The Great American Portrait Project: Laura's Story
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By Jennifer Lebo
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A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a new project I hope to begin, called The Great American Portrait Project.  Still on the early road to discovery, I envisioned a tapestry of beautiful lives, tied together through portraits and stories.  You can read a little about that here.


After sharing that blog post, I received an email from a friend who asked if I would consider sharing her story.  She was not sure it was part of my vision, but thought it an important one to share.  I could not agree more.


Laura's story is one of grief.  It is not an easy story to read, as I'm sure it was not an easy one to write- or an easy one to live for that matter.  But Laura's story is beautiful.


Here it is, in her own words.  


Thank you for sharing this with us, Laura.

I am a member of the club nobody wants to join.


It’s a club of unimaginable pain, of sleepless nights, of staggering guilt and despair. It is a club in which you question the very nature of life and existence.


It is the club of widowhood.


I am alone now, but not single like I was before I met Adam nearly 18 years ago. I will never be single again. I will always be widowed. I will always feel an emptiness in my heart, and I will always carry the burden of grief on my shoulders.


I have realized that no matter how long you have your love, whether it’s five days or 50 years, it will never be enough. Nevertheless, I am still part of the subset of this nightmarish club … the young widow subset. I don’t have a few years ahead of me to carry this grief, but a lifetime.


Any time is the wrong time to be a widow, to be left behind. At 47, I am caught in between. No longer am I the sparkling, businesslike 30-year-old in a short skirt and sweater who walked into a print shop, catching the eye of an even-younger free spirit. Now, after years of happiness, those skirts don’t fit me anymore, the shine in my hair is from a bottle, and the years have made their mark upon my skin. It is in this shape that I am left—broken inside and out.


Now, I am the awkward silence that fills the room when I crack a joke about death. I am the ultimate question mark… how will she act tonight? Should I bring up her husband? Should ask I how she is? What do I do if she cries?

The likelihood a widow dies in the first year after her husband’s death increases dramatically. I know this intimately. I have wanted to die. I have spent dark moments keening in a lonely house, desperate for solace, desperate for an end to pain. I have relived every moment of his illness, positive in a fleeting moment that he could come back if I just had said or done something differently. I have believed I had the power to control another human being, and to control life or death.


Because there is another subset to which I belong.


I am the widow of an addict. My guilt, be it rational or not, is real. I could have made different choices. They might have made a difference. They probably would not have. I, no, we, made our choices at the time, but the disease of addiction is a mighty monster. It claws through the best of marriages, ripping the seams right open. If there is a weakness in your marriage, it will find it and tear it wide open until it becomes that gaping hole of death and despair.

And people will judge. They will judge me. They will judge him—a man they didn’t know, who was a soul of unwavering kindness. They will say he was weak, that he could have been stronger. Those of us who have watched the path of addiction from beginning to end know there are no easy answers. All I know is that the disease took my love from me and left me in its wake.


I am alone, but not alone. I have been lifted up by a thousand hands … hands that didn’t judge, that showed me love beyond what I could have hoped.

And there is Bixby. Our dog. Let me tell you, the grief of a widow is such that even his life would not have deterred me from my determined path toward death had it not been for the love of people around me. They pulled me through for him. Now it is the two of us on this road together.


We both believe in love. He is by my side as I fight for my life; as I fight for hope and meaning when all seems gone.

In the late waning hours of a November day, I lay in a hospital bed with my beloved as his wondrous life slipped away. The doctor held my hand as I wept and cried out “I can’t do this. My life is over.” She held me tighter and just said, “No, your life isn’t over. But it will never be the same.”


Much to my surprise, she turned out to be right. My life isn’t over, no matter how hard I wished it would be. My life is not the same, no matter how hard I try to make it so.


The worst thing that could have happened to me has already happened. Together, Bixby and I have no fear of what is to come.  

So, we look ahead. Sometimes, grief calls to us so loudly that we cannot ignore him, and the darkness takes over. But I am here to tell you… it is survivable. It is survivable because of love and compassion…because of family and because of friends.


I will bear this burden if I must. I will bear it so you may all have the life I was not granted. Your smiles are my gift. Your smiles are my knowledge that I will see the sun again.


Thank you for making me feel beautiful again, Jen.


I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.

Leave a comment:
Joyce Ochieng - Jen, may God continue to bless the works of your hands. Thank you Laura for sharing your story- stay strong and God bless you.
Laura - It will be a year 4/5/17 that my husband passes it wasn't an addiction but I feel this could be a story about me so touching.
Alison Christofferson - I've been though two tough losses in the last 6 months but none that can touch this. I didn't know Laura. I'm so sorry. I hate that you have had to go through this!
Kathryn curry - I am the mother of Adam Michael Curry. The grief, the sadness, the utter disbelief that his sweet, thoughtful, caring and sensitive young man had to give his life leaving we, his family, in such a place of deep, aching, unbelievable loss and pain. Addiction robs precious lives from us and sadly erects an almost impenetrable wall between family and the one affected. I lost my precious first born, my only son. I am so grateful that he had Laura in his life. I am grateful that she called me whenever Adam was in crises. It gave me precious extra time with them both. I am grateful I was there with hands on my boy when he took his last breath. Thank you Laura for the many gifts you gave in support and love to adam even when it was difficult and scary. I hold you in love and am grateful you came into our lives. Thank you for sharing with us.
Vicki Sandoval - Thank you, Laura, for sharing your heartbreaking story. You are beautiful and you are strong. Thank you, Jen.
Barbara Kuntz - What a beautiful gift you have given the world, Laura, with your words; your raw, heartbreaking but hope-filled words.

Thank you, Jen, for giving my sister this opportunity to share.
Denise - Great story Laura! Thanks for sharing and keep moving forward. You are getting stronger everyday! Love Denise
Dawn Baldwin - This is so touching. The photos also tell the story. Beautiful photos. The story is so personal and heartbreaking, yet beautiful. Thank you Jen and Thank you Laura for opening your souls up to the world. Laura knows how personal this story of addiction is for me (with my parents addictions). Thank you from the bottom of my heart. P.S. This story should be published with the photo's --- it is beautiful and so heartfelt. Blessings.... ~Dawn~
Dorothy - Laura, you are one with the Force, and the Force is with you.

I'm crying because in the midst of your crisis/grieving/unimaginable heartache, you still shine so beautifully. You are so beautiful, both inside and out. Plan on many more Dorothy Hugs so I can share my love for you and my own force within.

And to Jen - wow, you captured Laura so incredibly. Thank you for sharing your gift of photography.