Making Meaning

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Every now and then, something comes along that fills you to the bones with gratitude for this totally messed up, chaotic, stressful, sometimes shitty and also amazing life.

Just moments ago, I finished up a live phone interview. I was invited to speak about grief and the healing power of creativity at DeathExpo – an annual online conference held by the End-of-Life University. It all started by going to another conference about death, in Virginia earlier this year, where I met the founder of the university. We chatted over a few drinks at the bar and after hearing about my story and my photo series on grief, she invited me to be a part of this wonderful expo. That was back in the summer, so I’ve been waiting a while for this event.

Now, I have to preface the rest of this with the fact that I am an introvert. I tend to like talking to one or two people at a time. I don’t like socializing in big groups, much less speaking in front of them. I’m also a writer. Normally, my words are carefully chosen and put to the page, with painstaking thoughtfulness, before they go out into the world. I don’t exactly enjoy anything that makes me have to speak off the cuff or string words together spontaneously in front of people. I also can’t multitask worth a damn, so trying to put together articulate sounding sentences WHILE speaking is sort of a subtle form of torture for me.

But when someone approaches you to share your story about grief and loss, and share what you’ve learned in hopes of helping others, you don’t say no to that. Partly because I’m superstitious. I’ve lost both parents and my fiance before the age of 30… at this rate, I try to listen when the universe presents things like this to me. I mean literally, I am afraid someone else in my life might be smited if I ignore God or the universe or whatever it is. It’s obvious I’m supposed to be doing work that is related to grief and death in some way – or I wouldn’t have so many dead people in my life. And so, despite my fear of public speaking and interviews and the spotlight and all of it… I’m just allowing the universe to drag me into all this uncomfortable shit.

And you know what?

This interview was awesome. I loved every moment of it. I don’t know why, but I’ve never felt particularly confident or assertive when it comes to sharing with others. Tonight though, for the first time ever, I felt like I knew what I was talking about. I felt like I had good, valuable lessons to share about grief and using creativity to heal. And for the first time I felt just a bit comfortable stepping into that spotlight. After all, if there are two things I know, it’s grief and art. It was a pleasant surprise, and felt really good to finally experience that kind of confidence.

It has taken a LOT of uncomfortable feelings to begin to get to this place… a lifetime of them really, but more recently, hours and days and weeks and months of working on presentations and interviews (and also hours and days and weeks of procrastinating because I’m so terrified of it). This is the first time in my life I’ve even been confident enough to just TRY to do things like this. The person I was before Drew died would have never even attempted this stuff. The person I was a year ago wouldn’t have even tried any of this.

It’s got me thinking about a lot of things. Like how trying to stretch ourselves and grow means we have to go through a lot of doubt and fear before we can begin to reap the rewards at the end. We have to be willing to feel pretty damn uncomfortable before we can begin to feel comfortable when tackling something new. I’m also thinking about how important it is to have others be part of our healing… because I got so much energy and strength back from doing this interview tonight. Energy I desperately have needed during these tough times of relocating from Texas to Ohio. Energy that helped me feel less alone and more connected to others again. Energy that I know is going to help me feel motivated to get to making some art soon.

Lastly, it made me think about the meaning of death and loss that can continue to be built over time. I cannot even express how much meaning was poured into my world tonight. It was a reminder that every shitty day, every tear cried, every moment I’ve missed Drew since he died, and every time I wanted to give up and I didn’t… they have ALL been worth it, because maybe something I shared tonight will help someone else on their own road through grief. This was also a reminder that as my life continues on, things like this will come into it and continue to give meaning to Drew’s life. He will continue to impact the lives of others in ways that he never imagined too, as a reach out to give a helping hand to others.

Ultimately, doing this interview reminded me that no matter how difficult this life gets, meaning does not stop being built into it. It continues to build over time… over our lifetimes, if we choose to give it a chance. Fifty years from now, should I be fortunate enough to still be around, there will be hundreds of new ways that Drew’s life will have impacted the lives of others. And even though he would not be in a single picture from June 2012 on… you would still be able to fill a dozen scrapbooks with the meaningful things that his spirit has gone on to do.

Note: For anyone who would like to hear the interview with Death Expo, you can listen and view the slides we discussed HERE.

It Begins Today.

I gave you a small hint the other way with my post “She decided…” and now I can finally share my news with all of you. I would like to set the mood for this post and tell you all to listen to this song while you read… because it is what I am listening to while I write this very important post…

Today is the day I have been waiting for – out of respect for the wonderful company I have spent the past 4 years working for – I have waited until now to share this. Today I can finally share the great news of my life with all of you. Today, I can announce to all of you that I have quit my job, am moving down to the Texas hill country and going to pursue my dreams of being an artist!!! Although I have loved my job and all the people there – it was no longer the place for me. A new chapter is here, and it needs to be one that honors Drew to the fullest. And that means living my dreams the way he lived his dreams. No matter how uncertain or scary it might be, I am 100% confident in this choice, because no other direction in my life could ever honor him as fully as this. This was his dream for me, and my dream for myself. No decision in my life has EVER felt so right!

This is something I’ve been completely terrified to do my entire life (like most people!) – I’ve had a steady job since I was 17 years old and always known where my money was going to come from. But something happens when you lose everything your world was built around – I’ve already experienced the worst pain the world can throw at me – and I am still here. He was right about me – from the very beginning when he said that I am “titanium”. I’m bulletproof, and as long as he is with me I will not fall – and he will always be with me.

So now here I am with a crystal clear vision and a determination like never before. Suddenly I know what matters to me and I know what I am meant to do. I know the thing I was put on this earth to do now – to make beautiful things that make a difference in people’s lives. That is my purpose… it doesn’t matter if it’s a photo or a sculpture or a logo or a website, I will do it all. Thank you my love, you have changed my life in more ways than I could have ever thought possible and you still are. You are the greatest gift I could have ever been given in my time here on earth. We may not be able to live out our dreams together like we imagined, but I promise I am going to live mine – for me and for you.

I am very excited to share with all of you the journey that lies ahead for me. I will be staying with Drew’s parents until I figure out my next steps – and am immensely grateful as I could not be doing this without their support. They are a godsend.

The next exciting part of this news to share is that I have also found a part time job at an art gallery in Bee Cave, just west of Austin! I will be surrounded by art and get to talk to people about art all day long. And I will have the chance to sell some of my own art there in the gallery too! Yup, this is definitely the right direction. I’ll make sure to share the info about the gallery soon for everyone, so that any of you in the area can come by for a visit!

So here’s to a new chapter – it is not the one I wanted or the one I would have chosen, but it is something… it is a way to begin to heal and a way to begin to find joy. I do not believe that bad things happen for a reason in our lives… but I do believe in making good reasons out of those bad things. And that is what I will do.