Today is a very big day. In just a few hours, I will be loading up nine of my 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. It feels like a dream… 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.
But of course, it’s not ALL the things I wanted my life to be. My late-fiance is not here. I may 100% believe that he can see everything I’m doing and he is helping to guide me on this new path… 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. 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 would also involve 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!
So as I pack up all my photos and head out to set up my first show – I know, it’s going to be 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 things – 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 camera and set this whole thing in motion after all. He was there for the first juried show I was in. And somehow, he is still very much here for this next leg of my journey…
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.