07 January, 2009

Dear Natalie.

**Alert: This is wordy. So if you don't like words, which a lot of people don't, I'll see you later friend. Go hang out somewhere else for a bit. I promise to throw more pictures, and short sentences, at you ASAP.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I lost my 21 year old brother unexpectedly a year and a half ago. He was my only sibling and my best friend. I blog about him every now and again, and because of this, every so often, I get emails from people who've suffered similar losses. I enjoy these as they make me feel connected to people who understand the path I'm on while simultaneously offering me an opportunity to reach out and offer some measure of comfort to those around me. Well today I received an email from a blog friend that I feel compelled to discuss publicly.

Linda lost her Mom in August and her Dad in October. They died only 1 month and 26 days apart! Here's a little expert from her email:

"When I read your Christmas Eve post I was a mess . . . . I’m wondering if, after you lost Gavin, you went through a creative block? I don’t seem to have any interest in picking up my camera and I LOVE my camera. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for me?"

Believe it or not, I'm asked a version of this question quite frequently. Not just from people who have experienced the death of a loved one but from other friends and strangers who have experienced life changing events of all shapes and sizes; divorce, illness, bankrupcy and so on.

For a long time I've been looking for an opportunity to share a little bit about my experience after losing Gav and I think I'd like do that here and now. . .

After Gavin died my life was a fog for a very long time. I'd have moments, days, maybe even weeks of clarity, but to be frank, I still feel just a little numb and dizzy every now and again.

In the very beginning I literally put my camera away. Not intentionally. But I did. For a couple of months survival dictated that I focus what little energy I could muster on my kids and my husband. Then unfortunately (and I'll explain what I mean by this shortly) my passion for photography came back no holds barred. As some of that initial shock wore off, I found myself literally throwing my life into photography again. This was unfortunate because I really believe that on a subconscious level I was avoiding the acute pain I felt by being as busy as humanly possible. Between my husband and my kids and everything I was doing my photography, there literally wasn't a moment left in the day to shed a tear. Because of this, I took on more than I could manage, thus relationships both personal and professional suffered, my health deteriorated, I wasn't true to myself or aware of my own needs and most importantly, that grief was never worked through along the timetable it could have been. Pain was simply suppressed.

Now this is a dual edged sword because I also really believe that photography saved my life. Having something to literally throw myself at was very healing for me. I know it seems contradictory, but its true. It gave me a way to feel competence and a sense of control over something, which was very good for me. I had a hard time opening up to anyone other than Richie, and because I was in such desperate need of release and friends I could talk to and lean on, and yet was unwilling to do so, photography stepped in a filled the gap.

My mom always says that grief is like the ebb and flow of the tide. You've got to ride it out and know that as far as it pulls from the shore, it will find its way back again. I know that this is true. I believe that there will always be an ache in my heart from the loss I've sustained. The pain will return from time to time, but I'm realizing that now the pain visits less often and that the duration is less significant than before.

Is my loss epic and greater than that of others around me?? Definitely NOT. But it's mine and it has changed me into someone different than I was. I always tell people that when Gavin died I died too. My identity changed. I was no longer Gavin's sister. I was just me. Natalie. Alone.

I started to entertain fears of my parents dying and me being alone. My roots all being torn out from beneath me. Worse I started to entertain fears of my children dying or my husband dying.

I came to learn that this is natural. I learned to acknowledge the fears as they came to the surface and then move on to other, healthier thoughts.

What did I learn from all this? Well, ultimately I learned that sometimes healing requires visiting the depths of Hell so you can literally rise from the ashes anew. Melodramatic? Only to someone who hasn't experienced it.

I also learned that every day the best you can do is to just be where you're at and know that that's OK. Give up? Um, no. Give way? Yes. I learned to love myself enough to make room for and respect the emotions I was feeling. This was perhaps one of the healthiest decisions I ever made in my entire life.

I learned that for me to overcome grief of any kind there are 3 musts.

  1. I've got to get out of bed every normal working day at a reasonable hour.
  2. I've got to force myself to take a shower. Showers work miracles. (I recently received a message from a grieving mother who said she hasn't showered in 6 days. I know some of us who haven't been there can't understand this. But those of us who have are nodding our heads in complete and total understanding and compassion. I found that finding the strength to just roll out of bed and turn on the faucet was often my saving grace. If you need to, you can climb right back into bed once you're done, but you've got to get up and shower. Make sure your soul knows you're still fighting for life. . . ;P)
  3. I've got to pray. The real kind of prayers, where I get down on my knees and talk to God. I've got to do this consistently and genuinely, or I will not survive in a way that I'll be proud of.

To anyone who's hurting, YOU WILL feel peace again.
YOU WILL feel joy.
YOU WILL laugh out loud.
YOU WILL build a new life around what was and what is your identity.
YOU WILL eventually see the world in a whole new light,
with greater perspective, knowledge,
and love and gratitude for the people and things around you.
YOU WILL.

Thank you for sticking through this crazy sermon till the end, though I have a feeling only my mom is still with me. Hi mom. I love you.

But all joking aside, this post has been so healthy for me, so healing, so thank you for being a part of it.

And to Linda, I am so sorry for your loss. I wish I could tell you that your passion is right around the corner, but I can't promise you that. I do know that life has a way of coming around in the best possible way. I hope your passion and creativity returns and that you and your camera can reignite your love affair soon. But more than that I wish you love and peace in this crazy time. My arms are around you.

xo,

Natalie

47 comments:

Crystal Chick said...

Thank you for sharing, Natalie. I know it was good for your soul to write it, and it will be good for the souls of grieving in their own ways.

April Ziegler said...

Thank you for writing this. I can relate to so much of what you've written. And it makes me feel a little more "normal" to hear that I'm not alone in this thinking. I lost my little brother 7 years ago, he was also 19. And this May I lost my father. It's been a daily struggle to cope with the devastating losses. Your talk of change reminded me of what I wrote this year, on the anniversary of my brother's accident...

Loss changes. It changes your life, your family, your future. Most of all it changes you. To the core. And you can't ever go back to the person you were before. Today is the 7 year anniversary of losing my little brother. I long for my perfect little world back... parents married for 25 years, a brother, a sister, two dogs, two cats in a happily chaotic suburban home. With one piece missing, it all felt so different. So incomplete. So unfair. What I wouldn't give to once again live in that impenetrable bubble of naivety where it just. couldn't. happen. to. us.

Thank you for sharing, Natalie.

Jody said...

Nat, thanks for baring your soul. I hope it helped. It was helpful to me as I'm going thru a tough time with my only daughter right now. She is angry at me and stomped off on christmas day saying I would not see her or her children again. Now I'm pretty sure thats Not true..but nevertheless its broken a piece of me and it hurts like heck.
So yes I am praying. Sometimes thats the best thing. Thanks for sharing...you're top notch in my book =)

Laura Brown said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm grateful that I haven't lost a sibling - can't imagine the hurt. I have lost so many in the last few years, though, that I can relate to your words of wisdom.

Scott & Tami said...

I believe you are living the life Heavenly Father wants!!! You are an amazing mother and wife and friend and you are using your talents to help the lives of others...you are consecrating your time and talents to the Lord. You amaze me how you touch people...through your life and your experiences and it's awesome that we have the internet so that people all over the world can be touched by you, not just those you see. I love you so much Nat...thanks for your example and helping so many people....especially me!

ashley said...

Nat, thank you for sharing your feelings. I can identify with everything you said. It can be so hard to move forward after such a devastating loss. I have to say I have really admired the way you have pulled thru and the way you are still so positive. I think you rock and I am glad we are still friends after all these years. Love, Ashley

Corey B said...

Having suffered many losses myself, I really loved this post. I have never thought of grief relating to the ebb and flow of the tide but that's such a perfect analogy! Good for you for posting this... if it helps one person see that things will get better - you've changed that persons life :)

Annie said...

Natalie - thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Really. I suffered from infertility struggles for a long time, and that darkness and hell you talk about is exactly what I went through. I have been trying to find the words to post about that experience and give hope to others who may be struggling with the same feeling of loss. You have a way of wording that literally strung the feelings out of my heart into language. I hope you don't mind if I use some of your ideas when I post. Thank you! And may your loss be something that also helps you find joy.

shelly said...

Thank you for taking the time and effort and energy to share all of this with everyone, Natalie. You are so giving and wonderful and I LOVE YOU for everything you were, you are, and who you will become. I hope you know that your words hit a very strong chord with me, also, only I couldn't have been so eloquent in expressing it, and in turn, helping so many people. It reminded me that as we all worry about grieving or dealing with life-changing events in a "normal" way, that any way you do it IS "normal", and to be that piece of driftwood that rides that tide, being smoothed and made more beautiful. Thank you, Nat. I love you!

sarah marie. said...

your photography is beautiful.

Annie said...

Looks like a lot more people than I stayed with you all the way here Natty Gann. I love you too. So. Very. Much!

Sara McDaniel said...

Thank you for sharing what you have gone through and are still going through. It is helpful to know your not alone. I enjoy reading your blog and looking at your pictures. You are a very creativeand inspiring individual and you Thank You!

Larry Reeves said...

Thanks for the long post...it was worth reading. Most people have been through the loss of a loved one and it impacts you in different ways. I love your thoughts and "musts" to help with these times. You're an inspiration to many people, not just through your photography, but through your great advice and philosophies. I lost my 17 year old cousin a couple years ago and my grandpa this past October. Both deaths were sudden and were hard to deal with. I can't imagine losing a sibling or a parent. Thanks again for your blog, advice, images, and everything you're doing to help others...you're awesome.

Linda said...

Natalie, I' m a mess again! You seem to have that affect on me: ) Thank you so much for your post. I believe that your comment of "feeling like your roots had been torn out from beneath you" is so very true. Loosing both of my parent has left me feeling that I've lost my roots. I know that is not the case, as I carry memories and their love with me always.

Aside from all of this Natalie you inspire me with your words and images and I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Linda

Anonymous said...

Suppressing pain is a common reaction we have in this fast paced society. As well we expect instant everything - including pain relief and getting over grief - we don't "get over it" as everyone would have you think - you get "used to it". The problem is that people aren't given permission to discuss their feelings and thus feel VERY alone and not normal as one of the comments mentioned.

I have written a book on grief - "Baby Boomers Face Grief - Survival and Recovery" and I do many speaking engagements on this subject. I know bereavement support is extremely valuable. Although the book is aimed for the Baby boomers it is a general book about grief.

Part of the problem with grief is our society/culture will not allow people to talk about their feelings. It has been my pet peeve - hence the book. My background is a degree in nursing and 20 years working in the community health care system.

If you would like more info on the book you can find the introductory chapter and my bio etc at www.trafford.com/05-2319. It is available through myself (receipt provided), Trafford.com and Amazon.com.

I have been humbled by the comments I have received by people - my goal has always been to change the way we handle this in our society.
Bravo to you for talking about this issue.
Jane Galbraith
jane.galbraith@sympatico.ca

Ashleigh said...

Dear Nat,
You inspire me, you encourage me. You're a wonderful mother, wife and example to me in all that I see you doing. Although I haven't experienced the same loss that you have, I've seen my share of grief and I too can testify that all those who are suffering WILL. FIND. JOY! I'm so glad to know that you know this, so glad to hear you share your experiences, so encouraged by your endurance and faith. I admire you more than you know.
Ash

Natalie* said...

"we're meant to lose the people we love. how else are we to know how important they are to us?"

.the curious case of benjamin button.

mandy said...

Thankyou Natalie!!

Rachel and family said...

Well said Natalie. I have loved and lost too many family members in my 25 years of life and all of the losses effect you. The pain does get easier to bear but you are right, it never goes away. To Linda, I have lost a parent and my heart aches for you. No one can say the right thing and what is worse is when people look at you and the awekward elephant steps into the room. You know, the one that no one will talk about. Welcome people's memories of your parents when you are ready. You will cherish them. Be strong but be willing to cry your eyes out. Say the things you wish you could say to them out loud... even if it's hurtful, it's healing. You are not alone.

OMI PHOTOGRAPHER said...

Just letting you know...lots of us made it to the finish line! Love you Nat!

dolly etta said...

Lots of love for you Natalie. You were so outwardly amazing at Gavin's funeral (as were your parents) and I knew there was a lot a head for you. I have wondered how you and Annie and your Dad were really getting along and if you had reconciled this heartache somehow. It never seemed appropriate to ask so I just left it there. I never once doubted that you did not find a healthy perspective and this story is the evidence of that assumption. Perspective is a powerful tool. XX and a big O

Da Denninghoff's said...

I echo Tami's comment and say thank you for being TRUE:)

kanaboke said...

wow, just reading all those comments ahead of mine, I get a feeling that as your arms are wrapped around Linda's everone else's arms are wrapped around the two of you in a huge Healing Hug! Simply Amazing what you do Natalie, with pictures AND words..simply amazing.

oneshotbeyond said...

it must be very healing to write these feelings and thoughts all out. Good for you!

Carly Johnston said...

Natalie - I am so glad you wrote this. I am so sorry for you and I wish I could have known at the time. I remember when my parent separated and I was so lucky I had such great roommates at the time. I think certain people are given to us as certain times in our life to help us through it. I know I might have died if I didn't have Eric when my Dad died. I am so lucky for the people that have come into my life to help me through the hard times. And you are one of them. I hope you had a "Natalie" when you lost Gavin to help you through!

Erin Jane said...

oh Natalie, you have made me happily sad today. Something that I remember about Gavin so clearly and strongly was how much he loved and looked up to you, and because of that I did too, and still think of you often. Love Jane

Gayle said...

Natalie, this post is so beautiful.

maz said...

I don't often read long posts but boy this was worth it. Couldn't NOT read it. Thank heaven I haven't suffered a loss like yours but I know how even small setbacks can knock back my creative spirit at just the time when I need it most. Thanks so much for sharing your amazing talent and insight.

Arica said...

thank you for this post natalie. i needed it.

Summer's World said...

This post was so raw and real and I'm glad you shared it. I'm so sorry for your loss. Very helpful. Very brave.

In.A.Nutshell said...

so ... i'm a little late on this one. i just wanted to say that I AGREE that you have to feel it, let the grief and pain and agony just wash over you and take you wherever it wills before it will leave you alone.

it's like thinking you can wash the sand off yourself with your child's play bucket. it just won't happen. you have to dive in the ocean and scrape it off with your fingers, and get it out of the nooks and crannies of your swimsuit where sand was never supposed to be in the first place. to me, that's grief. that's grieving.

and the suppression is natural - inevitable. but eventually, and the sooner the better, we have to just let those body shaking tears flow, and let the ache eat us through.

i really loved this post. it reminded me of where i was and where i've come, and how grateful i am for both.

thanks nat

{lindy baker cakes} said...

Thank you Natalie. It definitely makes me want to hang on to what I have and cherish each moment with those around me that I love. Thank you for writing this and for your honest, genuine wisdom.

iDanny said...

Hi Natalie, I would say that I came accross your blog by accident, but I believe that nothing is ever as random as it seems. Your entry is amazing to say the least, and I've been touched by its message. I'm amazed and humbled by the overpowering amount of honesty and emotion that radiates from your thoughts. Thank you for sharing such intimate thoughts, specially the comments about the shower. I kow that feeling oh too well, and after reading this I felt I simply had to post to say thank you. Your pictures are amazing by the way and your tutorial on DPS will prove to be most helpful in future projects. have a wonderful day. -Sincerely Danny

Our Blog Spot said...

Sometimes our own words are what can heal us. How appropriate. I love you sissy.

stef j. said...

i ditto taylor.

i have no idea what you are going through, but i know i love you. and i'm here for you.

Marcimallow said...

Hi,
My heart aches for you and your family. I only hope that you don't turn away from your camera but instead use your experiences in your art because you have a gift. I tell you what I live by, everything happens for a reason. I lost my daughter for a reason, you lost your brother and your precious son for a reason and we may never know, but God knows and that's all that matters. There are people that care about you and are praying for you.

Marci

Stephanie Lauren said...

Thank you for this post! My mother died almost 7 years ago when I was 15 years old and I never thought I would be the same but I knew I would be taken care of. God certainly blessed my life in so many ways and I can see that now, even though I couldn't then. Your strength is amazing and you will be okay again. Thank you for sharing your soul and thoughts for everyone to read. Your family has been in my prayers and I will continue every single day to pray for you all.

Alisa Greig said...

SO reflective, thank you for opening up this way and helping so many with your experiences and how you deal with what seems and is so incredibly difficult--you and your strength and faith are such an inspiration, I can see God smiling in Laie :)

Anonymous said...

Amazing synchronicity-one year ago exactly. I hope you eventually find solace in your own words.

Sue, NYC said...

I will remember your grace and your strength when I face grief someday.

mimi charmante said...

Tears come when I read your words, as I can only imagine what your sweet family is going through. I hope that you too can, in some way, take comfort from your own words in time.
Thinking of you,
xx

maia said...

It's as if Heavenly Father brought baby Gavin home on that particular day so that it would lead you back to your entry about your brother. I hope your own words of wisdom can help you heal. I know God to be real. I know the Savior lives. I always have. But your experience seems to have driven these truths home to me even deeper. A friend of mine is carrying twins and is 3 months away from delivering. She is being kept at the hospital waiting to deliver one that will be born without a brain and the other one they can only hope and pray for her survival. This comes after 5 years of trying to conceive. In the dad's blog entry he wrote, "As we swirl through the burdens, we're grateful for our convictions of safety and peace in the truth.  We gave Melanie a blessing a few hours ago and all through the ache there is the surety of testimony than none of these events have somehow fallen out of the grand design of our Heavenly Father's plan for us.  The trust that this is very lovingly deliberate comforts our souls!" I am moved by these words, and by every word you've written, as well. My faith and testimony are strengthened and renewed. Thank you for that. And bless you for all the lives you have touched. I am grateful for the means by which I have gotten to know you. Stay strong, Natalie. God Bless your family.

Damaris said...

sometimes we are our greatest strength.

Dawn B said...

I am at a lost for words right now after reading this post....you described your past life as if it were mine....I too lost my brother (only sibling) at age 34, have since lost my mother (who I unfortunately was not close to), so it's just me, my dad, my 3 kids, husband and grandson. My dad was never at home while I was growing up, so we never got to know each other. It's still strange that's it's just me and him now. But when I think about him passing on, WOW, what a strange feeling. No one left but me out of my immediate family? That just seems so weird. If my brother were still living, it would be so different. We would have each other. It seems so strange to be the last one in the family to kind of "represent"! I had 2 kids when my brother died, and just like you, threw myself into raising them. I still have not grieved (he died 23 years go!) and when my mother died, I was left with ALOT of anger, resentment and bitterness towards her. My THREE kids are grown, so I am working on a photography business, slowly. Thank you so much for your wisdom and strength, and especially your faith. Oh, also, my brothers name was Chris and my oldest son is named after him. Small world sometimes.
Take care
Dawn

Adrienne said...

simply, thank you.

Tracie Lynn said...

I find myself coming to you often for help with my photography skills, and now lately I come to hear your words... your faith amazes me. I don't know you personally but I look up to you. I can only pray that one day my faith is as strong and as centered as yours. I come to your words to give me hope that it will one day happen. Thank you so much.

Tamara said...

You are a true inspiration and I am addicted! I came across your blog by one of your twitter posts just a couple of days ago. I read through many days of your posts as I backtracked your times of recent sorrow. I cried, I cried, I cried. And I kept reading.

I am a mother of two and my fears are written and experienced by you. Every night as I make my way to bed I kiss my boys once, twice, three times, endlessly saying my prayers for them, touching their angelic skin, feeling their heart beat through my hand on their chest into my soul. Thanking God for every moment, thanking them.

You are a true lover of life and family and it shows in your work. I am a photographer as well and had a blog once but found it just seemed so one-sided with posts of only photo-related talk and imagery. I love to shoot but there's so much more to life and I don't mean 'more' as in 'better than photography'. I mean there are so many facets to what makes a person who they are and seeing the way you went from posting images (beautiful by the way) of portrait work to crushing yet poetic lines of despair and hope wound up in one was painful and inspiring. I love that you weren't afraid to stop doing the 'photographer' posts and show your life and expose yourself (no pun intended, really).

You are an amazing, brave, courageous, compassionate, strong soul. I can't wait to read more and wish I could meet you face to face. You are a beautiful being. Thank you for coming into my life.