Still, Life

Portrait_Week7_sm_new.jpgweek has been a whirlwind for me. I met a fellow artist who, upon seeing my photographic series on grief, asked to write this feature about it for a creative blog he writes for. That one blog post at this point has led to around 6 other blogs contacting me to share my story and the project… which has resulted in hundreds of people sharing the project via Facebook and Twitter. It has been certainly one of the most memorable and moving weeks of slogging through the past two years since my fiancé died.

To catch you up, this is a year-long self portrait series I have been doing since February called "Still, Life". Each weekly image - which I share on my blog - explores and expresses the emotional and psychological journey of living on after the death of someone you love. It touches on aspects like desperation and isolation, hopelessness and hope, fear and trust. It has been a grueling and often frustrating project. I've wanted to quit MANY times. I've cursed enough over it to make a sailor blush. I've had total emotional breakdowns over it. But, I've needed it project to survive. It's given me something to put myself into each day… like being able to climb into a boat on this stormy sea of grief. Still in the storm, but with something to hold me and help give me some small bit of direction.

So here I am this week, reading kind words written by other people about this work I've poured myself into for the past nine months. A project that could have never come out of me had he not died. It is so bittersweet - but my God, it's beautiful. The first two years were deeply survival. But these first 5 months of the third year since he died, it feels like he lives on in every step forward I take. The bitter is beginning to fall away, and leaving more and more sweetness over time.

As I read the headline to one of the articles this week - "Photographer Takes Moving Self-Portraits To Cope With Her Fiance’s Death"- and the article itself, I realized for the first time that this project is actually about a lot more than I ever knew. The images themselves may speak of pain and loss, but the project as a whole speaks of other things. It is about healing by making something meaningful out of loss. It is about love, and how unbreakable love is. Even when death tries to take it, it cannot be taken from us. Not ever. Finally, it is about the most important lesson he taught me in our three short but beautiful years together; Never give up on your dreams.

He worked for years to achieve his dream of being a commercial helicopter pilot. The man loved flying more than I've seen anyone love anything. Like any big dream, there were plenty of big fears along the way. He feared he wasn't competent enough. He feared the responsibility of transporting others safely. He feared dying in a crash, of course - which is ultimately how he did die. They were some very real fears. But he never let it stop him. I was lucky enough to be by his side to watch it all unfold. To watch him pass every check ride and gain every certification and land his first commercial job. There was a deep joy in him that last year as his dreams came to fruition. A joy unlike any I've witnessed so closely before. Watching his journey was the fuel that led me to chase my own dreams to be an artist. His death is what ignited it.

I feel now that this whole project is far more about him than me. It is all the things he stood for and the things taught me in life. And all the things he is teaching me still, in death. How he is showing me that still, even after all of this, there is life. And love. And that it is my job to get up every day, live life, and be love. My job to look for beauty still wherever I can find it. My job to decide to make something out of this crazy, awful, shitty, unbelievable journey. And my job to create my own meaning out what life throws at me.

I am completely overwhelmed to even be a part of it all right now. In deep gratitude that he came into my life 5 years ago… just a friend, who turned into more, and who has changed the entire course of my life now in ways I could not have ever imagined. The fact the just one person can come into your life and have THAT much impact still amazes me. I cannot help but be grateful that he changed my life and is still changing it today.


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