How Photography Helped Me With Grief

How Photography Helped Me With Grief

When I received the word that my father was dying, it was already in a year that had its own share of grief, 2020. 

In Paris, our freedom had been taken away almost overnight with only hours of warning. The previous day I’d had the intuition to buy some black cardboard and as many flowers as I could get my hands on in different varieties. 

When the news came the following day that we would have 8 weeks without all shops, parks, theatres, restaurants, cafes and only 1 hour outside a day with a document, I constructed a little space in my office to take photos. 

Each afternoon at the end of the day, I would take a single flower and photograph it as though I was shooting a model and this single flower was a woman. I’d look at it from every angle, reimagine the petals into being gowns, the stems into long necks or legs. Some of them I imagined for the first time singing or shouting, standing proud or others dancing.

In all the phases of living and dying, I stayed with them till the smell of the water became unbearable. As the lockdown worsened, they became more and more precious, my escape every afternoon into a world of wonder, shape, form, light, and magic. In those hours I was with my flowers, I felt good, free of anxiety, lost in their details, and pushing myself to find something new I’d never seen before simply by moving a couple of centimetres. 

Then I got the call no daughter or son ever wants to get, that it was time to say goodbye to the first man I’d ever loved without knowing whether it would even be possible to get from Paris to Sydney with the restrictions on every part of the planet. 

Thanks to my beautiful friends Domenica More Gordon and Claire Lloyd who suggested printing my Covid project onto fabric, I could take it with me into a quarantine hotel for 2 weeks in Sydney whilst I passed the days waiting to see my father and add another layer.

On the two ‘weekends’ I was in Quarantine Hotel, I spent two days straight embroidering my flowers, adding little bits of gold to them like they were couture gowns or just paying my respects to the creativity of mother nature. The stitches felt like I was sewing it all together, my story, the past, the present, the old, the new, and bits of me that needed to be healed. In the quietness of embroidering (not that well), the hours passed quickly and each day I would wake, I would be one day closer to seeing Mum and Dad.

Dad waited for me and over the coming weeks when all Dad needed was to be loved, to share thoughts on life and have his favourite foods (oysters and mangoes) as he dozed in his chair, I would embroider quietly as the hours passed. 

Some of my flowers were in the stages of dying just like my father. I saw them as beautiful just as they were when they were in full bloom. I saw my father as an old man at the end of his life still beautiful as the lines blurred with the tall handsome man I knew as a child. I saw life in all its stages as beautiful and everything in the world seemed to hold wonder.

On the day before my father died, I stayed in the apartment all day, it was a hot day and something told me to stay. I made this flower, Mum had suggested which petals to embroider and I loved sitting quietly embroidering whilst Dad dozed. 

Grief cracks you open, like someone dropped a giant rock from high above you and smashes a part of you that you normally can’t access. Your senses are on high alert, and your antenna grows, you see more, feel more, and smell more. You feel a heightened awareness for everything like you’ve taken a magnifying drug into your feeling body.

Creativity gave me peace and mindfulness in a world that felt out of control, grounded me into the present instead of letting me ‘future trip’ into a scary place, invited me to see the details not only in front of me but around me, and that even in heartbreaking circumstances, there can be beauty, dignity, and creativity. 

Grief is every individual’s journey, everyone grieves differently but without photography and creativity, I’m not sure I would have managed quite so well. This little project of the heart will always have special meaning to me for keeping me sane during Covid, showing that there is true beauty in living and dying and that even an old dog like me can learn to do things differently.

If you are grieving, maybe there is a little creative project that will gently accompany you through this time.

Sending you love,

Carla x

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