I met Mariangela nearly 9 years ago. I think I remember every detail about our first meeting, because well, its Mariangela, and no one forgets meeting her. I can save the sorted details for another day but for the next 8 or so years we never really interacted but we both watched each other from afar. We stuck out like sore thumbs in the ballet mom world, but we similarly protected our kids with a fierceness that was unmatched by anything other than a momma bear.
On May 12, 2017 just four short days after my son Ian, took his own life by suicide, Mariangela reached out to me with love, authenticity, and a painful story of her own journey to healing that I wasn’t ready to hear. She persisted as only Mariangela does. She showed up in my facebook messages as a new grief support pen pal. Over the course of the next 6 months I got to show up and be mad as hell, hit a preverbal punching bag, and share some of my most secret awful thoughts about my son’s suicide. But this bright shining light I got to witness was the birth of Faces of Fortitude. I can go back in my messages and see the exact day and post when Mariangela filled herself with a purpose after her own tragic loss of Jimmy. I see the exact moment in time that I agreed to be a Face in her project.
My session was not mine alone. I shared space with my daughter Bella and my partner Kat. But I also sat with every other face that was there before me and came after me. Ian had only been gone for 6 short months when we sat for the Faces of Fortitude project. Every image that was created illustrates a unique and fibrous connection to Mariangela and her ability to draw out a space for survivors to exist and to sit with our immeasurable pain. This profound gift of hers, to bring her whole presence to our session, she walks along with us but without judgement. Through her lens she shares each of our journeys to an unknown destination.
“I wish I could have just 10 seconds more with Ian. Not to be a mom, but to just be a gentle breeze, to blow him to safety.” — Stacie, Faces of Fortitude
When I am caught up in my own grief and pain, the portraits help provide a visible presence to others just like me that isn’t always tangible. I wrote earlier today about emotions holding simultaneous space. Where the balance of joy and sadness live together. When I look at the portraits from our session it is so vividly awesome that intense love, gratitude and joy still exist while we are still so broken by the loss of our sweet sweet Ian James. Reflecting back on that day, I don’t really know how authentic I was, I know I was numb and there wasn’t a lot that I could feel in the moment. I know I laughed a little and I cried a little, but I most certainly could not FEEL anything. Lately, I’ve been accessing raw emotion through writing and everything flows out of me like a river. I have a little blog, just tiny letters about the transparency of my grief and this gaping hole in my heart that I don’t know how to name. I know that it helps, to tell the world how remarkable I thought Ian was. I am still his mom. I am still in love with this perfect little boy that was made just for me..
I can not bestow enough love and pride on this woman. Mariangela, while grappling with her own story, invites the stories of others, and weaves a giant warm blanket of empathy, compassion and survival. Ian and I were kind of a package deal. We took a lot of selfies together and this is one of my favorites from a trip to Maui. His favorite and final resting place.
Stacie has taken her son’s last words in his note to them, LIVE HARD, and created the LIVE HARD MOVEMENT. You can read about the movement and also read Stacie’s thoughtful words she has penned through her grief process, at http://livehardmovement.com/