I remember reading Gambles application for the project and having a moment of pause. Let me be clear, all of these stories give me some sort of reaction that makes me pause – my own things coming up that are unhealed, and I’ve learned how important it is to be present and sit in the space with it all, taking it as it comes. 

But there was extra pause; because this was not just a peer to peer validation moment. This was a cross-narration type story. I have my own feelings about how we support survivors. If they have loss, we stick all the people with loss in a room and they all validate each other and move through hard things together. That is great, don’t get me wrong. But there is a different kind of healing and validation that happens when you put people, who are at different sides of the trauma narrative, in a conversation together. You not only validate each other’s pain, you ALSO learn about how it can feel on the other side of things. Gamble lost her son, close to the age of my brother when he died, so I felt pause as I read her application, knowing this was probably going to touch some of my unearthed wounds and healing that still needed to happen with me in regards to my parents and their grief.

Gamble drove up with her husband from Portland for her shoot. It was a crisp morning as I was setting up and I got a cheerful text asking if she could bring me coffee or anything on her way. I knew I was dealing with a momma bear and I loved her already. 

We sat and sipped our drinks, and chatted before starting her session, and I felt her warmth already, as well as her pain, both intermingling and wanting to share. Most people come in with very understandably reserved energy and lots of nerves. If she had those, I didn’t feel them. I felt immediate trust, vulnerability but also strength as Gamble started to share her story with me. 

As she began her story, I found myself captivated, sometimes forgetting to take notes as she spoke, and even forgot to trigger my camera, which was behind me on its tripod, like the quiet friend in the room, capturing every moment signaled it to. 

I was transported, as a mother myself, into the feelings that came up as she spoke. The way her grief danced with her realizations. Her ability to trust me and truly emote as she spoke was beautiful to me. The love in her eyes when she spoke about both of her sons, her family and her husband – was palatable. 

I watched her energy and emotions go from lovingly remembering, to heart wrenching – looking into the space in a way that I could feel her ache. I felt tears running down my face before even realizing I was crying along with her, as she took me through the day that changed her life forever. 

Below are some of the quotes from Gamble that she expressed during her session, that I thought were poignant and important to share, followed by a section written by Gamble herself, with words she wanted to share with everyone post session.

I married my highschool sweetheart. We both have depression and alcoholism in our families. Both of our sons have struggled with depression. Dean was great at everything. Handsome and so funny.

He shared with us that he was struggling with depression, and that he was also having sleeping issues. He would come for dinner every Sunday. We would make dinner, and share music we liked with each other. 

Both boys were living with their dad. We were divorced and co-parenting very well together. I was moving to Portland, and I told them all to “Please be ok, and take care of each other”. Dean said to me “I will try mom, but you are my light.” He took his life 6 months later. 

Gamble and her son Dean

It was my birthday, I was feeling very loved. I got a call from their dad, Jeff. I could barely understand him. He finally got out “Dean is gone”. He had taken his life the day before. All I remember is doubling over at work, people called my husband and everyone circled around me to try to help. 

He left a note. He said he always felt loved, that he was sorry to have to do this, but he was just too tired.

I flew to back to Florida, and the first person I saw was my son Alex, and we just cried together. As I held him, all I thought about was how worried I was about him, and how he was doing with it all. But when I saw Jeff, I kind of got lost in him, and in our sadness.

The day of the funeral was a blur, I had to be medicated to get through it. It took me everything to not climb into Dean’s casket and hold him. When they went to load him in the hearse, I instinctively lunged for it. You shouldn’t have to bury your child, you just shouldn’t. 

This is a sculpture that Gamble did, of her arm that lunged for her sons casket on the day of his funeral, to remember the level of grief she felt in that moment.

I had grown up Christian, and moved away from it over the years. We would talk a lot about spirituality and religion in our family. After his death, I asked Alex, “Where do you think Dean is?”. He said “Mom, Dean is in the rain thats falling, in the sun that shines. He is all around us!” As a Christian I was told I would have to wait until I die to see my son again. But now I know he is all around me. His every is everywhere. It was a huge shift in my grief. 

Post Session thoughts from Gamble:

“You know, I made it 51 years not knowing profound grief. And now I’m seven years into the loss of my child. Long enough that there aren’t’ many ‘the last time I did this Dean was here’ moments, but for sure the absence of his presence is everywhere. Sometimes all-consuming, most times manageable. I learned somewhere along my journey that, for me, talking about Dean helped.

M created such a warm, safe space to have a conversation ~ above and beyond just talking with someone who understands this kind of grief. I think M mentioned ‘the club none of us would choose’? We can, though, choose to lean into this remarkable space. Everyone has their own needs and I wish love and healing for anyone who paused here, hopeful that my story will give a bit of the healing I found here.” – Gamble

When asked her final words, on what advice she would give someone who has recently experienced a loss similar to hers, Gamble said: “The most helpful thing for me was something I heard in therapy. To remember to let your grief walk with you. To stay with us. Our society tells us to move on and get over it. But we need to give ourselves permission to stay with our grief. It is part of who I am now, forever. It stays with me. I am not the same person I was, and I never will be.”

Thank you Gamble, for trusting me with such a touching and heart wrenching part of your life. Holding space with you was so healing on so many levels. I am eternally grateful to have you as a Face in this project, and to be connected as survivors.