Make Your Loved One’s Story Come Alive In Grief: Lora’s Story

“I’m a photographer.

How do I NOT have pictures of my dad?

I had plenty of posed photos, but nothing that captured HIM as I know him.

It was a sick feeling,” said Lora Wallenstein, participant of The Preservation Project.

If you’ve ever experienced loss, you’ve feared the strong feeling of your bond weakening over time. You’ve feared your memories growing fuzzy.

It’s painfully heart-breaking. 

My friend, there’s something you can do about it.

There’s something you can do to keep that connected feeling close & their stories alive.

When you do this, it feels like you’ve done right by them and you can work through your grief with a little more clarity.

Lora did exactly that for her dad.

On September 16, 2018, she got a call that led her to take her dad to the doctor, which led them to the hospital. Her dad passed away 7 days later.

“He just wanted to go home to Peanut, his dog,” Lora said.

“We were with him the night before he passed, but TV promises us we can go out and experience and sit and say all the things. It’s just not reality. He was gone the next morning.

He didn’t love being in front of the camera, so in the photos we have, he was very aware of it and they’re a bit inauthentic to HIM—they lack who he was.”

Lora had an idea.

She’d make pictures in his home + write memories on the backs of the photos. She’d bookmarked this idea after reading Gaining Closure of a Life Change Through Making Pictures awhile back.

Then, as if all the stars aligned, an invitation to The Preservation Project landed in her inbox. She felt like she HAD to join in and signed up.

I asked Lora how TPP served her:

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to capture images of the details,’ and very different to intentionally think through the essence you’re trying to capture and ensure you bring that through to completion.

With TPP, I created a mind map of what I wanted, which helped guide my thinking.

I was in such a cloud of grief that this was critical.

The emotions of grief overtake all logical thinking. If I’d NOT started here, I would’ve gotten lost in the emotions of cleaning out my dad’s house.

This gave me purpose.

Including, planning what I’ll “do” with it. My purpose:

To capture my dad without him actually being in the images.

I thought about sharing who he was with my kids in the future, as they won’t hold onto many of their own memories. I had a vision of a box to pull out that would inspire me to tell stories about my dad.”

Lora wanted to make pictures of her memories in her dad’s basement workshop. She wanted to go in the afternoon when the light was brightest.

“He lived in there. It was his happy place. He was a man of many things: a craftsman and a handyman. He had a business called, “I’ll do it” and also worked fixing engines for a landscaping company.”

On her way to begin cleaning out his home, she shared her idea with her sister. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to take these pictures with someone with me,” Lora said. She needed to make these pictures in solitude. As you can imagine, this kind of documenting is personal and intimate.

Her sister’s response was a common one to us documentarians,

“You’re weird. Alright, have fun.”

Lora thinks her sister thought she’d be photographing his THINGS:

  • his tools
  • his paint brushes
  • etc.

A logical checklist.

Lora described the change in her sister’s perspective:

“It wasn’t until we were looking at the photos when my sister could see the stories. She basically said,

‘These aren’t photos of his tools. No, these are pictures of Dad.’

She noticed little things that I didn’t, like his drill bits. They way they were lined up—that was something she helped him with.

She found her own stories inside of these pictures.”

Lora’s sister even printed one on a canvas for herself! These pictures spoke to her.

“My dad was raised with a house full of brothers by parents who lived through the impact of the depression. He kept everything and was protective, because of how he was raised.

One of the photos is of his fake water treatment unit he had built. There was a safe inside.

His shelves were filled with bits and pieces of things no longer working. He might be able to repurpose them one day.

His things were an extension of him.

Those things—the tools, odds and ends, tiny scraps of wood—are little pieces of my childhood memories.

He built me a dollhouse with those little pieces and tools.

The radio was always on; and when I went down there that day to shoot images, the music still played. The radio still on from the day he had left to go the hospital. I’d previously gotten a video of that.

His home was filled with little pieces of who he was.

He liked to share Memes on Facebook. He didn’t share anything else on Facebook, but those memes.

I found his list.

When Lora shared these photos to our Facebook Group, I felt like *I* knew her dad.

The pictures were familiar of my Papa Stan. He had a basement workshop, like Lora’s dad’s, and it was kind of a family joke about all the things he’d save, “just in case.”

This is a beautiful thing about The Preservation Project + community! Unexpected stories throughout time surface when you do the work.

There’s dimension and depth in TPP that’s rarely sparked in our day-to-day.

“The Preservation Project was a huge part of me processing grief.

It was more of the thinking that I did.

The Playbook guided me to think about who my dad was, so I could intentionally capture him through his things.

It gave me something to do. Very therapeutic.

I can see people going through other things, like bad days in parenthood, being helped by this.

I loved the Playbook! I’m not a consistent journaler. The way the Playbook is laid out allowed me to make word webs and circle things. It’s an easy way to think and have a plan.

Even just pulling it out again, my brain is spinning with ideas.”—Lora Wallenstein

Maybe you’ve lost someone recently. Maybe long ago.

Maybe it wasn’t a person, but it was a home or a season or an experience.

No matter what your loss looks like, you can give your stories new life. It’s not too late.

Maybe it’s not in photographs, like Lora did. Maybe it’s in a another format.

Either way, we have a tendency to document what’s happening in real time “to remember.” What an opportunity we miss when we only pay attention to the here & now.

Slow down and notice the dimensions in your life. Document from memory. Connect to stories and people who have ever mattered.

That’s exactly what Lora did amidst her grief and found a piece of healing.

For guidance, begin here or click the image below.

How to Record Family Memories Better

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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