I've been trying to blog lately, there are so many sessions that I want to share. Like many of you, I have time at home, so I should be able to do this. The photos, the beautiful people behind the photos, their stories. But I've been blocked. There are some blog posts that are harder than others, some stories that hurt to share and those of course are the most important ones. And yet here I sit, frozen; blocked. Why? I've been trying every day for the last two weeks to start these blog posts and today it finally came to me. I need to start with my own story if I want to be able to share for my clients. And I HAVE to be able to share for my clients. I need to tell my own story of the last four years, for ME, about ME. Not about how things worked out for my kids or my clients or anyone else - but what happened to ME over the last four years. Because that is how I got here today and that is the only way forward.
And yes, I've shared my story before. Some of it. Last February I told you about my husband and how he died from cancer in 2016. We had a contest in his honor and it was amazing. Those are the stories I need to share, once I get past my own story. Recently I watched some educational content from Sue Bryce and there was a lot about grief that I wrote down, underlined and circled because it really fits. And right now, the world is grieving. What better time to talk about this word, this condition, this reaction to change that we all eventually have to handle, than now?
So my story. My grief. My life that I used to have. It included my four kids, my husband, a dog, a cat and a turtle. It wasn't a perfect life. We had a child with autism. Not the Sheldon Cooper variety, but the "never going to have a real job or live on his own" variety. Bills were high, we both worked a lot and didn't have as much freedom as we'd have liked. We spent too much on takeout food, ran ourselves ragged for our kids, argued about the laundry and then reconnected on vacation whenever we could afford to get away. It was our life. It felt comfortable and regular and good.
I can only tell this story from my own viewpoint so I have to say that the last four years have brought so many changes, each change bringing a little pocket full of grief like a coin purse full of nickels. And a few big things as heavy as a sack of gold bars. In 2016 my husband Scott was diagnosed with colon cancer and given two to 10 months to live. He lasted three months. These were horrific months full of surgeries, chemo, emergency hospitalizations, juggling childcare, emotions and money. I learned all the passwords, the account numbers, learned what I could about the things he normally handled, while pretending that I didn't really need to know because he was going to be fine. I learned how to plan a funeral, how to file a will with the state, how to switch over bank accounts and filed away a big pile of death certificates for all the accounts that would need them down the road. I got a bad case of PTSD. And then I got a new title: WIDOW.
I learned how to be a single mom. Not just a single mom, but a single mom with grieving kids. A single mom to a child with significant needs. A single mom to children navigating the college experience. A single mom to a tween girl, growing up without a father figure. A single mom with a house, an old car, a lawn, bills. I learned how to create a special needs trust, how to file my own will, get my own life insurance, figure out social security. I took my kids on a cross country trip for a month. I replaced my roof, my heating and air, the old cars. I got trees trimmed after they started falling on my house. Absurd as it sounds, our house got hit by lightning and I managed to handle all the homeowners insurance and get everything fixed. I had to learn to navigate the world of developmental disabilities as my son ended up in the hospital due to his behaviors, grief and a complicated diagnosis. That is a whole other story and involves another full layer of grief as my son (who I expected to live with me his whole life) had to be moved into a group home setting in order to be safe. That process was harder than you can imagine - paperwork, evaluations, hospitalizations, and huge bills from my attorney just to get my kid what he needed to be safe. I'm still fighting for him and always will.
In the midst of all this I re-started my business. I joined two other photographers to start a studio, I learned to lay floors, cleaned, spackled and decorated, negotiated with our landlord, fought for our certificate of occupancy and planned an amazing grand opening. I took workshops and learned more about using flash, finding locations, editing - I bought dresses and backdrops and crowns. So many crowns! I worked with AMAZING artists in the photography industry and learned so much. Every single step was scary. I was afraid every time I went to a workshop, met other artists, ordered equipment, signed paperwork. Grief and fear go hand in hand.
My kids kept going. I did what I could to be there for them but they deserve so much credit themselves. My two older boys made it through college. They are amazing. They graduated with honors and no debt. To say I'm proud is an understatement. They moved out. They got great jobs. I'm proud. And sad. And proud. Good changes can make you grieve too. My daughter is growing into a woman and my big teen with autism is getting more and more independent with the help he gets in his group home and at school. There were weddings and family vacations and celebrations, a new baby in the family - and they all have been amazing. And tinged with grief. But let me tell you a secret. You can choose to grow through pain. And I'm proud of my kids and I'm proud of myself because that's what we've done.
And here we are, it's four years later. Four years ago today my husband died. May 7th 2016. I still miss him. The kids still miss him. His friends & family still miss him. I don't feel so alone in my grief though, since here in 2020 I'm surrounded by so many people grieving due to our current situation. COVID19 is changing life. Changes we didn't sign up for. Oddly, I have been less phased than I expected, for the most part, maybe because I'm so used to living on a crazy roller coaster. Yeah, I know this has been all about me, and that isn't how I usually blog - but as I said, keeping it in is holding me back on other things. The time has come for this to come out, because there are undoubtedly more changes ahead. Good changes that I want to be excited about, hard changes that I want to learn to handle and changes for all of you that I want to be able to assist with. Telling the story means it becomes the past. The time has come.
I heard a quote that says "You can spend your whole life in a story or you can change, and heal and grow and live." I'm choosing to move forward with my grief and I am here to tell you it can be done. It doesn't mean it goes away, but it doesn't have to define you. This story of mine is true, but it is time for it to become a part of my past. If I can share it, maybe it can help someone else to move forward even if they're scared, grieving or just plain "stuck." Maybe seeing it all typed out will help me to recognize my own strength. Don't we all need to do a little more of that?
I did ALL of those things while grieving. I'm proud of myself. There, I said it. I'm proud of all the scary things I've accomplished. I'm always going to have grief, and some fear, but here's another secret: there's a sort of super power that comes with that.
The title of this blog is "Grief Makes You Brave." The quote from a class I watched last week with Sue Bryce. The full quote is, "Grief makes you brave because you realize, no amount of pain will feel worse than this. USE THAT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE." As we are collectively grieving, I'm sharing my story to tell you - use this grief to your advantage. I can tell you, it is true. Those things up there, all that stuff I did over the last four years? Grief made me brave. You might not be ready yet. It took me a few years. But one day, you'll be thinking about jumping in and trying something scary and new. Allow yourself to lean into it and be brave. I'm going to try to keep doing the same. We are all waiting for the next steps, and I promise I'll be back to take your photos as soon as we are safe to do so. And when things get back to a new normal and we all move forward with grief for the things that we missed, things that changed, things that didn't turn out the way we wanted, we can all be brave. We can support each other, we can learn to navigate our new lives and we can rebuild together. I have a lot of plans for the studio and yes, some of them scare me. I need to update my own family photos, which for some reason feels really hard. But I'm ready to be brave. For today, I'm going to be brave and share this. And then hopefully I'll unblock my brain and be able to share the other stories that need to be shared. The story of the mom who came for photos with her kids after being put on hospice. The story of the mom who lost one triplet and is raising the other two who have autism. The story of the family who lost their mom and got together for a portrait in her honor. And all the other stories, the babies, the weddings, the engagements, the families. They are waiting for me to share them and I'm ready to be brave and get going on that.
I'll end this with one more quote. I'm just full of quotes today. This one from Robert Frost sums it up perfectly and is as applicable today as it was then, maybe even moreso.
“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles . . . with politicians and people slinging the word fear around, all of us become discouraged . . . tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life — it goes on. It always has. It always will. Don’t forget that."