– 21 days have passed.
The following post of text and accompanying images are a bit rambling, as it probably should be…read and view at your own risk.
We, “e” and me, were on the Bourne Bridge when I knew, without a doubt, that the Cape Cod we knew and love would never be the same for us. Maybe this post should be about Damien and my thoughts about him and maybe in some ways it is. It is also about me, or maybe us, and a little about this new life inside the “bubble.” Pat B recently said he wanted to “just stay inside this bubble,” the bubble of protective people who understand that there is no brief grief. The people who you have an urge to keep close to, the people who don’t ask how your summer is going. Some are summers, some are not. There is a desire to bond more tightly to the people who Damien once surrounded himself with, a bond he created by laughs, conversation, and sometimes, blood, sweat and tears. In many ways, I feel like an outsider to some of this group, inside the bubble. I entered this inner circle by luck, by marriage, by a shared passion for these same people around us, we, me…
I have reached the point of making this post of these specific images, from the past 21 days and have arrived at these words, because I photograph every day and because I photographed Damien. I photographed everyday and I have been since shortly before starting this website, this project, this reflection of us, of we, of me – it is all starting to feel very intertwined. 21 days ago, for me to carry on, I had to somehow attach the images and imagery of this, my life, and Damien’s life to my daily purpose, if only for a little while. There was no other path. To manage the unknown, I needed to go to the known, to go to the daily routine. I had to be productive photographically, so it was a great honor that I was allowed the privilege of amassing a life time of images of Damien’s life for his family and friends. The responsibility of bringing the images to a somewhat cohesive arrangement for his services was an honor I will never forget. I believe Damien would have wanted this, in some ways he had said so soon after we first met. Photographs— images— are so powerful and they can be a large part of the way we want to remember our loved ones. Yet, our love is also so specific to each of our perspectives. My hope was, and is, that erica and I have gently walked this fine line of honoring each of your memories of Damien and opening up his world to you a little more. I know we have not been perfect, however, we tried our best to be respectful and reflective of the image processing and process.
That brings me to my two main motivations for this, today’s post…
First – There are photos to share from these last 21 days. Overall, at this website (benshotme) there is a collections of images. This is mostly how I express myself, it is how I get through the days. I believe that as part of life, we must accept also learn to handle death and for my part, of finding my own truth, I very consciously chose to keep on photographing, perhaps going right to the edge of where I was comfortable at times during this period. Living is about sharing our individual perspectives on this life, right? The sharing I have witnessed so far has been a great part of the healing I have been watching in our tight little Cape community, so I hope this post is also of some condolence for those still searching for answers, inside and outside their respective bubbles.
Second – My other motivation is to share some of the emotion, the visuals that couldn’t and for me shouldn’t be recorded stiffly and mechanically behind a lens. These will have to live in the area of senses that photography cannot venture into. So forgive this unusual transgression into words… I promise to keep the presentations here in the future more to images, as whatever the new normalcy is, takes over. My mind has formed a bunch of emotional snap shots from these 21 days, so here they are starting in order and working towards a somewhat random stream of consciousness.
There are too many people to thank for assisting me and more importantly erica with the recent sorrow and confusion. Likely if you are reading this you are to thank, however it is appropriate, somehow, to thank Damien. Thank you Damien for surrounding yourself with such amazing people. For touching them as no one else they know would or could.
The most searing memory from these 21 days will certainly be the first Sunday, when while hugging Amy, the smell of the fire that Damien last sat around with friends, family and this, his fiancée, pierced my soul. I may never again smell smokey clothes without this memory. This was one of several searingly painful, yet strikingly beautiful moments you never want to have in a lifetime, but there they are.
The next most significant memory is bearing witness to Jim Decatur perform “Man on Fire” at Damien’s graveside. This is perhaps one of the most powerful and intimate performances anyone who was present will ever see. I do not think words could ever describe the emotion, however my best attempt so far is: it was like living inside thunder and lightning in time lapse… a sudden shock rolling across a handful of the most poignant minutes, in a lifetime of days and weeks of casual occurrences… I could FEEL every micro-milimeter of the tears as they inched down my cheek.
In the immediate moments after confirming the terrible news include moments so personal I have been asked to not include them here.
There will be warmish memories of holding Amy in my arms by a fire at the Palanza’s and again later during the celebration of Damien’s life. This was so comforting for me, I hope she felt some small solace in these moments. The later was captured with my camera by Dee Sullivan and again by erica (and appears in this album of images). Normally I would be very protective of my camera— it often feels like someone else is trying to wear my underwear when I hand my camera over— but in this circumstance, for these images, it felt right.
I have never hugged or been hugged so well or seen as many hugs executed as I have in these last 21 days. At the Palanza home, at my home, at the beach, at birthday parties, during the services, from my knees to the wee ones, while visiting in line with the people who spent hours of a Sunday waiting to pay their respects. These hugs will be cherished, especially the ones I witnessed given to erica who has been trying to improve her hug game.
During these weeks, I wonder how many of us have doubts about what we might have done differently, to allow us to have spent another day or night in Damien’s company or to changed his or our life trajectory… I try to quickly remind myself that you cannot change the past but only embrace the future with the lessons that those we love and have loved us, have taught to us. I believe Damien’s lesson – be real, have real friends, have fun, sing if you can, dance if you can’t, protect those close to you passionately and one that perhaps maybe we might have reminded him of more – try to love yourself passionately and take care of your body and mind, it’s the only one you will get.
The day after Damien’s burial, we attended a second funeral and burial for another local family. We saw a sister read a passage with a strength that is inspiring and will also resonate. I keep wondering about this family’s “bubble.” Is it strong enough? Does it help them like our bubble has helped us? What might we do for this family? Do we have the reserves to even help at all? We think of them and hope…
e and me, we got to personally say goodbye to Damien alone. I burned his content yet surreal face into my memory.
The random radio song, which for several days did not seem so random… Why does this happen?
Thank you to Pat M for the arm around my shoulder during tears on the porch during the celebration of our friend’s life. This was a great comfort.
I have new friends that both parties have acknowledged- a wish that we had never met. I have been told stories about strangers that I wish I had never had the opportunity to hear. However, I am grateful.
Strangers have thanked me. For several weeks I feel like I have been on auto-pilot just watching the story unfold in front of me on the veil of tears coating my eyes, like an unreal dream. There has been no extra effort. All focus has been simply applying myself to being honest to myself. It’s been like a stage play, all the sets have been nearly perfect and the performances sublime. But to be thanked for acting more as witness than player has often felt foreign or wrong. More than one acquaintance has bought or handed an undeserved beer. One bartender looked me squarely in the eyes as if to say, “Your money is no good here for this round tonight.” This bring tears to my eyes again just to re-tell. It feels strange to accept these moments of genuine appreciation and I hope that my awkwardness does not come off as being ungrateful or a jerk… Thank you all for your kindness. Why is it so hard to accept thanks and say “you’re welcome,” especially when you feel like you are on autopilot, doing only what you must?
Watching this community—this real community— rally around one person has been wonderful to see. So many small little visions, like the highest stack of pizzas being carried to the “tail gate party” at the services, to the “Fun Police” escort, the laughter and smiles through tears, and again, the hugs.
I can’t yet part with bottle caps from beer drank at the funeral home tail gate … what kind of sentimental problem is this to hold on worthless mementos?
This album of photos also contains a couple of distractions we have started forcing on ourselves to remind that we carry on… dog walks, Paul McCartney concerts, roller derby shoot commitments and whale watching with nieces and nephews, all from the world outside the “bubble.”
Lastly the sunken eyes of several weeks ago today have begun to gently twinkle again… and we carry on. We think about moving outside the bubble.
For several years, I have been telling people that I carry a camera with me everywhere, because someday I will be at the right place and I will be present at the right time and I will be prepared, as just the right photographer, such that I will be able to capture something special, something beautiful… For 21 days in July of 2016, I feel like I was the right photographer, the right person to be carrying this camera. I will carry on.