If you are someone who knows me well, or someone who has read some of the things I’ve written in the past, you probably know that my life was forever changed not too long ago. To be specific, on July 3rd, 2017 I lost my mother to cancer, the best woman I’ve ever known. I haven’t written about her in awhile, but I think about her every day. Though I like to write on occasion, my sister is the writer of the family, she has a way of turning special moments into words that turn into captivating stories. My work is centered around special moments as well, though instead of using words, I tell stories through the images I capture— freezing time if only for a split second, something I wish I could have done with the time I had with my mother.
Grief is something that we think we all understand— in it’s simplest definition grief is “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” Even if you haven’t experienced a great loss, it’s hard to live life without at least knowing someone who has, because let’s face it, death is all around us. Whether we like it or not, death is apart of life. I had thought I understood grief, heck I graduated with a master’s degree in counseling. I volunteered as the leader of a grief group for 7-9 year olds for several years and even worked as a grief therapist as a second job for two years. At that time I had lost all four of my grandparents, who were all significant people in my life. Of course I grieved each of these losses, and each experience was different, as you might assume. Every loss is a dagger to the heart, one that you must learn to adjust to in order to get back on your feet.
I don’t want to compare one loss from another but I will say even after losing several important people in my life I can honestly say I still didn’t quite know grief the way many of my clients knew it. I hadn’t had that kind of grief that reaches into your heart and wreaks havoc on your soul. I hadn’t known the kind of grief that forms a codependent relationship with depression and anxiety. That all changed in 2017, when the most important woman in my life was taken away from me, something I had never imagined could ever happen. You’d think having a mother who battled bone cancer, colon cancer, followed by two battles with breast cancer the thought of losing her would be a constant thought, a very real fear. And though it was, I can honestly say that even in the last month of her life, it wasn’t something I had ever come to terms with actually happening. But it did of course, and let me tell you— I was NOT ready it. No amount of time studying in grad school, leading grief groups or counseling clients could ever prepare me for the journey I was about to reluctantly begin.
People deal with grief differently, my way of dealing with the torturous feelings of loss initially was to not deal with it at all. I retreated from life. I withdrew from family and friends. I stopped doing the things I loved, I stopped doing really anything at all. I slept. I hit ignore on my phone ten times more than I answered it. I let my grief rule my life for at least a year, and then some. I looked at my grief as the enemy, each memory of her a battle that left me feeling like the loser. Even when something great would happen, little did I know that those moments would be battles as well—because I’d have to experience the good things without her. It had seemed that my grief was winning a war that I never wanted to fight. I needed a change. I needed to figure out a way to triumph over my depression and anxiety and win this war with grief. So how did I do it? It was an arduous, yet simple adjustment in my thinking that lead to my process of healing. I needed to adjust my focus. Depression and anxiety can cause many things, and one of them is to feel utterly defeated in every way. When faced with feelings of overwhelming defeat, my reaction was to shut down. A once self-proclaimed “strong and independent woman”, now weak. My body, mind and heart just couldn’t take it. Or so I thought.
But it turns out we are stronger than we think, and can endure more than seems possible in life if we do one simple thing: Adjust our focus. When feeling defeated in a chaotic and unpredictable life, it’s often hard to know how to get up and where to begin once you are on your feet. The key to kick starting yourself into a path that moves forward rather than backward is to block out the negative noise and narrow your focus onto the things that you CAN control. I couldn’t control the fact that my mother was gone, nor can I control the future and the possibility of another loved one getting sick or even the thought of getting sick myself one day. But I could control what I do with my time now, and spending the time I have in the dark cave of despair that I had created for myself wasn’t what I wanted out of life. So, I adjusted my focus onto something that lit a spark inside my cold dark soul, and slowly but surely the spark created a light inside of me that finally pulled me out of my cave.
As you might assume, it was my love of taking pictures that pulled me out of the darkness. I had always had a love for photography, but it wasn’t until I decided to focus on this passion, that it was able to change me. Do I still experience feelings of grief? Of course. I will continue to grieve the loss of my mother until the day we are reunited. It will never be easy, it will always be hard. The day that I realized that grief wasn’t something to go to war with was the day I started to heal. You see grief isn’t the enemy, we grieve because we once loved… and the greater the love the greater the grief. So rather than rejecting the sadness and feelings of despair that come with grief, allow yourself to lean into these feelings, let it take over your soul without a fight, and the end result will always leave you with the one thing that started it all in the first place, love. I’ll end with what I intended this post to be about in the first place, simple advice for anyone going through a tough time—whether it be with grief or not: remember this quote:
“When life gets blurry, adjust your focus.”
And for you photographers out there, I’ll take it a step further:
When you’re drowning beneath what seems like the weight of the world, we must not look for an all-purpose solution to curing the many stresses of every day life, because that solution does not exist. Instead, narrow your aperture on the subject that’s right in front of you. Blur out the noise surrounding it, and focus on ONE thing. Your subject could be anything really, something as simple as getting out of bed and taking a hot shower. It could be the ones in your life who need you now more than ever, your family, your friends, maybe a client. It could be a positive outlet that allows you to stop and breathe, something that centers you. Whatever this subject may be to you, I think you will find that once you have narrowed your focus to this one thing that creates a positive moment in your day, in time the dark clouds hovering over everything else in your life will start to break. Your outlook on life will start to look less like useless noise that drowns out your subject with cluttered chaos, and more like important pieces of the puzzle—ones that when you see clearly, actually add to the subject in a positive way. Though it’s necessary to take some time to blur out the background in order to make your subject the main focus, you’ll find that in time you’ll be able to bump your aperture higher and higher, allowing more and more of the picture to be in focus until one day you realize you finally can see everything in front of you clearly, and that’s what life is all about.