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.
About the Series: Through 40 weekly photos and accompanying essays, 'Still, Life' captures a deeply emotional and psychological journey of what it means to grieve, to heal, and to live on.