Carly Marie

Carly

“Here was this beautiful little boy that I was suppose to raise and there I was trying to work out how I could squeeze a lifetime of memories into a few short hours. The grief was so heavy I couldn’t believe it was even possible to be in that much pain and still be alive.”

These are the words of Carly Marie, who at the age of 25, tragically experienced the stillbirth of her son Christian. Six years on, Carly explains why “time heals all wounds” is a myth and that it is what you do in that time that counts. Discover Carly’s profound gift that she uses to help other parents worldwide through their darkness.

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You tragically experienced the stillbirth of your son Christian in 2007. What is your dominant memory of the initial period of grief?

When I think of that time in my life the most dominant memory that I have was the night times and how I yearned for him. Christian was born in the middle of the night and so each night I would relive the time that we had him with us. In that first year of grief, my night times were very ritualistic. I created an altar in memory of him in our home. I would burn candles each evening  for him and I would play music. I was listening to a lot of Ben Harper at the time so hearing any song from his Both Sides Of The Gun album will send me straight back into that time. Even though we only had Christian with us for about 10 hours I have many memories of him. The one memory that is always in the forefront of my mind is when my midwife gave him to me to hold for the first time. The love that I felt at that very moment was indescribable. Here was this beautiful little boy that I was suppose to raise and there I was trying to work out how I could squeeze a lifetime of memories into a few short hours. The grief was so heavy I couldn’t believe it was even possible to be in that much pain and still be alive.

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How has your grief changed over the years?

I guess you could say my grief has changed dramatically. At first I struggled to get out of bed and now, I struggle finding the time to get into bed. I have been through so many stages that I feel I have some sort of partnership with grief now. At first it was heavy and the disbelief that I had a child that had died was very prominent. Some days I still cannot believe that one of my children is not with us. Around the 18 month point the sunlight began to filter back into my life.  Now, I am 6 1/2 years out from losing Christian and my grief is still there. I think it always will be there. If I were to stop grieving him, surely that would mean that I would have stopped loving him and clearly that is never going to happen. My grief has transformed. Time does not heal anything. That is a myth. It is what you do in that time that will change things for you. You have to make a conscious effort to heal. At first all I wanted was crawl under a rock and die but thankfully my first born daughter was there. I needed to heal for her and so I chose healing. But now I want more than that. I want to grow and learn, love and live my life to the fullest. I feel so thankful that I am being given the opportunity to grow a little older and wiser each day. It is a gift that so many of us are denied. My life is more beautiful than ever right now. I am in absolute awe and wonder of life and death now. It is all very magical to me. I feel that death is not an ending, just a transformation. Christian died so very young and for so long I questioned why he had to die before he got a chance to live. After some time of having this question eat away at me, I decided to give up on it because I will never truly understand in this life why he had to go and so wondering why serves me no good purpose at all. Once I let go of that question I believe I was set free from the heaviness of grief.

You have pursued many different paths of healing. What inspired Project Heal and the Seashore of Remembrance, and how have these helped you?

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True healing began for me on August 19th 2008, about 19 months after Christian had been born. I dreamed that I saw him on the beach and that he was writing his name in the sand. In my dream, he was perfectly healthy and whole. The dream lit a fire in my heart and so I began a project called Christian’s Beach. Since that day in 2008 I have written over 17,700 babies and children’s names in the sand under sunsets at Mullaloo Beach in Perth Western Australia. I have received requests from bereaved parents from all over the world. After speaking and sharing my story with so many people from across the globe, I realized that I needed put my experience together into a website for others to read and so Project Heal is now a guide for those who are walking the road of baby loss. It is filled with community projects and events and ways to heal and grow from your experience

I am always exploring new ways of expressing my grief through my art and photography at the beach and so a few years ago I opened my Memorial Art Website called The Seashore of Remembrance. All of my artwork there is to honour the lives of people who have passed away at any age or gestation.

Being able to share my experience, artwork and photography has played a such an important role in my healing. It has helped me connect to my son and learn more about myself and who I am becoming, not only as an artist but as a mother and a woman. It also gives my son a legacy which will mean that his life will touch the hearts of others and that he will never be forgotten and that is all that I could hope for.

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You also write for Still Standing Magazine and are involved in The STILL Project, a documentary film project committed to breaking the silence about pregnancy loss and infant death. Why is it so important to speak out and connect with others in similar situations?

When Christian died, it felt as if somebody had come and abducted us in the middle of the night, taken us out into the desert, pushed us out of their moving car and then tossed a note out of the window that just said “Good Luck”. We were left on our own in the middle of nowhere, with no idea how we would get back home. We were lost and we felt so alone. I later found out that my grandmother had suffered through the loss of multiple children. 3 stillborn babies and 3 babies that she miscarried including twins. My beautiful nan lived a very tragic life and having her husband taken as a prisoner of war in Burma for 4 years, she was left to grieve in silence on her own. She never spoke of them. It broke my heart to think that she never even named her precious children who left too soon. She took her silence to her grave.

Christian dying opened up so many conversations with my friends and family and I could not believe the number of people that I knew who had either suffered the same kind of loss or knew someone who did. I thought my story was rare because nobody speaks about the babies that die before they are born, they are seen as sad circumstances rather than human beings. People don’t have to suffer in silence like this anymore. Why do we have to be quiet on death? Everybody dies. It doesn’t matter what your age is. There is no escaping it. I sometimes wonder if the death of babies is just too tragic to speak about and so people just close up and pretend it doesn’t happen so that they do not have to deal with it. The truth is most people are afraid of upsetting the parents who have suffered the loss. You don’t have to come up with something that will fix the person. There is nothing you can say that will heal this kind of hurt. But what you can do is ask your friend or family member about their baby. You can ask them that if they would like to share about their baby then you are there and ready to LISTEN to them. If you don’t know what to say, tell your friend that. Just let them know that you are here for them. Most of the time people just want someone to listen to them anyway.

Writing for Still Standing Magazine is a complete honour for me. The writers there are so beautifully brave and they along with all the readers are working to break the silence surrounding the death of babies so that people will not suffer in silence anymore. My friend Franchesca is the editor of the magazine and if it wasn’t for her beautiful daughter Jenna Belle, the magazine would not exist. These babies that die leave such incredible legacies, just like Elena’s legacy – The STILL Project. This film will be such a gift to not only to the 1 in 4 people who will experience the loss of a baby but the 3 in 4 who won’t. It will be an honest and raw look at what it is like to suffer such a loss. If people can begin to understand the loss of a baby without having to experience it, this will break down a lot of walls in society and mourning the loss of a baby will be accepted because it will be more understood. It is all about love, compassion, education and acceptance.

Stand Still Still Project

If you could whisper words of comfort to newly bereaved parents of babies, what would you say?

I would say, I am so sorry that this has happened to you, it is so cruel and unfair but know that you are not alone in this. There are so many people out there who understand your pain. It is okay to feel whatever you are feeling. Do whatever helps to comfort your own heart. Don’t be afraid to seek help from others, whether it is professional counselling or friendship from those who truly understand your pain. The Internet is filled with amazing charities and organizations that have groups of people for you to talk to and you do not even have to leave the comfort of your home. My hope for you is that within time you will begin to see the light again and that you will find the many gifts that your child’s life has left for you and will continue to leave for you. Your baby may not be here anymore but just like all the babies that are born healthy and alive your baby is a miracle and a gift to you and this Earth.

And lastly, how has Christian’s brief life shaped the person you are today?

My life is filled with so many crazy wonderful and heartfelt experiences because of my son. Since Christian died, I have met the most beautiful people from all over the world. The path that Christian has opened up for me is so incredibly awe inspiring. I have no idea where it is taking me and I love that. I am eternally grateful for his short life here on Earth. He has and is teaching me so many things. I get asked so often, if I could go back in time would I erase his loss from my past, so that I would not know such heartache. I would never choose to do that. Having him for one day was worth all the pain and heartache that followed and although he is not here physically to grow with me, I am still his mother and I always will be. Nothing can ever change that. He didn’t get to live his life here on Earth, so I am living this life not only for me but for him too.

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For more information, visit carlymarieprojectheal.com

Elise Weber

Elise21-year-old Elise Weber tragically lost her father earlier this year. The USA-based photography student shares what it was like to lose such an influential figure in this stage of her life and how his death inspired her current project “It Is What It Is.”

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What is one of your favourite memories with your father?

One of my favourite memories of my father was about a week before he died. My parents drove out to Texas from Alabama for my 21st birthday. I had given him my old camera and he was taking pictures of my party. We started talking about photography and he told me he was going to learn the manual controls and his goal was to take a picture that would “wow” me.

What were the circumstances behind your father’s death and what was it like to lose such an influential figure in this stage of your life?

I had driven home for spring break on March 8th. The drive took me about 10 hours after I had school and work the day before. When I got home my father greeted me at the door. I gave him a big hug and he suggested that I take a nap. When I got up I ran a few errands then my mom came home and dyed my hair. We went to bed around 1:00am. At 4:00am my mom woke me saying my father had just had a heart attack and the ambulance couldn’t find our house because it is located in between towns. He never regained consciousness. Losing him at such an important time in my life is devastating. He won’t see me graduate college or get married but with him gone I am even more dedicated in my pursuit to greatness because I know that’s what he wanted from me.

When did you become interested in photography and have you ever taken photography classes/courses?

I have been interested in photography as long as I can remember. When I was younger my parents would buy me disposable cameras and I would take pictures of everything. I would even put our pets in settings and photograph them. I am starting my senior year at Sam Houston State University to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography. I plan on getting my Masters in photography when I graduate.

How has photography helped you to heal?

As I waited for the paramedics to do their work I felt an intense urge to grab my camera and photograph what was happening. I decided against it but at the hospital I gave in and started documenting everything and as soon as I lifted the camera, the pain subdued. Its as if a wall goes up between my emotions and the pain. I can turn off my emotion and focus on the image making. I know that my father would want me to do anything I can to heal and if it also expresses my creativity that is all the better.

Has this loss influenced your personal style at all?

With his death I had an extreme explosion of creativity. It burst forth from me like a plug had been pulled. My father had always thought that people were stuck in their “isms”. Their “isms” being how they act, how they dress, how they treat others according to what others think about them. He told me that he hoped that I wouldn’t get stuck in my “ism”. My burst of creativity not only affected my art but my style as well. In the healing process I discovered myself, which is the main turmoil in a young person’s life. I have broken out of my “ism”.

Tell us about your current project – what motivated you to do it and what meaning do you hope it will convey?

One of my current projects is “It Is What It Is”. These photographs are part of an ongoing series that started with my father’s death. I then photographed the birth of my first nephew on June 17, 2013. He was born on my father’s birthday who so happened to be born on Father’s Day 1951. The project will conclude on September 21, 2013 when my family performs a Viking burial just as my father would have wanted. Bryant H. McGill put it very succinctly, “Birth and death: we all move between these two unknowns.” It Is What It Is seeks to draw attention to the stages of grief and the different ways people cope with it. It brings forth feelings of love, thoughtfulness, confusion and pain. It shows how fleeting life can be and that death is an eventuality that comes whether we want it or not.

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What is one photograph you are particularly proud of and why?

One image I am proud of most is one of my mother clutching my father’s ashes titled “My Heart Hurts So Much”. It shows true grief and what true love really look like. What it looks like when one soul is ripped away suddenly from another. It makes one reflect on their own family and what it would be like to lose someone so precious to them.

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Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I am doing everything I can to pursue my career in photography. In five years I would like to be just where my father said I would be, working for National Geographic. I would like to use photography to help others the way it has healed me.

Adriana Marchione

Since losing her husband Eddie to cancer in 2007, Adriana Marchione has relied on the arts to heal and renew her life. The San Francisco-based Expressive Arts Therapist is currently working on “When The Fall Comes,” a performance project that explores grief, dreaming about dead loved ones, and the variety of ways healing after loss can take shape.

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AdrianaWhere did you meet your late husband and how would you describe the relationship you shared?
My husband Eddie and I met through a community that included sober members. We had known each other for several years before we started dating. Eddie was 20 years older than I was and I always thought he was kind and handsome, yet did not consider him as someone I would date because of our age difference.  I was in a stage of life where I was visioning the relationship I wanted to have and I realized that Eddie fit the ideal I had if he had been younger.  This opened up the idea for me to ask him out, and after our first few dates we fell in love quickly and started a life together.  Our relationship was full of passion and adventure, yet also involved a lot of responsibility because he had two young kids, and we both worked hard on our careers to make a comfortable living in San Francisco.  We lived in a house by a park on the top of a big hill, and often had parties and celebrations there together.  We had a very creative life together as he was a musician and I was an artist and arts/movement therapist.  We also learned to dance tango together.  Our relationship was very deep, and spiritual in many ways.  And, it also challenging at times because of our age difference and different needs as the years went by. We were together for twelve years and it will always be one of the most significant and special relationships of my life.

What was it like to lose Eddie after a long battle with lung cancer?
Eddie was sick for two years and for much of that time we thought he would survive the cancer.  In the last few months of his life the cancer took hold very intensely and things happened very fast.  The doctors even said he has several more months to live and then he died within days.  Eddie died at home in a very lucid state, and there were many people there to help us through the dying process including hospice workers, his children and our dear friends.  He sang a death song hours before he died, which was both very sad and heart opening.  At first, I felt an incredible relief when he died because he was no longer suffering and I was extremely exhausted.  I also felt a sense of peace for many days after he passed and very taken care of by friends and family.  But overall I was so disoriented and fragile.  It was hard to function normally for weeks afterwards and I had to take everything very slow. I felt like I was in an alternative universe after the initial shock of his death.  And, then it was a long time of rebuilding my energy and organizing my life and my emotions.

What is your overriding memory of the initial period of grief?
A sense of emptiness, and a feeling that I was in a fog.  Yet, there were also times when I was very present and clear, and I felt taken care and safe.  Life felt simple and stripped down to what was most essential after such loss.

How has your grief changed with time?
It has softened over time and I feel that I am able to be more of a witness to the grief process and the circumstances of the loss. I also lost my father a year after Eddie so I had to negotiate two big losses at one time.  I realized I needed to grieve them separately and find ways to do this consciously over the years.  I do find that the pain of the loss of Eddie still can affect me in unexpected moments and places.  Recently it was the tenth anniversary of our wedding, which was held near the Point Reyes National Seashore in California.  I was surprised that I was caught with some depression, many strong memories and much sadness in response to it.  Yet, I have found that I can let in more of the good memories over time without feeling so much pain.  In the first year after Eddie’s death there were times when it was hard to remember certain things about him, or I would focus on negative experiences around the relationship and the illness leading up to his death.  I find that the loss is more integrated into my life experience now and has more neutrality rather than being a tragedy.

You work as an Expressive Arts Therapist. How have the arts personally helped you to heal?
The arts have helped heal initially when I stopped drinking alcohol in 1993, and then have continued to be an important tool for my recovery process throughout the last twenty years, and have very much guided me during my grieving process. I find that the arts can hold all of my experiences, my pain and my vision as I have renewed my life.  I have used dance, poetry, visual art and performance to illuminate my inner life, to diffuse intense emotions and to help me ‘imagine’ what is possible as I have healed from loss. They have also helped me to find a voice for my experience.  Telling my story about loss has been very freeing. The arts help me to organize my emotions and my memories in a very meaningful way and have allowed me to reach others who have also experienced significant loss. 

Tell us about When The Fall Comes and the short film you are working on.
‘When the Fall Comes’ is a performance project that chronicles the loss of a spouse and the dreams that guide the path of the one left behind. Using dance, poetry and spoken word this project shares reflections about grief, dreaming about dead loved ones, and the variety of ways healing after loss can take shape.  ‘When the Fall Comes’ was originally performed to an intimate audience at Noh Space Theater in San Francisco in January of 2013 as a personal healing ritual. Based on this experience, it has been made clear to me that a broader audience could benefit from witnessing the performance.  Therefore, I will be performing it again over a weekend at Noh Space Theater in San Francisco on October 11, 12, and 13 of 2013, as well as create a short film that documents this process of using the arts as a tool for supporting the grief process.

The hope for this project is to provide a venue for further reflection and dialogue for people who have suffered from the loss of a significant other or loved one.  We live in a culture where there are so few opportunities to honor loss and to explore the emotional and spiritual disorientation that occurs from grief.  This project aims to demonstrate that the arts can provide an opportunity to allow inexpressible feelings and experiences to be seen and heard, as well as provide a venue to come together around the topic of loss.

How can Our New Lives’ followers support your projects?
They can email me to be on my mailing list at adriana [at] creativesourcesf [dot] com and/or join my Facebook page.  I am also seeking donations to help me fund the project which can be done by contacting me directly or going to my website.