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Life, Loss, and Photography – A Photo Essay

Praying Planter. Belonged to my Aunt Frances. Rolleiflex Automat Kodak Professional T-Max 400

This year, 2019, has been a very trying year for me. It was a year of tremendous loss for my family and a lot of sickness for myself. Three of my family members lost their lives unexpectedly, and I am just doing my best to cope with it while trying to recover from a seemingly never ending flare up.

I was born into a certain religion, but didn’t start studying the Bible with them until I was 12 years old and at that point my father’s death and their message of resurrection was what drew me in to become a lifelong member. I was taught not to mourn dead loved ones because that showed a lack of faith. That left me feeling confused and even more depressed because I thought the feelings of loss I was having must’ve been wrong.

I stayed a member of the religion until I was about 22 years old. Up until then, I had made friends who were supposed to be my family. I went to their weddings, memorials, baby showers, births, and baptisms.

As I grew older and began to experience different levels of life, I had more questions and the more I asked the less I got in response. I just didn’t agree with the way things were being done, the judgement being passed on so many, and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. This of course meant I lost every single one of those “family” members that I had grown up with. Some of whom I still see around town and I am ignored as if I am wearing the Scarlett letter on my shirt.

Now I am left wondering what I truly believe. What was true? Where do we go when we fall asleep in death? Now I am second guessing everything I was taught because I don’t trust the source.

I am still on a journey to find what I truly believe, and at one point I whole heartedly believed that religion and what I was taught. However, when the people who teach it are telling you that Jesus hates the world and those who are in it and that we should do the same, then on the other hand tell us we should go out and save those people, I just couldn’t be a part of that kind of contradiction for the rest of my life.

A Church
Nikon FTn Kodak Gold 200

I believe all religions are similar in some way or another and it is just a means to an end. That end being a strong need built within us to feel connected to a maker. The need to know that there is more to life than living and dying. There just has to be a purpose to all the suffering and sadness.

Even if we have to make something up, we as human beings will choose to believe anything if it’s comforting to us. Just look what Ron L. Hubbard created with Scientology.

Now I didn’t write this blog because I want to debate about religion, so please don’t get angry in the comments. I simply am a person, like so many others, who has experienced a lot of loss and trials, and I am searching for meaning and answers in my life. I am searching for a way to cope, and one of the ways I have found has been photography.

My father passed away in 1998 when I was 11 years old and as you’d imagine it altered my life forever. It is a loss I still feel 21 years later.

My memories of him are sadly fading as I get older. They’re not as clear as they once were, but I have always known how much he loved taking pictures and how he always had a camera hanging around his neck.

One way that I have stayed connected to him has been through photography. He is the reason I picked up my first camera. In fact, that is the way I have stayed connected to the memory of many of my lost loved ones. Pictures are like treasure to me.

My father. 1970s with his Fujica ST801.

After my father passed away, I became obsessed with death, particularly my own. I wanted to leave something behind. I didn’t want to die and never be heard of again. I wrote my life story down at 11 (that was a short story). I started tracing my ancestry. I also was deeply depressed and suicidal. I was lost.

My fathers pastel John Lennon drawing.
Fuji Discovery Zoom Date with Kodak Gold 200

My brother-in-law took his own life 4 days after my birthday in January. This is something I am still having a hard time processing. He was my father figure after my own father was gone. He was my hero. I don’t want to focus on the way his life came to an end, I just want to express what he meant to me while he was here.

My sister Susan and Mike with his sister and neice on their wedding day 1996

There have been only two people that I’ve trusted with my life, that was my father and Mike. I have a huge fear of bodies of water and he and my dad were the only two I ever trusted to carry me into the ocean or over it on a boat or bridge. I haven’t been able to do it since they’ve been gone.

I had a crush on him as a very little girl, as most of us do when we look up to someone when we are young, and that crush grew to respect as I got older.

He came into my sister’s life when I was only two and a half years old so I don’t remember a time without him. He was funny, smart, and brave. He loved cars and I watched him while he built a truck in his garage.

I don’t think he knew his worth.

Mikes Tool Belt
Yashica Electro 35

I have been struggling to find a way to express all the loss I have experienced recently, and for me it has to be in a creative way. I’ve been working on a photo project to express these feelings. Among these losses were also my Grandfather Barney in 2015, my Aunt Maria’s death in August of 2018 and my cousin Netty that September. Three people that were very special to me.

For as long as I knew her, my Aunt Maria was very ill from Multiple Sclerosis. That disease is merciless and can slowly overtake your body as it did with my aunt, but she was brave. She stayed true to her faith, and I envy that. I envy people who can keep their faith no matter what, and are just so sure that what they believe is true. Her laugh was infectious and she was more than just my aunt, she was a good friend. I hope I can find a way to flesh that out in my project.

When I lost my uncle Dallas this August I found a camera of his and immediately started using it to feel connected to him. The same with my Aunt Frances who I just lost this November. I have been using her Polaroid Spectra she gave to me shortly before she passed. I have been taking it with me when I go out to take pictures because it makes me feel like she is with me. You can watch one of my adventures with her Spectra here or read about it here. You can also learn about my Uncle and his camera here.

My Uncle after our visit to Ground Zero in NYC.
Taken with my Canon EOS Rebel G
Imagine Stone. Belonged to my Uncle Dallas
Nikon FTn Kodak Tri-X

There’s just something about being outside in the solitude of nature and in the quiet that gives me room to think of them, and through the act of taking photos for even just a few minutes I feel as if I’m with them.

When I found out my Aunt Frances was going to die, I went out in my yard with my Nikon F and feverishly shot photos through my tears. As dramatic as that sounds, it really was just a way for me to dispense my feelings in a way that I understood.

Jesus Planter belonged to my Uncle Joe. Music men belonged to my Uncle Dallas.
Nikon F Kodak Gold 200
A young Aunt Fran

My Great Aunt Frances was a very special woman. She was strong, and tac sharp. I was blessed enough to get to know her these past few years and get close to her. She would call me to cheer me up when I was in pain even though she was in a lot of pain herself. I still hear her voice in my head saying, “Hello Lissy! Have courage soon we will be doing the Tarantella together.”

She always loved my writing and that is one of the reasons I started this blog. She would say, “Oh, what that girl does with words! She needs to be a writer.” She was my biggest fan.

I can’t imagine what it is like knowing you are going to die. We all are dying but when you are facing it head on the way my aunt was, you start to really question where you will be going after you fall asleep, and what you have done with the life you’ve had.

My aunt Fran and I on the left years ago and on the right shortly before she passed.

I experienced a little bit of this back in 2009 when I was in the hospital for two months after emergency surgery. I had a burst appendix and perforated colon. My body was septic and I had drain tubes everywhere. I wasn’t yet diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and the doctors just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better. I needed a second surgery and I remember making a will with my mother the night before my surgery. At 22 years old that can be a little bit scarring.

I do still deal with PTSD from that entire experience, including nightmares. I remember thinking about the life I’d lived up until then, and I remember wanting to know so badly where I would go if I didn’t wake up from my surgery.

That’s what my Aunt Frances wanted to know. She believed in heaven, and she’d call out for her parents, and her husband to come take her from her suffering, but there is always that thought of uncertainty even in the most faithful person.

Local Cemetery
Nikon FTn Fujifilm Superia Xtra 400
Local Cemetary
Nikon FTn Fujifilm Superia Xtra 400

I think all of these things I have experienced in my life can be seen through my photography style and what I choose to photograph.

I will keep searching for my faith because I believe it is important, but until I find the answers to my questions, I’ll just keep seeing the truth through the lens of my camera. The only truth I know for sure is what I see right in front of me.

Here’s to a better year in 2020.

5 thoughts on “Life, Loss, and Photography – A Photo Essay

  1. You really have suffered a great deal of loss and difficulty in your young life. I’m truly sorry. I hope you are able to sort through all that’s happened and find peace. Our loving Father wishes for all of us to find peace, for it is the path to Him.

    I know the religious group of which you speak, I studied with them when I was in my 20s. While I never became a member, when I questioned some of their doctrine and ultimately walked away I, too, was shunned by people I thought had become my friends. It was deeply painful, and to this day I cannot imagine how this shunning shows God’s love for us in any way.

    Perhaps this story of part of my journey will give you comfort.

    I hope you can find faith that gives you assurance of your future after you pass on. That assurance is out there, and you will find it, if you seek it.

    1. Thank you. I enjoyed your blog especially the analogy of your mom walking you to school. I think everyone and everything comes to our lives for a reason and serves a purpose for that point in our lives. That religion did just that for that point in my life.

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