It's been a few weeks since I shared about going on my first date with someone since my fiancé died. I have been through every wave of emotion imaginable since then. I have cried buckets of tears for how much this experience has made me miss my fiancé. For how much all of this is bringing up old familiar memories and joys I shared with him those years ago. For how much it makes me miss the safety and rock solid trust that I had with him. I have felt paralyzed by the fear of being vulnerable with another man in ANY way. Of allowing any man into that space in my world again - the space where I cry, the space of allowing myself to be comforted. The space my fiancé has held so powerfully in my heart all these years. His space.
I have also felt joy, and butterflies in my stomach, and a giddiness that has been so delightful. I have felt excited by the idea that someone is thinking of me in this light. And I have enjoyed thinking of them in this light too. So all of this, both extremes, have been rushing through me at the speed of light.
This morning I was watching the news and saw a feature about a young girl - 14 years old - who is working hard to achieve a very special Christmas goal. Her wish, is to put a wreath on every single grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here in San Antonio, TX. To date, there are over 144,000 graves of fallen soldiers buried here. To say it is a big goal is an understatement. They have yet to reach that goal in a single year, but she is relentless. Partnered now with Wreaths Across America, she does 15 or 20 speaking engagements and fund raisers around the San Antonio, TX area in the fall to help raise money and bring in volunteers for this massive effort. The focus and resolve are nothing short of incredible to watch - particularly in someone so young.
I could not help but be completely inspired by the boldness and determination of her spirit. It allowed me to put my own pain aside for a moment and think about just how many ways on any given day there are to do something to remember or appreciate those who have died - whether as soldiers or otherwise.
SO. After two and a half years… it finally happened.
I had my first date this week.
I can't even tell you how this happened. I had no idea this person would be interested and I've never much been interested in him either. It sort of came out of the blue… no real warning, no time for planning how I want to feel about this step. Just… bam, there it is, you're going on a date today.
I thought this week I would share one of the images from my self portrait series and the story behind it. While I was out shooting on the beach for last week’s photograph – wandering the grassy, windswept dunes – I came across a peculiar sight. Every plant on the beach was bright green and vibrant with life that day. Rich olive green sea grasses and succulent fat-leaved emerald vines with ripe yellow flowers. There must have been an unseasonable amount of rain recently because everything was really blushing. You could feel it – like all of nature had just taken in a deep breath.
But then, right in the middle of it all, I noticed this one particular type of plant. They were large – towering over me by at least a few feet. And every single one of them, as far as my eyes could see, over each rolling dune down the beach, was dead. All of them. There was such an eerie metaphoric nature to it… these clusters of death pitted right down in the midst of so much life. It seemed almost deliberate. Certainly hard to miss when you are closely observing a landscape as I often am.
With mosquitos biting boldly at my ankles and arms, (I will remember to add insect repellant to my camera bag from now on!) I grabbed my gear and climbed into a thicket of these otherworldly dead plants to explore. The leaves were a silvery blue-green hue – like faded sage. I had no plan. No idea what I even wanted to capture. I just began shooting, trying different ways of interacting with this mesmerizing space.Read more
Thanksgiving was easier this year. I think. It was certainly less terrifying than the first year. I still remember that first year, when we changed the tradition from being at my in-laws' house to Drew's aunt & uncle's house near Houston. His aunt did assigned seats… and I was sat next to the ONLY empty chair in the whole room. Which also happened to be at what I affectionately call the Widow table. Myself, his grandmother (widowed), his aunt (also widowed). Now I know it was accidental, but I had to laugh at the complete irony of the whole situation. Sometimes you have to laugh or you'll cry, am I right? I was paralyzed by the fear that I would cry during the prayer (which I did anyway, so fearing it was futile). It ended up being a fun table to be at in the end. We had plenty of dark laughter to go around, after all. Still, I remember wanting nothing more than to be alone and just erupt in tears for hours on end. The feeling was literally a pain in my heart. You all know that pain.Read more
week 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.Read more
Yesterday was one of those days in this after life that was both incredible and heartbreaking all at once. Earlier this year, I started going to the gym and took up Crossfit to try and get into shape. I hadn't done anything for over a year since he died and was really out of shape. Not to mention I've never really been athletic my entire adult life.
So yesterday was big because I went to my first Crossfit competition. And it was cold. And rainy. And I had a cold. And I somehow still didn't back down and I did all three of my workouts to compete. I was on a high all day... The very fact that I was even there was amazing. The fact that just a year ago I'd never have imagined I'd be doing something like this was so fulfilling.
I didn't win anything, I did probably somewhere around mediocre compared to all the other women. But that didn't matter. I showed up. And I worked harder than I ever have. And I beat my own practice times by a lot. And I did it with a layer of grief underneath it all.
I’m completely devastated this week. There was a horrible mixup while I was out of town last week and I discovered that a dress was accidentally thrown out. Not just a dress - but THE dress which I have been wearing in every weekly self portrait I have taken for the past 7 months (shown above). It was the main prop in this year-long series about living with loss. The irony here is not lost on me. I have just lost my most important prop in a project about losing my most important person. Gone without warning. Without my having any say in the matter. Just like my fiancé and our life together. It is all too familiar a story.
What. The. Hell.
Now the entire project must change. I cannot replace the dress - it was vintage and would be impossible to find again. I'll have to instead continue the project in a new direction. The way I've had to continue my life in a new direction. I really HATE how precisely this event mirrors losing him. It has triggered me in all sorts of ways about his death and about my having to live on.Read more
I was talking to a widowed friend the other night about the whole idea of sharing this part of our life and how it changes over time. I remember well the first year after my fiance died. The first thing out of my mouth was this information. I told everyone and anyone. Friends, family, coworkers, customers, the mail man, police officers, the tech support guy, random strangers... No one was safe. I spewed my raw pain out all over the world like a continually erupting volcano.
My friend did the same. We talked about how at first, it is the only thing we wanted to talk about. It is the only thing that mattered. And for a while, it really did swallow up our identity. And we talked about how we felt like we lost the whole rest of our identity for a time to the label "widow". Which left us both feeling conflicted - simultaneously wanting to be completely defined by our love for this person, and resentful that people now only saw us as a widow.Read more
I just want to be alone so much lately. I've always been a bit introverted, but I literally haven't wanted to be around anyone at all lately - and that's not like me. For me, it can be so easy to just close off from the world. I know it's one of those things I have to be careful about keeping in check. Particularly as an artist - it is extremely tempting to only express my emotions through the things I create. While this is very healing way to express my pain - it can also turn on me and become a way of keeping the world at a distance if I'm not careful. I can begin create an image of myself through my art - let people see my pain the way I want them to see it. Sometimes, it's tempting to only let people see my pain that way.Read more