Making Meaning

shutterstock_10889665.jpgEvery now and then, something comes along that fills you to the bones with gratitude for this totally messed up, chaotic, stressful, sometimes shitty and also amazing life. 

Just moments ago, I finished up a live phone interview. I was invited to speak about grief and the healing power of creativity at DeathExpo - an annual online conference held by the End-of-Life University. It all started by going to another conference about death, in Virginia earlier this year, where I met the founder of the university. We chatted over a few drinks at the bar and after hearing about my story and my photo series on grief, she invited me to be a part of this wonderful expo. That was back in the summer, so I've been waiting a while for this event.

Now, I have to preface the rest of this with the fact that I am an introvert. I tend to like talking to one or two people at a time. I don't like socializing in big groups, much less speaking in front of them. I'm also a writer. Normally, my words are carefully chosen and put to the page, with painstaking thoughtfulness, before they go out into the world. I don't exactly enjoy anything that makes me have to speak off the cuff or string words together spontaneously in front of people. I also can't multitask worth a damn, so trying to put together articulate sounding sentences WHILE speaking is sort of a subtle form of torture for me.

But when someone approaches you to share your story about grief and loss, and share what you've learned in hopes of helping others, you don't say no to that. Partly because I'm superstitious. I've lost both parents and my fiance before the age of 30... at this rate, I try to listen when the universe presents things like this to me. I mean literally, I am afraid someone else in my life might be smited if I ignore God or the universe or whatever it is. It's obvious I'm supposed to be doing work that is related to grief and death in some way – or I wouldn't have so many dead people in my life. And so, despite my fear of public speaking and interviews and the spotlight and all of it... I'm just allowing the universe to drag me into all this uncomfortable shit.

And you know what?

This interview was awesome. I loved every moment of it. I don't know why, but I've never felt particularly confident or assertive when it comes to sharing with others. Tonight though, for the first time ever, I felt like I knew what I was talking about. I felt like I had good, valuable lessons to share about grief and using creativity to heal. And for the first time I felt just a bit comfortable stepping into that spotlight. After all, if there are two things I know, it's grief and art. It was a pleasant surprise, and felt really good to finally experience that kind of confidence.

It has taken a LOT of uncomfortable feelings to begin to get to this place... a lifetime of them really, but more recently, hours and days and weeks and months of working on presentations and interviews (and also hours and days and weeks of procrastinating because I'm so terrified of it). This is the first time in my life I've even been confident enough to just TRY to do things like this. The person I was before Drew died would have never even attempted this stuff. The person I was a year ago wouldn't have even tried any of this.

It's got me thinking about a lot of things. Like how trying to stretch ourselves and grow means we have to go through a lot of doubt and fear before we can begin to reap the rewards at the end. We have to be willing to feel pretty damn uncomfortable before we can begin to feel comfortable when tackling something new. I'm also thinking about how important it is to have others be part of our healing... because I got so much energy and strength back from doing this interview tonight. Energy I desperately have needed during these tough times of relocating from Texas to Ohio. Energy that helped me feel less alone and more connected to others again. Energy that I know is going to help me feel motivated to get to making some art soon.

Lastly, it made me think about the meaning of death and loss that can continue to be built over time. I cannot even express how much meaning was poured into my world tonight. It was a reminder that every shitty day, every tear cried, every moment I've missed Drew since he died, and every time I wanted to give up and I didn't... they have ALL been worth it, because maybe something I shared tonight will help someone else on their own road through grief. This was also a reminder that as my life continues on, things like this will come into it and continue to give meaning to Drew's life. He will continue to impact the lives of others in ways that he never imagined too, as a reach out to give a helping hand to others.

Ultimately, doing this interview reminded me that no matter how difficult this life gets, meaning does not stop being built into it. It continues to build over time... over our lifetimes, if we choose to give it a chance. Fifty years from now, should I be fortunate enough to still be around, there will be hundreds of new ways that Drew's life will have impacted the lives of others. And even though he would not be in a single picture from June 2012 on... you would still be able to fill a dozen scrapbooks with the meaningful things that his spirit has gone on to do.

Note: For anyone who would like to hear the interview with Death Expo, you can listen and view the slides we discussed HERE.


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  • commented 2015-12-02 19:52:26 -0800
    You really nailed the interview. Very powerful from you sharing and the photos – some photos I wasn’t aware of and it really got to me. You are amazing Sarah.
  • commented 2015-12-01 03:36:35 -0800
    I shared this with the Creative Grief Studio community. It’s remarkable how well your thoughts line up with the underpinnings there. Grief is a learning process and you articulate what it feels like to be inside that space. Not everyone will go on to be grief and creativity educators (as it seems we were called to do) but we all in our own ways inhabit that uncomfortable stretch before we make meaning from these losses. Super job.
  • commented 2015-11-30 18:07:44 -0800
    Sarah, you did a wonderful interview. Many of your comments and definitely your photos touched me. I lost my husband Greg in July, he was only 49 and died suddenly (heart attack). I was struck by Frozen and The Waiting photos as I feel like that right now. I feel I am in limbo and in a constant fog and how your photos expressed that was truly amazing. I can also relate to The Climb as everyday I feel I am climbing out of the hole I have been in for the past 4 months. The Between Two Worlds photo also generated the feeling of being stuck and pulled in two directions, between my old life and a new one that I have yet to figure out. I am amazed by this widow grief, as we all have different life experiences but when we enter the widow world we seem to have similar feelings. These feelings of isolation, loss of focus & motivation. and not knowing where we are going seems so prevalent in this world. For me it is a struggle because I am a realist and I was married to an extreme realist. We both dealt with our struggles in real time and then moved on, but this widow grief is so powerful and you just feel stuck in a void. Thanks again for your wonderful insights both in your photos and your blog posts. They have been extremely comforting to me. Good luck with your creative pursuits.
  • commented 2015-11-29 08:46:32 -0800
    I am so damn proud to know you.
  • commented 2015-11-29 07:07:22 -0800
    Know that you and the other writers help me every week!

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