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.

My heart hurts so much

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.

Madeline Gibson

In keeping with this week’s theme of the healing power of photography, I wanted to share some photos by 15-year-old Madeline Gibson in Wisconsin, USA. Photography has helped the year 10 student deal with the loss of a close friend three years ago.

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“I became interested in photography  a year and a half ago. My best friend bought a DSLR camera and whenever I went over to her house I would  use it. I realized how much I love taking pictures so I bought my own. I enjoy taking self portraits, especially emotive shots, and I like using vibrant colors. Photography has helped me deal with the loss of one of my best friends who died in an accident in 7th grade. It was very hard on me and I am still shocked that she is gone. Photography helps me to express my emotions. It gives me the artistic and individualistic freedom I need in order to express myself and it makes me feel better.”

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Nico Nordström

NicoNico Nordström always had a camera in her hands as a child, and not much has changed as a young adult. Her hobby took on even greater meaning three years ago after her best friend tragically passed away. The Photography student at Texas State University describes how the camera has helped her to heal and how Louis’ death has influenced her personal style. Nico’s works have been featured in Vogue Italia and The Weekly Flickr, and in numerous gallery exhibitions.

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When did you develop a passion for photography?

I’ve always had a passion for photography, when I was really little I would set up little photo shoots with my Barbies – even building them sets, costumes, and props. I loved all forms of art growing up, but my love for photography really started to develop when I was a freshman in high school when I took my first darkroom class. I became completely enthralled and have worked hard at it ever since. Not a day goes by that I don’t work towards bettering my work and myself.

Photography took on greater meaning in 2010, after your best friend of ten years tragically passed away. How do you remember Louis?

The things that I remember most about Louis are his infectious laugh, big bear hugs, sense of humor, striking eyes, and warm hearted nature. He was the life of the party, and always a delight to be around. There wasn’t anyone that didn’t absolutely adore him.

What were the circumstances behind his death and what was it like to lose someone so close and so young? 

Louis passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home, only days before his 20th birthday and Christmas. It was utterly surreal to lose someone at 20 years old, someone that was always supposed to be around. You hear about it happening to other people, but you never expect it to happen to you. “The crew” as we call our group of friends, have all been close for years, so we just banded together in the wake of Louis’ death and supported each other. These people are more than friends, we’re a family.

What are your strongest memories from the initial grief period?

My strongest memories from the initial grief period was walking around in a fog. It felt like being a zombie – being physically present, but not mentally being present at all. I didn’t even touch my camera in the beginning, it was all about taking things day by day – baby steps. Besides walking around in a haze, the most poignant memory was the support and love from people around me. Specifically had it not been for my mom, fiancé, and the crew, moving on would have been so much harder. Louis’ death showed me how cruel the universe can be at times, but it also showed me how beautiful the souls of the people around us are.

How has photography helped you to heal?

Photography has helped me to heal in many ways. In the beginning it was mostly just a distraction, but then I started to channel my grief into my work. Whenever I would have rough days, I would grab my sketchbook and start working on new ideas, or get my camera and just start driving. One of the hardest things was not being able to sleep at night, so that’s when I got most of my work done. I knew my choices were to either sit there and wallow, or to try and create some sort of beauty out of the grief that I was feeling. So the harder things got, the fiercer I worked. Because of photography, I was able to get out of my small dark apartment, and defy gravity, hug wolves, explore a desert, and see magical worlds in front of me. Photography, like Louis, completely changed my life in unimaginable ways.

Has Louis’ passing influenced your personal style?

Louis’ passing has definitely impacted my personal style. I now have a greater appreciation for the beauty around me in everyday life, because I see now how short life is, thus making me aware of how beautiful our time here is. Because of Louis’ interest in dragonflies, I always try and incorporate them into my work when I can, as a way to remember him and to thank him. I also have begun to use branches and flowers more, to symbolize the cycle of life, and the beauty around us everyday.

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Tell us about your favourite work and the inspiration behind it.

My favorite work is my Renovatio (or Phoenix) series. It took a month of working hard everyday, emotionally, mentally and physically with my team to pull off that shoot. I was inspired by the journey of myself and the people around me, and how much growth I had seen in all of them. It’s a reminder that no matter how tough things in life can be, the phoenix always rises from the ashes so to speak. Besides being the most difficult shoot I’ve ever done, it was also filled with the most laughs. My cat thought I had a 6 ft wide nest in my dining room for 2 weeks just for him, my production designer Michael looked like a crazy person building the nest in my apartment (which in itself was hilarious to watch!), while outside we literally had people coming up to us asking if my model (who was in full costume and make up) was a part of the apocalypse, and just having your best friend dressed up like a mythological bird in your living room squawking around is bound to be hilarious. It was a blast, but after 15 straight hours of shooting on 3 hours of sleep, I’m definitely glad it’s over!

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What are your plans for the near future?

I’m currently working on a huge project that has been incredibly difficult to keep under wraps for the past couple months. I’m taking everything that I’ve learned from my photography adventures thus far and pushing it even farther, it’s been really exciting! I’m also exploring my options for teaching photography/Photoshop workshops, and in using my art for book covers. My adventures have only just begun, and I can’t wait to see where else they will take me.