Healing Grief Behind the Lens

Many times, especially as a teen, I wanted to express and explore my emotions and experiences but didn’t want to talk about them out loud. And it’s *incredibly* common for most young folks (you know, when therapy or group support isn’t quite their bag). But the emotions still pile up.

Truth be told (and I wish someone had told me a long time ago), if we aren’t talking about it, we will STILL need to process it. And that’s not always easy when you don’t have a “thing” to lean into like the gym, writing poetry, or kickin’ around the ball in sports.

Art Therapy: Photography Edition 

Most of us have snapped a photo on an iPhone. Some of us have picked up a “big kid camera,” but no matter how “fancy” the device, when images are captured with images, it forces us to spend time reflecting upon emotion and allows us to sit with those feelings. The results might not always be what you want them to be, but they’ll always tell the world how your heart feels.

The Work Shop

The message to the children was beautiful. Kaleb Duncan aka K$ aka Special K aimed to teach kids experiencing grief how to express themselves creatively while healing through art. He shared his superb knowledge of using a camera and taking beautiful photos. 

As big of a *hot shot* as Kaleb is behind the camera (which I’m not taking away from here; he’s incredible, and he knows that), his mind is far more valuable, making THIS event heavily impactful. 

His story is not mine to tell. But as a listener to his story and experience of grieving the life of his love, I am moved. We all found healing through his words. They discovered a tool (through photography) that helped transition the concept of death from their heads to their hearts. He left an undeniable imprint on us. It’s incredibly admirable to tell your own story, and extremely intimate to do so with strangers.


He says, “Stories have pacing. Some are fast-paced, some are slow and easygoing, some are exciting, and some are all those things at different parts of the story. Each chapter can bring its rhythm and style.” It reminds me of our own lives. We all move at different paces. We are all *quite literally* the storytellers of our own lives. We can create our legends. But when a “character” in our lives passes, like my father, it can take a toll. 

Sometimes, good memories flood back to me. I can’t listen to “Whisky Lullaby” on the radio. But I know he’s near when “Lean on Me” comes on. I’ll find myself in tears. Totally lose my shit. Cigarette smoke makes me roll my eyes. Mom always said to stop smoking in the house (and he did NOT care). And his voice saying, “Sister, sister! What did you get yourself into now?” will always be there. Man, he was so mean!

I loved saying what everyone else was thinking around him. It comes across “witty” to some (others maybe a little too sarcastic). But it made him laugh, laugh. And I love making people laugh. He thought that was a sign of (emotional) intelligence. And I like to think so, too.

He was also a total badass. He flew the first airplane I ever rode in. He taught me how to ride a motorcycle. We traveled together. Not enough. Largely, he showed me how to take “no” as a suggestion. “If you want something, go get it.” There’s zero room for excuses. He always said, “The world’s a playground; go play,” and then got mad when I’d drive my truck in the middle of the night (across the country) to visit boys. He taught me to be wild and free. 

Kaleb continues, “Show. Don’t tell. Instead of stating facts, paint a picture with your words or camera. Show the reader what is happening and let their mind fill in the blanks.” Photography allows us to show rather than tell. But when he said these words, I could hear my dad saying (with anger in his eyes), “Don’t tell me, show me” when I was in *any* sort of trouble. I couldn’t just apologize and move on. I needed to prove I learned a lesson. And maybe that’s why I got into photography, to continue proving myself to an unappeasable father? Do you know how hard it is to always need to prove yourself? Who knows? It requires a lot of mental and physical energy.

As a glorified open book, I’ll share with you that it’s been a challenge in my adult life. Fear of failure and the pressure to identify and meet the needs of others means I’m *constantly* “on” and as I try to demonstrate my worth or competence all the time….it’s exhausting. It’ve been exhausted my whole life. But when you love someone, you’re willing to stay “on” for the satisfaction of fulfilling those needs. I hate that. I wish things could have been easier. Right? Am I wrong? Am I rambling? Prolly a bit of all of the above. Yikes. You’re the one *literally* still reading this, so that’s cute.

It’s a little deep for a Tuesday morning. Thanks for making me think, K$.

After years and years of self-work and therapy, I’m starting to forgive him. I re-wrote the book. The Legend of Anthony Sigman rings clearer of the valuable lessons he’s taught me and the adventure he’s bestowed upon me. But yes, I wish I had made more memories with him (ones that weren’t so challenging). I’m thankful for the photos we do have here. 

My inner teen heart fluttered with joy after this workshop. It was more than impactful. It was an excellent opportunity to create a safe space for teens to learn photography and a skill that may later help them heal through art. It’s a beautiful gift that will last a lifetime.

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