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,
P.S. Grief can take away our rudder and if you have recently lost someone and are wondering what is next for you, you can download my Free Workbook, Reawaken Your Lust For Life.
Carla, I remember you mentioned one time that you were photographing dead flowers in Paris and it is so moving to see the result and to read how the whole process helped you so much. Through the lockdown, into quarantine and then sitting alongside your father. And what brilliance to print these beautiful flowers onto fabric and then embroider them in gold. Stunning, stunning, stunning. You are one incredible human and artist. Love as always Jilly x
Awww Jilly thankyou so much for your lovely thoughts and words. The creative process remains my greatest teacher, it pushes me, annoys me, teaches me and loves me. I consider it my best friend and someone I will always journey with. It makes everything better and gives sense or magic to the smallest thing. Sending love x
Hello dear Carla,
reading your rememberances and reflections made me very emotional. I am glad that you and your father had the time you spent together. You are so right, saying goodbye to ones father is one of the hardest things for a daughter.
I hope you are well.
HI Susanne, thanks for your lovely words. Yes it was so hard and it helped to do it with my family as a united force. Somehow the grief was lessened. thank you for your note. x
I love all of these but the ones with the gold around the petals remind me of those special pots in Japan that have gold bringing them back together after they have cracked or broken. (Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold- its built on the idea that embracing flaws and imperfections you can create a stronger more beautiful piece of art.) xx Corrina
Hi Corrina thanks for your note. Yes I love Kintsugi and I felt like the gold was making everything stronger like Kinstugi. It was an incredible process looking deeply at the flowers and even making the choice of where to put the gold!!! and of course the mistakes.. ha ha. plenty of those. xx
What a wonderful way to utilise creativity and what precious and exquisite works of art they are! Thank you for sharing this Carla and for your beautiful words. I know I will have to face this experience too and I am dreading it but I hope I too will be able to draw strength from creativity. Sending you all my love xxx
Hey Gorgeous, I have to say this little project was something like a comfort blanket that took my mind off all the possible outcomes and brought me to the present. Was a real balm to help me through this. x
Oh Carla, this is the most beautiful story. I also made flowers when my father passed away. I feel such a beautiful connection. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us.
HI Shirley, I think for me it was an unconscious but flowers just happened to be my Dad’s favourite thing and he always chose each season’s flowers with such care for his garden. Was a beautiful connecting and glad you made flowers too. xx
Just beautiful my friend! Thank you for sharing this experience! 💙🙏🏼🌸
This creativity which takes root in sadness and which turns into beauty and acceptance is so beautiful. Well done Carla, you remain an endless source of inspiration. R.E.S.PE.C.T.
Thankyou.. It’s amazing where creativity will take you if you allow it. x
This made me cry – twice. I think I would have got along with your dad. My two favourite foods in the world are oysters and mangoes…
Journaling got me through my shock and grief over losing my mum, I used to transcribe a poem each day from Rumi.
I love that you embroidered your way through quarantine… xxxxxx
Thanks for your notes, yes mangoes and oysters have a whole new meaning now. Lovely thought to transcribe a poem everyday. I think the thing about grief is that creativity can really help us. Yes embroidery really helped me too!!! So peaceful and quiet and just the focus of where to put your needle next .xx