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Caroline's TED Talk about Grief

Caroline's TED Talk about Grief

This month we spoke to our proton therapy graduate, Caroline, about a moving TED Talk she did recently. In this 13-minute video, she speaks about emotions surrounding her cancer – and those of the families she has photographed for Soulumination. The organization celebrates the lives of children and parents facing life-threatening conditions by providing professional photographs free of charge. Caroline has been involved with Soulumination for almost two years, beginning just two months after her cancer diagnosis.

In her TED Talk, Caroline describes grief as a dark purple cloak encircling her. Grief can be overwhelming sometimes, especially at the end of a patient's life. But when photographing children and parents at this emotionally-charged time, Caroline discovered other emotions rose to the surface, such as unconditional love. Through photographs, she and the family can see "the details we so often miss, the moments of grace and beauty we assume don't exist in those desperate places. With my camera, I can capture the evidence of that forever. And I can give it back to them to keep." To watch Caroline's TED Talk on YouTube please scroll to the bottom of this page.

Caroline explained that creating a TED Talk is no easy feat. Though she claims she’s not a confident public speaker, you would never guess it when watching her in action. Initially, she was nominated anonymously to do a TEDx University of Washington Talk, which fell through due to COVID. The organizers told her she should apply for TEDx Seattle. This required an application online and a pitch session, when she met the staff, did a brief version of her talk, and responded to coaching. After she was selected, TEDx Seattle coached her for about six months to build her confidence. "It was a lot of work, but I really wanted to tell my story and to help others feel less alone," she says. “And I wanted people to know about the work Soulumination does.” Her speech went through many iterations until she had narrowed it down to what it is today, with a focus on what she learned about life from photographing death.

While she was in the hospital being treated for cancer, she witnessed the stories of others like her everywhere. And she saw the need for people to tell their stories. This idea crystallized as a total stranger abruptly told her: "I may get to take my husband home this weekend." Caroline understood that this woman had to share her emotions right then, and she was the one available to listen. After that, Caroline wanted to give back and reached out to Seattle Children's Hospital. They were the ones to tell her about Soulumination.

Taking photos of families as they grieve and love brings up both her sadness of having a terminal illness and provides clarity. She often sees what will happen at the end of life, and it's scary, but there is also so much love and care around it. She finds it helpful for herself to let people into that part of her world. She has a wonderful partner and a great community of friends and family who ask questions and wait to hear answers. She finds distraction through her pup, Baloo, and inspiration through a card in her room that says: "You have enough time."

The way Caroline sees it, there is a need for balance between holding your cloak of grief and seeing what is right in front of you that day. "Joy can be hard to practice during grief," she says. "It feels like a betrayal, but you have to permit yourself to experience it alongside your pain. I sometimes make a plan to consciously allow myself some joy." Though joy can be found in many small things, giving back has been one of those areas where she has found it.

Although becoming a photographer for Soulumination involves submitting a portfolio and going through interviews, the organization relies heavily on other volunteers, too. If giving back is of interest to you – as a way of dealing with grief or paying it forward – there are many ways you can get involved here: https://www.soulumination.org/get-involved/volunteer-opportunities. Of course, many other wonderful organizations also rely on volunteers.

Caroline speaks about what photographing death taught her about life and grief.