Everyone experiences events over the course of life that alters not only their thinking but also future actions. Most remember with vivid detail watching the Twin Towers collapse in New York City. Those in their 50’s and beyond probably remember watching Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon.
There are also the personal life events that define who we are. Getting married, having children, and losing a parent are a few that come to mind. For me, the day my wife passed away changed me forever. It also opened new doors for me to walk through.
On July 20th, 2011, my wife of 31 years, succumbed to a lifelong struggle with juvenile diabetes and heart disease. A simple, everyday procedure to lessen blockage in her heart went terribly wrong. Doctors spent four long hours trying to save her. Then, in an instant, my role in life changed from husband to a widower.
Losing a spouse is devastating. Even more so when he or she is your very best friend. With no family or close friends nearby, I didn’t have anywhere to turn. The one person who I would normally go to for comfort was the one I was grieving the loss of. For weeks, I spent countless hours in total silence, staring mindlessly into space, remembering.
With the memories of my wife haunting every second of my existence, I turned to one of the few things that put a smile on my face. Besides my dog, the only other thing in the house that gave me any kind of diversion from the loneliness, was my camera.
I have been a photographer in one sense or another since my teen years. I studied photojournalism in college, was a professional portrait photographer for a short time, and served 20 years as a U.S. Navy photographer. Since leaving the Navy, though, photography had been pushed to the back burner. Time was spent caring for my ailing wife with little left over for hobbies.
Picking up my somewhat dusty digital camera, I dove back into my passion. I was an instructor at the U.S. Naval Schools of Photography for six years, so I knew the basics like the back of my hand. But, that knowledge was from the film era, and today’s cameras use memory cards.
I had to catch up with the digital photography world. I had to learn new techniques unique to the modern digital cameras. And I had to learn how to use Adobe’s Lightroom. A software package that had been split off from Photoshop.
I don’t remember much about the year following my wife’s passing. I have tens of thousands of images that I made, though. I spent a lot of time out in nature photographing insects, birds, woodland creatures, and flowers. I believe the solitude of being in the wilderness with only my camera to keep me company allowed me time to contemplate my life, consider my future, and remember the past.
I also found myself attending a lot of air shows. Probably because the sights, smells, and sounds reminded me of some place I was very comfortable. The military had been my home for 20 years.
It’s been four years now since I lost my wife. Not a single days goes by without thoughts of her and our life together. My passion for photography has grown exponentially. I am turning it into a full-time business as a travel and wildlife photographer, and I teach others about digital photography through my writings and personal coaching.
While using my passion for photography as a way to get through the grieving process, I was saved from a very lonely and resentful life. It was, however, no substitute for having family and friends nearby. Even if nothing more than a phone call, a friendly voice to check in with does wonders. If you find yourself in a similar situation, do whatever you can to get closer to the people you love.
Everybody goes through difficult times over the course of their lifetime. How you choose to respond to those bumps in the road will define who you are and what your future holds. I know it can be painful. But, I also know that you can get through any situation by immersing yourself in something that makes you happy.
Life is too short to be stuck doing something you don’t love. There’s no way to know how much time you have on this earth. Why continue living a lifestyle that doesn’t make you happy? Take a chance on your dreams and passions, whatever they may be. Find a way to make them work.
Abrupt changes in life can help you rediscover old passions. When faced with uncertainty, fear, or grief, it’s comforting to be able to turn to something familiar and reliable. Something that gives you a reason to get up in the morning. In my case, it was photography. You will have to find your passion, old or new, to immerse yourself in.
Photo: Flickr/ Gerardo Espíndola