Sarah Treanor: a story of Light and healing

Once upon a time guest series

Sarah Treanor

A story of Light and healing


Today has been a strange day, I'm working on an online class that aims at helping people bring out their light in a creative way, to bring more light into the world. Shadows and destruction have struck again and I guess the lesson on "contrast" I've been filming all week takes its full, deep meaning. It's probably no coincidence either that the post I am sharing today is all about grief, light and courage...

Turn your face stubbornly to the light,
and keep it there.
— Liz Gilbert

I love that quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, and indeed, that's very much what I choose to do right now. There is no way I'm going to dial down my joy at resuming a project that's very dear to me: because friends, I am beyond delighted to resume my "Once upon a time" guest blog series, where artists I love are invited to reflect and share the story of a piece of their (he)art that's particularly meaningful to them. (You can check out the whole series on my Inspiration page above)

Today it's an honor to welcome such an amazingly brave and talented woman, artist, photographer, writer, star-gazer and creative mentor: the beautiful Sarah Treanor.

Her "Still, Life" self-portrait series moves me in ways I have no words for. But she writes so beautifully... enjoy!

(By the way, Sarah is a contributing artist in my upcoming online class Layers of Light... Find out more HERE ... AND her own first online class, called Meaningful Making, begins next week!)

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.
— Dorothea Lange

"This quote by Dorothea Lange so perfectly captures why I take photographs. There is an incredible power to freezing moments and periods of our lives and examining them deeper… something I’ve learned in a big way in the past few years.

 The Waiting © Sarah Treanor


It was February of 2014 when I took the first photograph of what would become an ongoing series on my story of grief. My fiance had died, very suddenly, a year and a half before, and I was still wandering around, trying to pick up whatever pieces of myself I could after my life was shattered. I suppose that’s what this series was ultimately became for me… a determination to find some of those broken bits, and discover new ones. A way to find the light in the darkness, and to become whole again. Not the same as I was, but a new kind of whole.  

I had read countless books on grief in that first year and a half. In fact, countless more before that, as I’d lost my father just 3 years before, and my mother when I was nine. Death has been a part of my life for a very long time. Yet in the freshness of this new death in my life, I wanted so badly to SEE what grief looked like. I wanted tangible images for what this pain and confusion and anger felt like inside. After my searches online came up short, I decided to make some images myself and see where it went.


Through this series, I began to photograph myself and then write about the images weekly. Each one explored different themes around grief using metaphors and symbols that told my personal story.

This image is one of forty completed shots. Titled “The Waiting”, it tells a story about the place inside us where we wait for our lost loved ones to return. An excerpt of the written piece for this image describes:

“This place is your world between worlds. Your threshold of this life and the afterlife where your loved one is. The edge of the life you knew and the life you now know, without them present. You wait here… trying to see the past, wishing to reach it. In grief, we spend many months and even years standing on this threshold… wishing for our old life to return.”

I know the place in this photo well. I have spent four years returning here, from time to time, because a corner of my mind I don’t think will ever understand the magnitude of this loss. It also ties into the idea of the fog that many people describe themselves being in when they experience grief. Not able to focus, or remember things, or organize their thoughts… a haze within the mind.

© Sarah Treanor

As I shared each photograph on my blog that year, I began to collect dozens and dozens of lessons from my grief. I began to realize that I had only a finite time in which my grief would be this raw and this painful… and only that same finite time to capture the feeling of it, just as it was, and learn the lessons it would teach me. After a few more years, the rough edges would be smoothed out by time and new experiences, and I would never be able to tell that story the same again.

Now, I have a visual record of one of the most difficult times in my life. Something which has great value for me. The series has allowed me to create meaning and purpose out of my pain. It has taught me how to endure the pain of unwanted changes in life, how to express my true vulnerability and open my heart more, and how to live more fully in the midst of life’s biggest challenges.

There is an incredible healing power in recording our stories and creating with our pain, even more-so in doing it out loud where others can see, read, hear, or feel it. As I’ve shared my story and seen it resonate with others, it has given beautiful new meaning to my struggles, and helped others feel less alone. When we create from our pain, and share it with others, there is no amount of darkness that does not hold within it entire galaxies of light.


In the past year, this series has led me into whole new arenas, sharing as a speaker and teacher about the power creativity has to transform our pain when things fall apart.

Currently I’m working on an e-course called Meaningful Making, in which I am guiding students through creative practices with their grief. Many of these are the very things I did in those first few raw years to help myself heal. It’s a totally new venture for me, and one that is exciting and a little bit scary! I’m continuing to explore and discover through my photography, writing and other art forms as well, and sharing it all along the way in hopes that it might inspire others to get creating!

Sarah Treanor is all about encouraging stories of the human spirit. Her passion to help others become more in touch with their own creative power is shared through her artwork, writing, and teaching from her Northeast Ohio home and studio. She is the Sunday featured writer for Widow’s Voice, a blog written by seven widowed people telling their experience of living on, and writes regularly on her blog about creativity and adversity. If you’d like to get in touch with her or see more from the “Still, Life” series, you can visit her website or follow her on Facebook!

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