For a while after my dad died back in 2009, I started a casual project that involved approaching strangers on the street and asking them to participate in the building of a poem. As I look back on the experience of his dying, I am still struck by how it changed my life and my experience of life, far beyond the experiences of simple grief and sadness. For this project, I give people the phrase, "After he died" (or "After she died," or "After the fire," or "After the fall") and asked them to complete the sentence in my notebook. I then strung these disjoint responses into a single piece. I have hundreds of these snippets, but here are just a few...
I thought I would never again be so completely understood.
I began to question how I went about things in my life.
I questioned my anxiety about experiencing new things.
I stayed alone in her little cottage for nearly a month. She was there with me every waking moment.
I decided to have a dinner party for my brothers and sisters during the Christmas season to bring us all together again.
I couldn't eat or talk.
My uncle wanted to wake me out of my shock. He shouted at me.
I lost any interest in food or having fun. I still feel like I am just a body moving around waiting to die.
I couldn't stop moving. I began digging new garden beds. I hated to stop moving.
I did four things. I went to the gym. I went to Starbucks. I went to the cemetery. And I cried. For three years.
I wished and wished I could collapse and never have to be in my right mind again.
It then occurred to me that I could also photograph people with their sentences, holding them like captions. I wrote up a little card with an explanation, stating that I was not looking to dredge up old painful emotions so I could photograph them in tears, but rather to explore how such extreme experiences move through our lives and change our lives forever.
I only shot a few of those, and then got distracted by some other idle dream, but I stumbled across the folder the other day and it made me say, hmm.