I’ve been thinking the past few days about Kelley’s Friday post. She talked about how people treat us when widowed, and the frustrations of often being treated like a five year old or misunderstood in some way.
Or how people begin to act differently again once you find new love. That one I can definitely attest to. I wrote to her, saying how it felt like when I met Mike and found love again, all the people who had coddled me and worried over me disappeared, as if to say “Oh thank God, we don’t have to WORRY about her anymore!”
And then the avoiders who had been too uncomfortable with my grief came out of the woodworks to suddenly be more present and express their joy… which really felt more like expressing how happy they were that they could be comfortable with my life again. It’s funny what grief does to those around us... and then to us as a result.
When I moved to Ohio in the name of new love, it felt like a slow exodus I had not intended. Gradually, everyone seemed to just sort of fade out. I got the same sort of story from people over and over again, "Oh I figured you're so busy enjoying your new life, I didn't want to bother you!" Excuse me for being blunt, but that is the stupidest thing to say to someone you care about. Because you think I’m happy you think I’m too busy? Huh?
What the hell does that even mean? And how did virtually no one stop to think that maybe, just maybe, this change was not JUST joyful, but incredibly painful and hard? How did no one see that? Leaving the only place I’ve ever called home… the place where my parents and my fiance are buried, to live 1400 miles away in a totally different culture from Texas. Not to mention how hard it's been for Mike knowing he was the catalyst for my leaving home and for a lot of pain I've experienced by making that choice. Really, truly, almost no one asked at any point “how are you really doing?”. Somehow they all decided that being united with my new love after having dated from far away for nearly a year was all I needed to be 100% happy with no sense of loss whatsoever.
This still annoys me...
The fact that no one has really asked. Honestly, even my best friends didn't ask.
I think it made me bitter. It made me recoil from the world a bit. It made me feel misunderstood. And with all the expectations of the joy of new love, I didn’t even feel like I had permission to express the pain or sadness anymore. Whether that pain came from being homesick or missing my fiance, it just suddenly felt like the world didn’t want to hear about it. They saw the chance to see my world as “happy and good” again and they didn’t want to see any other version. I don’t feel like any individual people made me feel this way, it was just the general feeling I guess. I’m sure I’m not alone in this one.
These days, I’m trying to get back to just expressing myself more openly again, and being a more open person. It's not easy, but it's been good for me to try. It seems as though the world has a set of expectations for someone who is 5+ years out and in a new relationship, just as they do about the first five years. I guess there is an expectation for nearly every single scenario in life though, isn't there? It shouldn’t really bother me I guess. Although it does bother me when I try to just share openly say, on social media, and people pour in with platitudes that really don’t mean anything. Or “hugs” - my most hated comment to receive. It bothers me that instead of becoming louder I’ve become quieter - which is not in my true nature.
The thing is, there IS a lot of joy in my life right now, but that’s not what I NEED to express. We don’t really NEED to process our joy like we do our pain. This is part of why, when I moved, I almost entirely stopped sharing my photography and began to really struggle with the artistic and creative side of myself. Taking self portraits had been about processing my pain and my grief. It also felt purposeful in that it helped others feel less alone. And after finding new love, I started to get comments of how so many couldn’t wait to see “happier photos” from me. Seriously? Are you kidding me right now? Have you missed the entire point of why I pick up the camera? They did. And I’ve never forgotten that comment - though I shouldn't have let it have so much influence.
I don’t capture self portraits to express my joy. I don’t have any desire to take self portraits of myself leaping through fields of fucking flowers with rainbows overhead and birds flitting about me. For me, self portraits have always been about meeting myself exactly where I am and accepting it fully. It’s a way for me to be there with myself, to acknowledge and explore my own pain, and then to share it in a way that might make someone else feel less alone. Simply put, I want to capture something complex and real and raw and show that those things can be beautiful. And really, no one needs photos to help them feel less alone with their joy!
I’m slowly leaning back in to photography and into my voice. The image with this post is one recent expression of this... while it was originally shot a year or so after my fiance died when I felt very raw, I've now brought it back to life by turning it from black and white, to color. I know what stories it holds for me, but what matters when I share it, is what stories is has to tell you.
I’m gradually gaining the gumption to share these honest photos... allowing others to find their own story or self in them. I'm keeping my own meaning a little more private... This is helping, I think. It's a way to both share my feelings but have them still feel protected a little for the time being.
So I’m making small steps back towards myself, and towards reclaiming my own right to be exactly who I am - a real person, with a complex world of joys and pains all coexisting inside me. A person who is always going to grieve the ones I love, and also have room for joy. A person who isn’t afraid to just be who she is, where she is, unapologetically.