Grief does not happen in a vacuum. The world doesn’t stop when someone dies. Along with the haunting shudders and waves of devastation, there is the rest of the world, there is life to be lived, and — sometimes — there is even laughter. “Postcards for Lara” is a letter story told in postcards written to the narrator’s cousin who died of brain cancer.
The text, which won the John Schultz and Betty Shiflett Story Workshop Scholarship in 2010, documents the narrator’s navigation of loss while studying abroad in Europe. The reminders of death are a ceaseless barrage: human-hip-bone chandeliers in a Czech ossuary; a mural of judgement day in the yawning dome of an old Italian church; pouring rain the day Michael Jackson died - just like the day Lara died. The narrator’s memories of her cousin bombard her as she struggles with grief and anger, searches for some method to what feels like madness, and grows more and more disenchanted with religion.
The images tell the story of the life happening simultaneously outside the narrator’s head and all around her: the sightseeing, the discoveries, the fun. Photographs of a dead and defeathered whole chicken with a barcoded label, a wispy-white-haired man surrounded by stained-glass windows listening intently to an audio guide, tourists vying for the best mountain pictures through the window of a train, and a shoeless man in red pants and a red shirt fast asleep with a red suitcase tucked under his head reveal more than events filling the days throughout the grieving process. They also begin to flesh out the narrator’s personality — her point of view, the things that catch her attention, and her sense of humor.
Images and text function together in twenty-one 5x7-inch postcards wrapped in an elegant, handmade, ribbon-bound envelope. The postcards are labeled with the image subject and location and addressed to Lara. Numbers on each postcard indicate the original order of the text, but they can be easily read and understood out of order as well. There are subtle associations between the text and image of each postcard; the image is never a direct interpretation of the text, but rather a way to show what is also happening — while wondering about the comforting properties of Catholic rituals while dying, the narrator is also soaking in warm rays of the Italian sun, chuckling over the bodies on colorful towels strewn about the pavement near the water’s edge. She is also living. Through the images the viewer sees what the narrator sees, through the text the viewer feels what she feels, and together they show life — and death — as the multi-faceted things that they are.

*This project is based on true events. All names except Lara have been changed for privacy protection.