let's get better at supporting grieving people!!

a quick note: i’m bad at updating this website and especially bad at updating this blog. and this post isn’t about photography specifically, but it’s about helping people through hard things, which is an art unto itself.

a close friend of mine went through a significant loss recently and it has really opened my eyes to how bad people are at condolences and helping others grieve.

i don't blame any individual for this because i don't think we (as a society) are encouraged to think or talk about grief and death processes very much, or at all. there's been a push in the past few years, which is so great, but i think the push is mostly happening in fringe groups and hasn't really penetrated mainstream culture yet.

i did a lot of my final photography work in college about alternative death processes, burials, and grief. i wouldn't necessarily consider myself an expert, but i've done a lot of reading and watched a lot of youtube videos on the subject. the great news is: the information is out there! and there's so much. if you're interested in learning how to support people who are grieving in tangible and effective ways (which, we all should be! surprise, everyone dies. everyone experiences loss), there are books and youtube channels and even instagram accounts that you can go to in order to educate yourself.

but it's really hard to know where to start! and i'd love to do my small part in making the world a more friendly place for grieving people by giving you that start.

 this graphic is from the instagram account @ refugeingrief , which is run by megan devine. it is a fantastic resource. she also has books and a youtube channel and a whole lot of other stuff!! go check her out!!

this graphic is from the instagram account @refugeingrief, which is run by megan devine. it is a fantastic resource. she also has books and a youtube channel and a whole lot of other stuff!! go check her out!!

you might be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the number of people whose first reaction to a grieving friend is to avoid that person. and i totally get it. it’s pretty surreal when a friend experiences loss, and if it’s a close friend, you’re likely experiencing that loss on some level as well. you don’t know what to say, you don’t want to say the wrong thing, you don’t want to pile on the condolences, but i think there are some things you can consider when you’re figuring out the appropriate way to navigate how you interact with your friend/grieving person.

hot tips for helping your grieving person

  1. consider your relationship to the grieving person (key here: grieving person, not your relationship to the deceased. we’ll get to that later). are you their best friend? significant other? family member? acquaintance? do you talk to this person on a regular basis? how close are you? this is really important because your relationship to the grieving person should dictate your level of interaction. you should consider the emotional labor that must be exerted by the grieving person in interacting with you. if you’re their best friend, you will likely mostly provide relief and genuine support. if your relationship is more casual, it might be difficult for that person to talk to you about their loss, or they might not want to. if you used to be close to the person but aren’t anymore, you can still reach out, but do not expect the grieving person to want to talk to you, and do not be offended if they do not want to talk to you.

  2. consider your relationship to the deceased. maybe they were your best friend, or your client, or your hairdresser. when interacting with a grieving person, state your relationship to the deceased, do not be offended if they don’t remember you, and interact with the grieving person on an appropriate level. if your hairdresser passes away, for instance, your relationship to their children is almost non-existent. this might be a time you do not reach out to their children. alternatively, if your best friend dies and you are close with their children, you should absolutely reach out, but think about your words. do not offer to be someone’s “surrogate parent” (that might be the worst one i saw) or tell the grieving person that “god wanted them more” (a real thing someone said once).

  3. remember whose grief is the most important. this might sound weird and a little harsh, because, of course everyone’s grief processes are important. but if you are talking to someone who has just lost their parent, and you were friends with the parent, you might both be sad. however, one of you has just lost a parent and the other has just lost a friend. parent trumps friend. do not expect any emotional support from your friend who has just lost their parent. they do not owe it to you, and you should be seeking your emotional support elsewhere. this isn’t to say that emotional support can’t be mutual, but gauge the situation. consider your relationships to both people, and do not ask the grieving person to participate in unnecessary emotional labor. (ps — relationships are all unique. sometimes biological family isn’t the most important group in a deceased person’s life. sometimes they are. every situation is unique and i do not mean to undermine anyone’s important relationship with anyone else. you know your relationship to the people in your life better than anyone and you should be the judge. just make sure you’re considering it)

    1. ex. you might really want to tell a story about the deceased person because that story is important to you, and you want to bring the grieving person some comfort. you have to consider, in this case, that the grieving person is hearing stories about their deceased person multiple times per day, and that this can be exhausting. you can always ask “can i share with you a story about your parent?”, but give them the opportunity to say “no thank you. those are hard for me to hear right now”. give the grieving person control of the interaction and do not make it about you.

  4. thoughts and prayers are nice, but much like in many other situations, they are not tangible support. think about what you can do for your grieving person. go to their house and make them dinner! bring them dinner! buy them a giftcard to a restaurant if you can’t cook! offer to walk their dog, take them to get a massage or a haircut, offer to make phone calls for them, offer them rides, take them to the movies. make specific offers. if you’re feeling really lost on how to help someone, ask someone close to that person. instead of asking your friend who just lost a parent, ask their significant other—”is there anything you think X needs right now? i want to help but i’m not sure how.” this takes the burden of figuring things out off of the grieving person (who already has enough stuff to figure out, trust me).

  5. show up for the funeral, stay for the whole thing, and participate appropriately. holy shit you might think this would be the most obvious point, but i have been to multiple funerals where people have failed to follow even the most basic rules regarding funeral etiquette.

    1. consider the event. a funeral for a child who died suddenly in a car accident will probably be a very different event from a funeral for someone’s grandparent who passed away of natural causes at an old age. some events are a “celebration of life” and some events are more somber affairs. take the lead of the family on this one.

    2. look nice! if the family has asked you to wear something specific, try your best to accommodate (many cultures have colors associated with grief, or the family might ask you to wear the deceased’s favorite color).

    3. be on time! there are few times in your life when it is more important to be on time than for a funeral. the very last thing a grieving family needs to worry about is the guest that is having trouble finding parking or got lost on the way to the funeral home.

    4. if everyone else is being quiet, you should also be quiet. do not whisper to each other about how the last funeral you attended was superior (this happened!), do not comment on the decor (unless it’s brief and positive), and follow the lead of the family for what to do next.

    5. if you have been asked to participate in the funeral in any way, do your part and then step aside. the funeral is not about you. if you have been asked to do a reading, do the reading that was given to you by the family and nothing more. if you are asked to hold something, hold the thing. if you are asked to attend a private family event afterwards, go. if you are not invited, don’t be offended and leave.

grief resources by people who are not me

one slightly more intangible tip i have for everyone is to learn more about death. learn about what dying looks like, learn about funeral processes and burials. watch movies and tv shows about the topic, read books and blogs. this work can actually be fun and interesting. international death practices are fascinating, and there’s actually a lot of great death-centric media (and not all of it is macabre or weird).

  1. the order of the good death — this is a website/organization/blog/group, idk what to call it at this point. it’s a great resource. here you can read posts about death, find information about death-related events

  2. ask a mortician — caitlin doughty offered me my first foray into the order of the good death, the concept of death positivity, and so much more. she has videos about everything from embalming processes to iconic corpses to supporting grieving people. she’s also hilarious and awkward and great and i love her. in addition to this youtube channel she has written two books that i HIGHLY recommend— smoke gets in your eyes and from here to eternity

  3. refuge in grief — this is the one i mentioned in the graphic caption, and is the source of the graphic!

  4. six feet under — this one is a bingeable tv show that’s very good so you have no excuse not to try it. the show focuses on a family that runs a funeral home, but as the seasons go on it includes a lot of great bits about grief and death!

  5. modern loss — “crafted conversations about grief. beginners welcome.” this is a great website where people can share their stories about grief! reading about how people have handled their own grief or others’ can be immensely helpful in figuring out how to navigate your own situations

  6. your local death cafe!! — this is one of my favorite things in the entire world! death cafes can be organized by anyone, take place anywhere, and offer fantastic opportunities to talk to people of all different backgrounds about death and dying and grief. i have made friends attending these events, i’ve had some incredible cupcakes, and i could not recommend them more highly. just go. even if you’re alone! just go. you might even make a new friend!

okay, that’s it for me for now. if you have any questions that you’d like me to try to answer, you can comment here (which is public), or shoot me an email through my contact form on this site. i would love to talk to you about death and grief, connect you with local resources in your area, or nerd out about natural burial! goodbye for now!

ALSO: again! i’m not an expert, i just spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff!! if you have a resource you think i should include in this post or any thoughts of your own please comment! i am one person and i hold one perspective! it isn’t necessarily the most right or the only way to think about things.

Contributions from others:

  • Sometimes your grief is complicated because the person who has died held a problematic role in your life, but grief is still there.

i live in boston now, i've been reading a lot more, and i don't feel like this place is mine yet

at the end of april this year i packed up a car and drove from washington, dc to boston. i didn't have much of a plan, just a lease that started in june and some friends with generous families willing to house me until then. 

since then, i've started working in a nice store that sells design-oriented handmade wares, spent a lot of time reading (my current fave is station 11 by emily st. john mandel), and trying to connect with this place in a meaningful way so that i can photograph it. 

 my friend kristie says she feels creepy for looking at this photo. i feel kind of creepy having taken it. it took me four shots to get the house where i wanted it, framed by the hill and the trees. 

my friend kristie says she feels creepy for looking at this photo. i feel kind of creepy having taken it. it took me four shots to get the house where i wanted it, framed by the hill and the trees. 

i have a really hard time photographing places i don't know and love, or at least feel an intimate connection to. my most favorite projects have all been born out of not just a desire to photograph a place but a need to document my relationship with space and the way i use it. my favorite photographs are intimate and personal, without ever being directly about me. the photos i've taken since moving to boston feel different. voyeuristic, almost. i don't feel like i have a right to this place quite yet. 

 i like this image a lot. the shadows, the small light-leak in the upper left quadrant. the mysterious figure in the back. 

i like this image a lot. the shadows, the small light-leak in the upper left quadrant. the mysterious figure in the back. 

some really beautiful images have come out of this weird place i'm in but i'm not sure how to feel about them. they are beautiful on a surface level. i'm shooting on my favorite film (fp100c silk which you can hear me wax poetic about in this post), i'm shooting in a beautiful place (jamaica pond, in my new neighborhood of jamaica plain), i'm careful with my light. but putting them together in a way that makes me truly satisfied is a challenge. the individual images are good, but they don't feel like series or a project, which is pretty new for me. 

 my favorite picture i've taken since getting here.

my favorite picture i've taken since getting here.

i'm working on being okay with this. i think ultimately, that personal and intimate work (as seen in "huntington" and "the ocean, the ocean") is the work in which i'm most interested. but this is really good practice. a new kind of image-making (for me), a little more removed, a little more focused on the image as an image and less on the image as a statement or story. and i think i'm okay with that for now. as i continue to live here and develop my relationship with my new neighborhood and city, i think my work will change. i'm really excited to see where it's going to go. and until then, i'm going to keep working on what i can. 

on collectives

i'm a member of the four-person phor collective, which you know if you follow me on any social media because i won't shut up about it. since october i've been working with three other fantastically talented photographers to put together a zine. not to brag, but it's beautiful. you should all order it. if you don't want to spend very much money, go for the digital edition but if you want to splurge and experience the work in its purest form, spring for the hard copy! and follow us on social media! we've been rotating through the members on the instagram so if you want to get a sense of the kind of work we do, check us out there. being a member of this collective has made me think about photography and art-making in some new and interesting ways. and it's given me something i think i've always wanted: a supportive community of exceptional artists who are all interested in pushing each other. 

i haven't talked about phor here on my blog yet, mostly because we only went public with our existence recently. 001 is our first release! but we formed in october, when my friend kristie asked if i would join her on this endeavor. as someone who loves the idea of being in a band but has no musical talent nor desire to learn an instrument, this seemed like the closest i would get. and i was right. we are kind of like a band. we even operate mostly on bandcamp. so that's a win. 

like i imagine bands do, we spent some time deciding on our name. we ended on "phor" for a few reasons. the most obvious is that it's a phonetic spelling of "four" and there are four of us. however, "phor" as a suffix signifies bearing, conveying, or carrying. we liked that, too. as photographers we are out there, bearing stories, carrying images. and we're doing it together. one thing about photography is that, like a lot of art, it's very self-focused. it's you and the camera, you and the darkroom, you and the printer. it's not an inherently collaborative art form and finding a photography community can be really challenging. i was incredibly fortunate in college to have an amazing photo department, full of like-minded people who were all interesting in learning and teaching. finishing college, it was the one thing i was most afraid of leaving behind. i was so thrilled when kristie asked me to join phor because it has allowed me to maintain a community around photography and art, with people whose work i greatly admire. 

i'm very excited for what we'll do next! we learned a lot with our first issue (about design! distribution! money! publicity!) and it'll make us even better next time. 

and, because i am me and what else would i do, i made a playlist for our release. the playlist starts out with a song off of my current favorite album which ties us all together and then i assigned two songs to each person's photos. no one got any say in their songs so no one shit on kristie or joe or mel for their songs. it was all me. although i did try to pick songs i imagine they like. 

unemployment is hard but there are still beautiful things in this world

(and instant film is one of them)

unemployment is harder than i thought it would be. 

i graduated from college in december, as you know if you've read this blog or have ever met me (and let's be real, the vast majority of you are here because you know me in real life and i linked to this blog post on facebook [hi mom]) and i don't have a job yet. i'm still relatively early in the search but one thing i've been struggling with in all of this is how to keep shooting (photos!).

most of my days are the same. i wake up very late (1pm), i take my dog for a walk, apply for three or four jobs, make some moody playlists on spotify, and then stay up until 4am playing video games and watching movies. repeat.

it's been unseasonably warm here in washington, dc. this past weekend it was 70 degrees and sunny the whole time. i had a few friends who were going to spend the day at the gardens at dumbarton oaks and invited me along. i grabbed my favorite camera and also a pack of my favorite film.
i hesitated.
my favorite film is fuji fp100c. silk. fuji discontinued all iterations of pull-apart film last summer and i was distraught. i was even more distraught when i found out that silk existed. silk is maybe the most beautiful film that's ever existed. it's what i used to shoot one of my favorite series, huntington. unfortunately, silk was never released in the united states. it's difficult to find and mighty expensive. 

there's a magical quality about silk. i've extolled the virtues of pull-apart film before. i love the unpredictability of it, the temporary-ness of instant film. but silk has something else. it has a deep and dark tonal range and a beyond-beautiful woven texture that makes you want to dive into every frame. 

 check. out. that. texture. 

check. out. that. texture. 

i think part of what i like so much about silk is how it makes photos look like photos. that might sound silly, but right now in photography there's a trend towards the hyper-real. photos that look very much like real life, even if they aren't. silk removes that. these photos are not real life, they are physical objects. tangible and fragile. they let you experience what's in the image as a viewer of an image, not as a participant in whatever's going on (sorry guys i've been reading a lot of susan sontag recently). 

so. all that said. i hesitated in taking this film, this most beautiful thing, on a casual adventure with friends. but i'm glad i did. 

i hadn't taken a photo i was really, truly pleased with since i graduated. not a single one. there are photos that i think are nice, that i don't mind. but not one that i'm excited about. i'm happy with these photos. i'm excited about them. it's been a long time since i shot silk and i had forgotten how beautifully the light plays off of the woven fibers. i had also forgotten how comfortable i am with it. how i know exactly how to expose a double-exposure, how wonderful it feels to warm the emulsion next to my skin, pull it apart, and have a beautiful thing that i made. 

i have always been and will always be excited about photography, but this day of shooting reminded me why i love it so much. the spontaneity of it, the beauty of it, and how fucking cool it is. 

and, because it's what i do with the majority of the time, here is a playlist for you. it's for when it's february but it's also 70 degrees and sunny and that's cool and you're happy about it but you also weren't totally ready for winter to be over and you just really miss the snow.

on traveling

i have officially graduated from college. it happened over a month ago, but it's only just now started to feel real. almost immediately after graduation i went on a trip:
san francisco
seattle
denver
ann arbor
most of these, places i had never been. i'm from denver and looking to move back there in the next couple months, but other than that it was a month of new experiences. 

i only brought one camera on my trip. i was gone for a long time and doing carry-on only so all i had with me was my fuji instax neo-classic. i used to hate instax. i thought it was a bastardization of instant film. it was small and easy, too automatic for anything real. 

i've grown to love it. 

instax is (relatively) inexpensive, easy to travel with, and convenient. it's the only film i used on my trip and i couldn't be happier with the pictures i took away from it. my favorite pictures were taken at the monarch crest on the continental divide, very near my mountain home of garfield, colorado. i had taken my friends to the crest so they could see it, and see the continental divide. the weekend we were in the mountains was snowy and beautiful. the crest is usually home to one of the best views on all of planet earth, but on this day, it was nothing but white. it was beautiful and i love the images i got out of it. i even submitted a few of them to shows. 

the images feel right, with where i am right now. i'm moving back to denver soon but feeling stuck with my work. i just graduated and feel afloat. i'm working on it, though, and making work through the process.

on making, 1

i always think about my pictures as something i'm making. especially with the process i've been most enamored with recently (pack/pull-apart film), it's a personal process.

i'm always shooting when it's cold outside and this particular film needs relatively warm temperatures to process properly so i expose my film, pull it through the rollers, and then i press the cold packet of developing chemicals to my chest to warm them and process the image. every part of what comes out as i pull apart the film is a product of what i've done. sometimes something has happened and the color is off. the emulsion is dripping. i checked part of the film too early.

once i pull apart the film it collects things from the environment. dust, sand, salt. all of this comes together to make the picture. 

the project i'm working on right now is a combination of new and old images. the old images aren't that old, they're all from this past year. but many of the images are a product of something that feels far away.

i recently ended a really important relationship and this project is full of pictures of that relationship. not of him but of other things. trips we went on. views out of windows. this project is largely about feeling, so it's appropriate that this is where these images surface. each of the images carry with them not just what is very apparently there but products of the moment in which they were produced. unevenly heated chemicals. bubbling emulsions. each one a tiny time capsule. 

these tiny imperfections are my favorite and least favorite thing about this process. i have a lot of control. i know my camera well, i know my film well. but there are things i can't control. sometimes the images i couldn't control are my favorite, but much of the time those are the ones i throw away. 

it's a constant battle between what i want and what i get, but i think i'm winning.