Breaking Silence

image1_(1).JPEGMany of you know, in 2014 I did a year-long series of self portraits capturing my grief. During that time, I lived so deeply in sadness, pain, anger… all of the emotions we face when losing someone. There were good times too, but the large part of 2012-2015 were spent in deep connection with my own darkness, working to understand how to heal and find peace with my loss. The last portrait I took was October of last year, the week before I my big move to Ohio.

It was a hopeful image, but still with a darker edge to it. I’ve been unable to capture more portraits since moving to Ohio… as I have gotten caught up in the expectations of others. With new love in my life and a new adventure unfolding before me… people started to express their interest in how all these positive things would come out in my photos. They were happy for me, but I also think, somewhat relieved. And I believe, they were hoping to see happy images instead of having to endure the discomfort of seeing my darkness come through my photos.

This expectation has been getting to me since I moved. I would like to note, most of these people who expressed wanting to see positive images from me, were not widows. Nor were they people who were currently experiencing a darkness of their own. It was usually folks who were meaning well, but totally missing the point. Our darkness doesn’t leave just because new joys come into our lives. I shoot my portraits to have a conversation with my most vulnerable, hidden self… not my joy. Our grief does not disappear, nor do our insecurities, fears, and triggers, as our life moves forward.

Despite my knowing this, I’ve gone largely quiet in expressing my emotions outwardly since the move - except for here on Widow’s Voice… where I always seem to feel safe to be honest about things. So a few days ago, I took a brave step to share a new portrait and written piece, with everyone who follows my blog or business page. It felt incredibly vulnerable, because it was yet again a very dark image. It was yet again, talking about things that are hard to admit and share… somehow even harder now, because people want me to be happy - ONLY happy.

This photo matched a feeling inside that has been hard to put into words since moving from Texas to Ohio. Feeling fearful of change, and as a result, quite defensive and withdrawn from the world... poised for attack.

A great amount of love and adventure has been going on this year, do not let this piece mislead the fact that I am enjoying this new chapter immensely. But every change has its difficulties. Especially after loss. I've gone through a lot of overwhelm about mothering. There have been new, unexpected layers of grief for my mother, ones that could only be unearthed from the depths of me as I begin to mother on my own, without my mom. Learning the dynamic of a new relationship and partner has taken work and energy of course too, particularly because we both bring our grief and fairly established lives into the mix. Trying to continue to build a meaningful career with my art and writing is a constant balancing act that a very frequently feel like I am failing at - because I get very stuck on money as being the measure of my success. And homesickness, it permeates the air... as the culture shock from Texas to Ohio was greater than I'd anticipated. Moving right before the winter set in was probably the hardest way to have done things for a southern gal. And really none of this has gone into images and - except for here on WV - very little of it has gone into public words.

I feel sometimes like everyone just wants to see us “happy again” and somehow, I want to give them that version… I want to let them stay blissfully unaware to the complexities of my inner life. Maybe, I am just afraid of being judged… that people will think something is wrong with me or that I am making mountains out of molehills when I express that yes - there IS still plenty of darkness going on under the surface of things. Still plenty to struggle with.

So here I am... dealing with more everyday challenges, like learning to mother, planning a future with someone new, homesickness and changing friendship/family dynamics. Somehow, it seems I convinced myself no one wants to see a woman exploring the difficulties of that stuff... the ordinary hard stuff of life. Which is, I realize, absurd. It's all part of the journey, after all.

My God, how easy it can be to want to show the world only the happy parts. How swiftly any of us can fall into that trap and suddenly forget to listen to our own deepest selves. It hasn't been detrimental, but I assure you, it has created a noise in my heart that has left me going through waves of disconnect with others, and myself. So, this photo is my attempt at courage... my attempt at speaking about the challenges that exist even when the changes in our life are good ones. It's about the continued journey of living after loss, which has a never-ending landscape of hills and valleys.

I don't like for people to know that my default during times of change is to disconnect from others. I need a great deal of time alone to sit quietly with change, and I often feel misunderstood for this. My sense of fight or flight reacts quickly as a result, and I don't like that it can cause me to revert to old tactics of "me against the world".

These parts of me are not new. They were not caused by my fiance's death, but by a lifetime of other challenges, dysfunctional people and situations, and having to grow up too fast as a child. I am simply used to the idea that change means I will be on my own, and so a part of me begins to prepare for that - to protect me - sometimes more than I need to. It is a natural sort of reaction I suppose given my history. One I work on daily. This image for me, is a reminder that I am still good, and that my story is still worth sharing and being heard, even when I cannot muster the courage to be open-hearted. Even on the days when my defenses are up, and my old habits are taking charge, even then... (and especially then) I deserve to heard, and I am still good, and beautiful, and okay. 

Showing 5 reactions

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  • commented 2016-05-29 18:04:09 -0700
    Awesome post, Sarah- thank you
  • commented 2016-05-29 17:51:23 -0700
    Oh Sarah, I was crying as I was reading your post. I so identify with everything you said. It was brilliant, beautiful & so on point. It has been 4 1/2 years for me & I feel like I do more “pretending” now than in the beginning. I’ve been told I need to “move on” I’ve done so much healing but will never forget my husband & all the beautiful memories we shared. Thank you so very much Sarah xxxx
  • commented 2016-05-25 12:11:37 -0700
    Your photography reminds me of my journaling. All raw emotion with no filters. I often wonder what to do the the volumes I’ve accumulated over the years. Somehow I find it comforting to look at your photo today. I think it’s important to note that the light shines directly in the center of your forehead in the shape of an arrow. So symbolic. The light gets darker the farther out it goes. Exactly the way I visualize my grief. Thank you for sharing.
  • commented 2016-05-24 06:56:47 -0700
    “Our darkness doesn’t leave because new joys come into our lives.”

    So true, and so hard to explain to others who have no clue about loss and grief and picking up the pieces and trying to find our way. My losses will be with me forever, they are always there, in the background or forefront, every day . I, too, need that alone time more than ever, takes me that time to comprehend that this is my life, and I have to find a way to deal with it, alone. Ultimately we are all alone. And yes, you will be ok.
  • commented 2016-05-22 23:21:03 -0700
    Sarah – I’m so glad you can share the happy times and combine them with the wretchedness of grief. Wretchedness – what a great word!

    In a million years I could never have imagined how grief and happiness could merge, but they are – they do. However, no matter how many wonderful things happen in my life, there will always be a dark edge because Brian died. I would love life to be simple again and to have the rose colored glasses within reach, but – no. Not going to happen. Damn.