Sunday, January 18, 2015

Milestones & Grief Creep

"Sanctuary" © Sarah Treanor

This past week one of the most amazing things happened to me that has happened in my "after" life. I was selected as a finalist for a magazine cover of an art magazine - for one of my photographs that tells part of my grief journey - and ended up winning the final vote. It is the first time my art will be published on a magazine cover. This is huge for my fledgling career as an artist. And more-so it is huge because more people going through loss will see my grief series and hopefully find something of their own story there.

I couldn't believe how many people voted and shared. Thousands of fans and friends and family all rallied behind me to make this happen. My gym shared it on their business page. My mother-in-law's employees all voted and shared it. People I don't even know. Old college classmates. Old coworkers. So many left comments about the grief journey they are on, and how one particular image or another of mine spoke directly to them. People bought prints - one, a counselor, who will be putting up the photo in her grief counseling room. It has been unreal.

Suddenly I have found myself looking back in a different way than I have before. Looking back and realizing that I've gotten somewhere I do want to be. Before my fiancé died, none of this was here. I was working in a cubicle, feeling trapped and unhappy and scared because I had no clue how to ever really go for my dream of being an artist. Leaving a full time job was the MOST terrifying thing I could possibly imagine. Before he died, this idea of being an artist was all just wishful thinking… a far away notion that he and I would often talk about over afternoon lunches and morning coffee.

Little did I know that his death was going to take me on a journey I could have never imagined for myself. Not an EASY journey… but somehow, a far more meaningful one. His death was the catalyst in my leaving that career behind. It was the thing that shook me awake and made me see that if he could die for his dreams, then I'd better get started living for mine.

It's been a horrible and agonizing and fear-filled journey that I wouldn't wish on anyone (you all know this!), and it STILL is every step of the way. Somehow though, during these two and a half years I have found some sort of really meaningful beginning. One that is far more meaningful to me than the life I was living before he died.

It isn't the one I wanted - not like THIS. I never wanted to make art about the death of the most important person in my world. Or death in general. But when you lose your mother at age 9, your father at age 26 and then your fiancé at age 29… it begins to feel like someone is trying to tell you something. I finally decided to listen and allow death into my art… nothing has felt more healing.

I'm learning that by having his death and him as the center of what I'm putting myself into, it is giving it a solid foundation. On the days when I feel scared shitless and still have NO CLUE how I will ever make any REAL money doing this (living off my savings, betting it all on this crazy dream right now). On days when I feel lost and like I'm floating… knowing that he is at the center of this work is what helps me to be able to keep faith going. It helps me to know with all my heart that this work is valuable and meaningful, because all of my love for him rests within these images. And I know without a doubt that will mean something to other people. Clearly, it is.

The days after the big win have been of course an emotional roller coaster - just like any major event in our lives without our person. I call it grief creep… we all know it well. The aftermath of anything exciting - the quiet moments when the pain slips back in to steal the spotlight. As the week has progressed, I think I've just gotten sadder. Sad that he is not here to celebrate with me. Heartbroken that no one actually thought to take me out for a celebratory dinner or drink for this monumental moment in my life. No one. Which leaves me with the painful reminder that the person who was sharing a life WITH me is not here… and that I no longer have someone to be excited for me in the way that only your partner can be. And I miss that so much. And I miss him.

And suddenly, the whole milestone event of the magazine cover begins to pale in comparison to the feelings of sadness and grief. Don't you hate that? When the grief just seems to swallow up the good stuff - no matter how hard you try to not let it? I know I do. I've been fighting it all week - trying so hard to hold on to the good, and trying not to let in the sadness. I know… I have to let the sadness in. It needs to be felt as much as the joy. I will let it in, but dammit, I don't want to.

PS. A big thank you to anyone here who may have happened to vote for my image. You made a huge difference in my world this week.

To view my grief series "Still, Life" you can visit my blog here.


  1. I love you. And if I lived anywhere near you, there would have been a big ole celebration dinner and drinks in your honor. Instead, we will have to do it in Tampa . Im so glad you decided to let death into your art. I know its not easy.

  2. Ahh, Sarah, congratulations on your big win. Sadhu! As we say in my community. I am only a few months out, but I understand so much of what you are saying. I never would wish this pain on anyone. I would give anything to have him back, again. Yet I feel his death has propelled me onto a journey that I wouldn't have had the courage to tread, without having had this tragedy. Maybe someday, I would have gotten here. But not now. I wish you all good things and applaud your courage in taking this huge leap for your art. And I am so sorry that your love is not here, in this realm, to cheer you on.

  3. Will be thinking of you both, and all the widows, in Tampa. I lived there, for many years, before I moved to England. xx

  4. Congrats, Sarah, you have such talent, thanks for sharing it with us. Raising my glass to you.

    Yes, I do "hate when grief seems to swallow up the good stuff". It's always there, in the background, and makes itself known whenever it wants, even when we don't want. I am a firm believer that the size of my grief corresponds to the depth of my love for my husband, so it's here to stay, and will forever be a part of my life. The grief has softened over the years (5, how did that happen?), but as you said, it needs to be felt as much as the joy. And I'm learning to accept it as it returns over and over again. Altho I try not to appear as tho everything is ok day to day when it really isn't, I also no longer feel it odd that it's taken this long to get where I am; the pressure from others "to move on" makes no sense when my head and my heart just can't do it yet. It'll happen when it happens.

  5. Congratulations!! I completely understand on those times when you don't want to let the sadness in, but you have to.

  6. dear Sarah,

    the "Sanctuary" image is so profoundly beautiful even though the conception of it comes from such gutting grief with Drew's death, with the awful loss of your Beloved Person not being there with you to celebrate such a fantastic milestone with your art. I loved what you spoke of about finally listening and deciding to allow death into your art, and that nothing has felt more healing.

    I know exactly what you feel about the "grief creep" - that dark veil that closes across one's whole being and shuts out all of the happiness, feelings of accomplishment, and the joy that was so uplifting and filled with hope. it always makes me feel so completely disconnected from whatever progress I've felt I've been able to make. and there is not a single thought or feeling I can resurrect to find consolation or encouragement - I call it the Flat-line Blahs because during the creep I can't FEEL anything, nothing except the gnawing pain of deep and debilitating grief, and the inevitable pall of separation that only those who have suffered such unspeakable loss can understand.

    I am so sorry that no one thought to celebrate your exciting achievement. but I see your Sweet Friend, Kelley, above, has got your back on that! and I am sure THAT's going to be something so fun to look forward to! I wish I could pop a cork off a fab champagne, cue the confetti and the streamers, and say how happy I am for you in person, while hugging you and crying happy tears. but for now, dear Sarah, hold out your arms - I'm sending you boatloads of warm hugs. Can you FEEL them??!!

    much love,


  7. Congrats and wow!!!! The pictures says so much. Ty