by Julie M Terrill
At the time that I signed up for Serendipity, a retreat on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with fellow creatives, my Dashing Groom had entered remission and our world sparkled with possibilities. Four months later I arrived at the retreat enveloped in a fog of uncertainty and grief. Not only had my beloved, Marc, passed away but our son’s non-custodial mother came to collect him and his belongings just days later.
I had not written or even picked up my camera in my grief, unsure if I still could be categorized as an artist. Quite torn, I contemplated skipping the retreat. “Everyone is there to have a good time. Nobody wants to be around someone who is crying.” My inner dialogue was soon quieted by the amazing women who run the event and I agreed to go. But the deal I made with myself had stipulations…
- No crying.
- No talking about Marc, which would likely lead to a violation of rule #1.
- To be safe, no talking at all unless asked a direct question, as not answering would be rude.
- No crying – it warrants repeating.
I had cried a little, but not wept. I felt I had to be strong for our kids and Marc’s parents. I thought I had stifled my emotions well enough that I was as okay as I was going to get. Within the first 10 minutes of the first workshop I was in jeopardy of violating all of my aforementioned rules. Armed with a fresh new journal and pen, I entered the workshop space and our first prompt was, “In my eyes I am _______.” Swiss Cheese… I am swiss cheese. I am not a wife. I am not even the mother of my son. I am a collection of holes, voids that have taken over what used to be me.
“Ok…,” I thought, “I can do this” and then we were asked to share our answers. Without realizing, I was literally holding my breath to push down the tears, the feelings, the pain. I was vaguely aware of being urged to breathe and shook my head in response, pushing harder. If I let myself cry I didn’t know if I would be able to stop. We took a break and were given instructions to create a photograph of “where you are emotionally.”
Leaving the workshop for the privacy of my bedroom I stepped into the shower and cried, allowing myself to weep for the first time, and realized this would be my photo. Using a remote shutter release I captured my surrender to tears, grief, vulnerability and sheer exhaustion. Finally, I allowed the tears to give way to an unfamiliar calm and peace. I reached for my journal and penned “Grief is a veil, some days so translucent that I can pretend it does not exist at all. Others it is a leaden burka that is oppressive, threatening to weigh me down, pull me under and engulf me. Today I wear a veil of tears, and through it I can see healing. “
Surrender became the cornerstone of my subsequent body of work based on healing through self-portraiture.