If you are human you have felt the moment; a sudden drop in your stomach, an instant feeling of overcoming and despair. Maybe this moment happens standing among many people or maybe it happens in private viewing a text or listening on the phone. Maybe this moment feels large about small information or maybe its information that you know is going to affect the rest of your life. We all know the feeling – and it’s a feeling no one can be fond of or enjoy revisiting.
I met Phil a few years ago on his wedding day. Both him and his wife, Madalyn, were instant love to me. They have both experienced a lot in regards to family and loss, and carry that grief but execute it in kindness. The day of the wedding Phil told me about his dad, and the grief he still felt from the day he lost him. As a wedding photographer, it isn’t necessarily my job to dig, but to understand with what is being shared with me. Phil’s dad never got to meet Madalyn, and that’s one thing that was on Phil’s mind during his wedding day, and still is a big aspect of his grief that hangs around as he continues making memories with his wife.
Phil lost his father suddenly while celebrating a wedding with his father years back. Everyone was dancing at a wedding reception, having a good time, when his father didn’t feel very well. His father did endure a seizure, and when they took him outside in the cooler air, Phil did attempt CPR. His father went to the hospital, but they couldn’t do anything for him. In a moment, everything changed for Phil… and as a human being, questions are always asked of what we could have done differently, even if the answer is ‘nothing.’
Days before this shoot as well, Phil had a dog, Atlas. I got to photograph Atlas at their wedding with them as well. Phil was given Atlas around the time of his dad’s passing. Unfortunately this grief story is fresh and older grief in one photograph. Around Friday I did get a text from Mads telling me that Atlas had passed on in their yard. He also had been fighting for quite some time for his health, and Mads and Phil did everything they could to help him live his best life for as long as he could.
I never have met people as involved as I in their pets lives. People who showed that no matter what they would find the finances, create the time, make the space to take care of their animals… but it was Phil and Mads. From watching their journey with Atlas and Brody, you can tell just how much time and energy they spend on their doggy kiddos, and although sometimes we understand death is on the horizon, we never truly can prepare ourselves for it.
Phil has kept many things from his dad. His dad’s truck, clothes, garage tools, you name it. You can tell he thinks about his father and cherishes things that remind him of his dad. There is thoughtfulness in the way he speaks about him, and the way he has created spaces around his home for his dad. With the passing of his father, and of Atlas, it is really important to focus on the things that really hold us together, support us, and give us comfort. It’s even more important to acknowledge the weight of these memories or physical items and make new memories that involve them, but not overwrite them. To acknowledge, to feel, but to press on for those around us that need us, too.
In both of these hard situations, grief will creep up on us differently. Songs may have or hold different meanings than they did before, smells will bring us back to specific memories we hold close to us, or moments of pride may show up when we have achieved something big that the one we lost would have been proud of.
Finding joyful still frames in life; riding motorcycles or pursuing hobbies that the ones we loved enjoyed, wearing old jackets and revisiting other senses that link us with those who have passed besides memory, sharing special memories with our spouses, loving our animals, are the way to seek the light in times of overwhelming sorrow. Phil disclosed with me he still had a voicemail from his dad he saved – and I was thinking how somedays that would break me down, but how thankful I’d be for it some other days.. and isn’t that just the definition of grief? That we are SO lucky we get the time we do with people who mean so much to us, but other days it just hurts a lot that they are gone.
Keep ridin’ in his memory.
Recently, I was watching reruns of an old Brit series, which I used to watch with my mother in her last few years.
There was one particularly drama-heavy day when, overcome with emotional exhaustion, she turned to me and said: “I just want to watch… ”
And revisiting that show always rekindled that moment. It was so plaintive, so heartbreaking… and somehow so… HER.
Sad though the memory is, something about it reminds me how intimate, how precious it was, the space we shared.
Helps me reconnect with it.
Sometimes, these moments are like lifelines.
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