will feel. And the more beautifully we will heal. I suppose that is why I make these. I want to feel less alone, I want to heal more, and I want to do it in a way that might help others to do the same.

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series about living on after loss. If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
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 13 // Frozen

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Something incredibly deep happened with this week’s portrait. I honestly do not think I can put into words how this image goes straight to my core – and how shocked I am that it came out of me. As I got further into processing it today, I found myself with tears wilting down my cheeks at least a dozen times. There’s no doubt in my mind something outside of me was channeling through.

Quite often as I bring my images into the computer, a certain song begins to play in my mind. I normally don’t share the songs that accompany the images, but I felt very strongly compelled to share this one, so I hope you’ll listen as you soak it in and think of this song in the light of loss – where a life shared with someone so dear now often seems as though it were a dream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ44x0GnKh4

My idea was to capture the feeling of being trapped, frozen just on the other side of where life exists so lush. It is the feeling that my fiancé’s death gave me – being so completely surrounded by vibrant and beautiful life and being so unable to reach it or feel it. Essentially, for me, it is about navigating your daily life with an empty, haunting, deep pain that prevents you from experiencing the beauty right before you.

It is a feeling we will all experience at some point in our life – whether for years or fleeting moments. It might not even come from the death of someone we love. It might come from another darkness we are in that slowly freezes us below the surface just the same. Some of us might spend years here. Some of us might not ever make it out in our lifetime. It’s true. But here is one good thing I do know about this state…

Even in the hardest winters of your life – when you cannot feel a thing for how cold you have become and you feel as close to dead inside as possible – you are still alive. You are hibernating. And if used wisely, this can be a time which gives you incredible strength. A time in which you can come to know yourself to depths of which you have never known existed. And one day, there will come a moment when something will warm your life again. And when that day comes, you will be stronger. You will be wiser. You will be more deeply present to feel every touch and smell every scent of it. And it will be ten thousand times sweeter than anything you knew before the winter. I have known death. I have known abuse. I have known pain and darkness most of my life. And if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that life is always waiting just above the surface. Keep your eyes open and your heart fearless… your spring will come.

“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series about living on after loss. If you’re new to this project, you can read more about it in this post.
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.

The Dream & The Death

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Today is a very big day. In just a few hours, I will be loading up nine of my large framed photos and delivering them safely to the local hospital for my first solo art exhibition. It is a lifelong dream come true. And mostly, it has been incredible. I told my counselor the other day that it feels like a dream… that it feels like I got dropped into someone else’s life all of the sudden and that I got really lucky, because their life happens to be all the things that I always wanted my own life to be. Like, hey, I could get used to this!

But of course, it’s not ALL the things I wanted my life to be. We all know that. He is not here. I may 100% believe that he can see everything I’m doing and he is working overtime to help align things and forge this new path for me… but that doesn’t change the fact that he cannot stand next to me for this moment.

It is especially bittersweet because I was here to see him reach his greatest dreams. After years of hard work – after the two of us sitting on my couch night after night while he taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about helicopters – he finished flight school and got his flight instructor certification. I watched him transform from a someone who was very scared of actually accomplishing his dreams to someone who was totally committed to achieving them. I remember how incredible it was to stand by his side for that. To watch him so fully step into himself was one of the greatest honors of my young life.

In the past few weeks, I am realizing that the journey I have been on for the past two years – since he died – has actually been the same journey I watched him go through in our 3 years together. Not the grief part per say, but all the rest. Grappling with the fear of fully committing myself to my dreams of being a successful artist. Having all I needed in place and lined up before me and still being afraid to step through that open door. Afraid to fail. Afraid of what people would think. Afraid to lose more pieces of my old life and therefore him. Man, stepping through that door is freakin’ scary no matter HOW bright it looks. It feels selfish. And that voice pops up again and again saying “WHO do you think YOU are? Sit back down”. When you add his loss into that equation, it makes it even more complicated.

Because here’s the thing… this is all happening because he died. All of the choices I have made – quitting my job, moving away, starting over – all the imagery I have created, all the words I have written, all the opportunities that have come into my life. All of it – every single piece – is in my life because he is dead. His death has been the wellspring of everything beautiful in the past two years of my life. And that feels really weird. To be SO grateful for things that are happening because he is dead. It makes you feel like you are being grateful that this person is dead. Logically of course you are not – you are grateful for the gifts that came out of that death – but it feels weird. And I don’t quite know what to do with that. I would give anything to have him back here, but for the first time since he died – that wish also involves erasing a new part of myself and my life that means a lot to me and brings me much joy. It’s a lot to have rolling around in an already-analytical mind, I tell ya!

imageSo as I pack up all my photos and head out to set up my first show – I know, it’s going to be pretty emotional. I have been imagining it for days now… hanging the last photo up on the wall. Stepping down and walking back to take it all in for the first time. To look on the entire past two years of my life captured through these photos. My entire private world of grief literally up on the wall for all the world to see. It’s going to make me really sad. It’s also going to make me really happy and really proud and really satisfied. It’s going to be all those emotions – the painful and the positive, the dream and the death, all mixed together. But the best part is that I know I am stepping into the next big chapter of something that he began with me. He bought me my first real camera. And many of the lenses I still use today. He was there for the first juried show I had work in. And somehow, he is still very much here for this next leg of my journey…

He is here in that fact that his parents will be the ones helping me hang my show up today. They have been on this journey with me every step of the way – extending his love through their own hearts. He is here in every photo, in every emotion held within my images, in every story I tell. Really, very truly, he made every single one of those photographs with me. It’s been a collaboration beyond anything we could have made before he crossed over.

So there we three will stand today. And the tears they will come. We will cry because of what is in front of us. Because of this awesome accomplishment and this work we are all so proud of. And we will also cry for who is not beside us. For who should be beside us. And for who we are looking back at in those images before us. Damn it all, I’m crying already!

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