Growing up, I never thought I would experience what it was like to lose someone close to me. Then one day, it happened.
I remember a forced feeling while walking the halls my senior year, suddenly aware that at any moment any person I crossed paths with could leave this life unexpectedly.
Overwhelmed by grief, my mind flooded with what I wanted.
I wanted him back in this life.
I wanted to stop feeling empty, as if I was being punished.
I wanted to give all the emotions back, I couldn’t bear to feel them anymore.
I wanted to rewind to the times of him smiling at me while he wrapped his arms around me.
I wanted the tears to stop flooding my eyes.
I wanted peace and not just the silence I sat in wondering, what I could have done differently.
I wanted to stop feeling the need to read his letter just to keep him here.
But all I was left with was a memory.
About The Project
This project is dedicated to David.
Photographer: Robert Burns II
Model: Kate Cheslak
Creative Director/Photo Editor: Kate Cheslak
Content: Kate Cheslak
My undying gratitude goes to the following people that helped this project come to life: God, Robert Burns II, Wendy Wilson, Jordan Pierce, Dr. Houk, as well as my friends and family that have been an encouragement from the beginning.
Being a project I have held very close to my heart; it has taken 7 years to be able to communicate the vision I have had. These images are an articulation of the range of feelings I faced from the loss of a boyfriend during my senior year in high school – grief, anger, and vulnerability to name a few.
This project is so important to me not just because of the need for an outlet, but to advocate the emotions that people experience privately. I felt that it was vital to expose the awareness of raw feelings because most don’t experience remorse at such a young age. Young deaths are occurring more frequently and most never think it will impact their lives. Car accidents, suicide, and unintentional death (drug overdoses) are the top 3 killers of the ages 15-30 since 2000. The aftermath of our choices influence other lives whether it’s directly or not. Life is such a privilege taken for granted all too often.
Loss turns your world upside down, brings reflection, then comforts in solitude. There were times when I felt lost and abandoned – constantly finding myself trying to figure out when and how I was going to heal. The days I wanted to run from my feelings turned into years. This project forced me face them. Realization, strength, and inspiration can emerge from within the darkness. I know this is true because when I lost him, I found myself.
From the beginning, I had decided that the best way to approach this project was for me to portray the emotions in the images. This decision brought me to a challenge – it is much more difficult to be the photographer and model for a project that is still coming together as I work on it. Giving up the photographing privilege was going to difficult and I had to find the perfect person. Luckily I had become best friends with a photographer, Robert Burns II who was willing to help in any way he could.
A Note From the Photographer
When my good friend Kate Cheslak asked me to help her in photographing this project, I was instantly “in”, knowing the importance of truly supporting a friend, and also from a much larger perspective, the major role that suicide takes in claiming lives around the world each year. Admittedly, I have never lost someone close to such a tragedy – still, however, I was in to create something impactful that might prevent future tragedies.
However, over the course of the project, I quite unexpectedly lost a close friend to suicide, and the meaning this personal project had was definitely amplified in explicable ways. To have a life that was so precious to me, snatched away in the blink of an eye, reminded me with a harsh dose of reality that this project was critical. I hope, more than anything else, that viewers understand this photo series not solely as just a tragedy piece, but as one that promises hope.