Faces of Fortitude
Photographers Notes + Session Quotes

Tracy and Maggie’s session was my inaugural shoot in my own space, and there were so many things I was nervous about. Would this space, that had been essential in my own healing over the last 3 years, translate to others? Would the energy that had held me so safe and secure during some of my most difficult moments be felt by those coming to share some of the most painful things in their own hearts?

Almost exactly a year ago this month, I met mother + daughter loss survivors, Maggie & Tracy, at an outdoor summer event here in Seattle. We were sitting eating at a table, and someone at the table next to us said “Are you Faces of Fortitude”? 

We had a quick but vulnerable conversation, to which I learned both mother and daughter had experienced the suicide of one of their parents. Maggie the daughter said she had started following me on social media after her dad took his own life, and since then had been trying to find the courage to email me about being in the project. She says this was the universe giving her a little push. We exchanged details and I told them I would love to have them in my project. 

Many months went by. I didn’t have a consistent space to shoot, or gear to travel with, and it was still very much up in the air about where the photo side of my work was going after it all came to a halt after COVID quarantine. Travel, public spaces, everything had changed. We would try to find dates, someone would be out of town, sick, or the dates with the spaces I was using didn’t work, proving to me it clearly wasn’t meant to happen at that time. So we started with having them share their story on the Behind the Lens podcast, and I assured them they would be first on my list of Seattle portraits when they resumed.

I spent the better part of the last year trying to figure out what the missing puzzle piece was for this project: a safe space to resume portrait sessions, and my unearthing work with plants and my unpacking process since March of 2020. They were connected, emotionally for me, but not tangibly. I had always been thinking about the ways I could be self-reliant moving forward with this project, but all of the options felt out of reach, but when I really looked at it realistically, I was capable of doing what I needed to be self-sufficient in this project. So why wasn’t I doing it? 

Have you ever seen that episode of Bob’s Burgers where Bob is in this hamburger making contest and he trusts his cheeky and care-free son Gene, with his key winning ingredient, the black garlic. When Gene inevitably fumbles with delivering the ingredient, and Bob gets angry with him – Linda, his wife, poses a very important question to him. Did Bob subconsciously trust Gene with the ingredient, knowing his son’s personality, to give him a scapegoat when he failed? Instead of trusting himself and what he was capable of?

Was I subconsciously blaming my circumstances and outside factors on my progress, because it was easier than trusting myself to do scary things? That is one hard to swallow pill, but damned if it doesn’t make room for growth when you realize it.

I am a firm believer in signs, that the energy from our ancestors who have passed, still surround us – and if we listen and are open – we can see and feel validations for how we move through the world, as they guide us to truly LISTEN. Maybe it’s a sign, a coincidental event, emotional connection, or an even bigger sign from the greater power you believe in that is bigger than yourself. I had been searching for that piece for the past year, and little did I know Tracy & Maggie would be part of this moment of clarity that I had been working toward being open enough to receive. 

I landed on a date quickly with Tracy & Maggie after I made the moves to be able to shoot in my little healing space. One thing I mentioned above was the work I have started connected to trauma and plant therapy, specifically in the past 3 years. 

As I began to prepare for my shoot with Tracy and Maggie, I sat in my favorite big chair, that is NESTED in the middle of some of my largest and most towering plants. It creates almost a canopy over you when you sit there. I prepared to send an email and instead picked up my journal – letting the words flow from my pen about what I was feeling. After a few minutes I glanced at my propagation babies. I routinely take clippings from my older more established plants, and propagate them to either add to the family or give as gifts. My body is regulated when I put my hands in dirt and spend time gently handling the plants. It is part of my daily schedule, not just for the plant’s sake, but also to help me work through unpacking big trauma blooms I have as well. Most recently it’s grown to be part of my speaking work, I speak both about Faces of Fortitude and plant therapy and how they have both helped me so much in my journey.

But it wasn’t until that moment in that big chair, with my babies flanking me on all sides, did I see that these two parts of my work needed to be even more connected. This was the piece I had been searching for. 

I would propagate these babies, that had literally grown up around me in the past 3+ years, in order to keep me safe and help me heal – and every Face that comes into this little forest for a portrait session, will leave with a propagated baby from the Belltown forest. Even more, as I kept journaling, I realized how essential this act was for myself before anything else.

When I created the 7 steps around Unearthing our trauma, that I built around the care I gave to my own plants, one of the steps was to NAME a plant after myself, and I now travel and speak about how HELPFUL that has become to learning to speak to myself in a kinder more curiously gentle way. WHY had I never connected this work to my Faces directly? It felt like a GIGANTIC lightbulb had been turned on above me.

Fast forward to the day of Tracy & Maggie’s shoot. It felt like a pivotal day. I cleansed the space with ethically sourced herbs, and prepared myself emotionally. Journaled my intentions and set up my gear. 

When they arrived, and I welcomed them into my space – Maggie looked at me concerned and said “I have to tell you something…I have really been struggling the past few weeks. With suicidal thoughts…”. I reminded her, that is what this space is for – and how grateful I was that she trusted me enough to share that, as well as thanked her for deciding to stay up until that moment, to bravely share her story. 

Tracy and Maggie had shared a good part of their survivor story on my podcast months before, so I thought I knew what we would be discussing that day. We set up to take a photo of them together first. In front of my camera was Maggie – a daughter trying to survive a very difficult moment in time, and their mother Tracy – who was hearing many of these painful details from her adult child’s mouth, for the first time, while being photographed. 

I sat quietly, with tears making it almost impossible for me to see clearly. These two loving hearts were showing an incredible example of holding space for an extremely vulnerable conversation, without letting their egos or past trauma control the narrative. I sat in awe, both inspired as a loss survivor but also incredibly PROUD of them both as an attempt survivor. I know how hard it is to have these conversations. Let alone do it outside of your own safe spaces- with a camera documenting. 

The following are quotes from their session, along with some of their final portraits.

“For 45 minutes, after my dad died, I couldn’t get ahold of my mom. She was on her motorcycle. During that time, I couldn’t do anything. Now, I worry a lot when I don’t hear from people close to me right away. Now that I am one parent down, my mom has to live forever.” – Maggie
“I’ve been struggling a lot lately. When I think about suicide, I worry the most about someone having to find me. It doesn’t feel like its me when I’m suicidal. It’s something I’m constantly trying to fight off.” – Maggie

M: “How are you processing hearing your daughter express feelings of hopelessness and suicidal ideation?”

“It’s so hard to hear they are feeling this way. I saw what my mothers suicide did to my Nana. She died a few months afterwards. I feel powerless. I keep trying to find the balance of being a supportive mom, but not smothering, while still being there for them. I want to acknowledge their fears but not let that stop me from being present for them.” – Tracy

At this point in the shoot we took a short break – and we all needed to take a breathe after crying, and hydrate. Tracy used the restroom and when she came out, she was crying more than when she went in! She said:

“M, when we quickly scheduled this session, I didn’t even realize the date. Today, 30 years ago is the day my mother took her own life. I didn’t remember, but its so clear my body knew.”

M: “Maggie, whats one thing that keeps you here? That keeps you fighting to stay?”

Time for a moment of levity. During their joint portrait, during a VERY vulnerable moment, Tracy said something that sent us all into giggles. If you know me and my work, you know that SMILES through TEARS are some of my favorite moments with people in sessions. It shows the amount of LIGHT that can shine through darkness, if we let it.

“I’ve thought a lot about things I wished my dad had done differently. He used to tell me there had to be a reason for my depression. I am angry he didn’t see it could be in my mind. A lot of my feelings feel bigger than others. I was always being told my feelings were too big.” – Maggie

As their session came to a close, we had some cool down time, talking about the quotes I wrote down as they spoke, and I explained they would be the first Faces to take home a plant from the Belltown Forest.

I use my plants to help unpack BLOOMS that come up around my trauma, and I explained how naming a plant after themselves can assist them in learning not just positive self talk, but also can help them listen to their bodies and minds in order to regulate their nervous system and learn to take things in small, manageable bites.

As I am handing the plant babies to them, and explaining the naming – I realize. One of these propagates is from my large Adansonii monstera’s, and I have over 50 plants, so I didn’t realize until that moment, for iterations sake, I had named that plant MAGGIE – 5+ years ago. I was giving Maggie, the child of my plant also named Maggie, and didn’t realize it until I handed it over to her. One of the NODS from the universe that this indeed was the correct puzzle piece for this moment.

Now for those of you fretting about your lack of a “green thumb” please note this task is not about keeping your plant alive, and that plant basing your life’s choices around. The plants can simply help us better take care of ourselves, through how we take care of them. I created 7 steps to Unearth our trauma, when my therapist went on 2 maternity leaves during COVID, because I needed help processing things that were coming up in the hard moments, and all I had was my plants. They taught me these very important lessons that I use daily on myself. And yes, one of the steps is about the DEATH of a plant, because that happens in life. 🙂

Thank you Tracy and Maggie for not just trusting me with your very tender and painful story, but also for trusting me with a new process and space. I am so grateful to have you as part of the Faces of Fortitude project.