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The Journal

A Nashville photographer's story blog.

Filtering by Category: Life & Wonderings

Departed: Photography and Grief

Amy Roberts

There was dust floating in the air. It’s always there, but today it caught the shafts of early light from the window and, suddenly, it wasn’t hidden anymore. Brought finally into light, the bits of lint and debris obscured my vision in that direction. It was early early, and I could think of nothing but the dead weight of grief that sat on me, that shot through me like those blades of light cutting through an invisible, dusty world.

Grief does this. It comes on in waves, months after the shock, the wailing, and the denial are all over. It hits hard and fast, with no context to anchor it. I always feel like doing something, not because I want to, but because the idea of doing nothing rings like a death knell in my frantic mind. There’s not really much to be done, though. He’s not coming back.

Remember when he was here? When I was a person who had him in her life? What did that look like? Why can’t I remember? What if, one day, I forget?

The blueish light from my phone felt wrong in the warmth of sunrise, but I was desperate. I scrolled to the right place, the right date. I have it memorized. The photos I collected the day he died appeared on the screen, and I felt free to feel again. In seeing his face, I felt like I was allowed to cry and allowed to feel better at the same time. He doesn’t mind at all. He’s not angry. I know it, because the photo is him and isn’t him. It’s a him that’s frozen in time, but I know where he really is as we look at each other over a chasm that others have only guessed how to cross, he into my streaming eyes, me into his never-blinking ones.

This is photography.

Representations of the long-gone have been safely guarded in the homes of their loved ones for… ever? Entire traditions have been built up around collecting, honoring, and clinging to the images we create to remember those we loose. We associate a person with their image, even though they are two separate things.

What I’ve realized is that I don’t just use photography as a means of expression, but as a kind of therapy. I use images to recuperate and process my grief. Photographs anchor our hearts to the person we’ve lost, keeping fresh in our minds where their dimples were, which eyebrow rose higher when smirking, which side they parted their hair on. And it works. It really helps. Eventually, I turned off my phone, gulped down some hot tea, and said another, smaller goodbye than the one I’d said last week. The ways my life has changed since he died came to my mind with less guilt, and I treated my current, him-less self with more compassion.

What is this we do with photos? Does it help to freshen the loss with reminders of who left, or does it comfort us to know we won’t forget the color of their eyes? Does it do both? This is photography, to be sure - a huge part of it. This preserving and providing options to which we can cling when we need to is part of why we get our pictures taken - not because we think we’ll die tomorrow, but because we know it won’t ever be quite the same as it is now, no matter what happens.

What do you think about this? It feels important. It feels like this is what’s at the heart of it all, in the end.

Two Hearts, One Forest

Amy Roberts


When I was beginning the third grade, I was thrown mercilessly into class with my frienemy. It didn't last long, though. Soon we became absolutely inseparable, to the point that our favorite past time during recess each day was to walk far away from the playground into the fields surrounding. Just talking and wandering. There was a golfer nearby who routinely lost golfballs in those fields, and so our self-assigned "jobs" were to find and collect those golf balls.

Stealing? Maybe.

Still, not as a bad as when we literally stole candy from the reward jar during recess the next year.

We were very good at recess.

No matter where life has flung us (mostly her, to Germany and around the U.S.A.) we have always managed to take a walk together every so often. This spring, when we both needed it desperately, we walked together once again in our hometown.


Ever in her own Wonderland and fond of deathly things, she is incredibly good at finding mushrooms.

Ever obsessed with anything living and adorable, I found multiple snails.

A good haul, even by our 3rd grade standards.


It's crazy to me that, while far-off adventures are magical and hard and worth it, the most joy we ever really find is in moments of connection with each other.

Love you.



On Being Alone

Amy Roberts


I grew up in a quiet, sunny home.

As a kid, I would spend hours on end in my room, playing with my toys and stretching my imagination's muscles with no restraints. Because I was alone. An only child, I spent a lot of my free time alone - but I wasn't lonely. Being alone felt as obvious as a fish being in water. I was comfortable there, able to stretch and build and think freely without distraction.

Of course, adult life eventually caught up with that, and distractions came bounding in from every direction. For a while, I didn't know how to structure my time to accommodate all those distractions, and I certainly didn't know how to say a polite "no. And for some reason our culture pushes on us to be busy all the time. Something in society says that, in order to be a good, engaged, successful person, you must fill your time to the brim with stuff. Work, education, family, friends, community, home, food, hobbies... the list gets long pretty fast. And all of those things are important, but there's one thing that is left out of that equation.

What about being alone?

There is something really valuable about spending time with yourself. After all, we live our lives in duplicity, viewing ourselves as us and someone else at the same time. Don't believe me? Answer this: When you ask yourself a question, who are you talking to?

But when we prioritize ourselves, society calls that "selfishness." I just don't buy it anymore.

But, don't you get lonely?

Not really. I tend to feel rejuvenated when I've had some time alone, where I give myself permission to do whatever I gravitate toward in that moment. It doesn't mean I don't like people or that I'm socially inept, but I find that I need time to myself, for no other purpose than to allow my thoughts to wander. Usually, my hands wander, too, and I do some creative project that I'd been putting off. Or I dance, or sing, or just sit.

Life wants me to be busy. Life wants me to say "yes" to every invitation. But if I curate my schedule and allow for some down time, then a few great things happen.


I actually get mental rest.

They say sleep is a mystery - we shouldn't really need it, but we have to have it to survive. I know it's the same for me with mental rest. Sleeping isn't enough - I need time to let my brain put on its fuzzy socks and veg.


I'm kinder to others.

"I can care for others better when I'm taken care of myself." We hear the words, but we feel the guilt and don't seem to follow through. It's hard, but it's also true. Weeks when I get time alone are the weeks I'm the most present with the people I love. Maybe it's because our brains get distracted with our own exhaustion and can't focus on the needs of others. I don't really know. But this works for me and my family, so there's got to be something there.


I get back in touch with who I am and what I want.

This one is interesting. I find it really easy to get swept up in the projects and interests of others and loose sight of my own goals. Being alone invites me to have a conversation with myself (not crazy) and check in with what I really want out of this season of my life. When I do this, I feel more authentic to who I am and more confident in the direction I'm going.


So, now, I schedule time to be alone. I literally block out time in my calendar so that I can be alone during that time.

It's not always the same time every week. It's not always consistent. But I find that, if I know that I have alone time guaranteed in the future, I can relax better during the busy parts of my schedule. I'm not afraid to spend all my energy because I know I'll get to replenish it later, so I live life more fully and with more dedication.

Give this to yourself. Value your own self, and allow time to remember who you are and what you want. Because giving it to yourself is also giving it to everyone in your life. I hope you get value from this post, and I would love to know any practices you might have for giving yourself space, so please feel free to comment below!