Life can turn on a dime. Sometimes for the better, like when we get a new job or fall in love, but when tragedy strikes, things can go terribly wrong. My life swerved out of control when I heard that my 22-year-old son, together with three young colleagues, had been beaten and stoned to death by a mob in Somalia where he was working as a photojournalist for Reuters News Agency. The irony was that Dan and his friends had been brutally murdered by the people they were trying to help.
Losing Dan, and with him the promise that his life had shown as an artist, a humanitarian and an adventurer, sent me into a violent tailspin. Unable to eat, sleep or even communicate clearly, I longed to die, but I couldn’t, because I had to be strong for Dan’s younger sister, Amy–if not for myself.
A week after Dan’s death, together with hundreds of mourners, Amy and I gathered on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya for a Celebration of Life, the saddest celebration we would ever attend. The next day, when we scattered Dan’s ashes, I saw my life stretched before me, bleak and empty, without meaning or purpose. My heart was broken.
Soon after I found a reason to live—at least for a few more months– by helping Reuters and the Associated Press create a collection of photos by three of the photojournalists entitled Images of War, which, together with an accompanying exhibit, traveled the world, triggering awareness of the role of journalists in conflict zones. Working on the exhibit fueled an idea for a documentary, Dying to tell the Story, presented by Amy, that brought us out of despair as we shared the issue of press safety with viewers around the world.
Newly aware of the power of film in creating awareness of critical issues, Amy and I produced more films about issues that we felt were important, and then, in 1998, we launched Creative Visions Foundation to support other artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers; “creative activists” who are using art and media to ignite action. Over the past 18 years, we have had the joy of working with hundreds of passionate individuals who are changing the world through inspired story telling. Our creative activists in 32 countries have touched more than 100 million people globally. Now Amy and I get to meet many of these incredible beings at the new Dan Eldon Center for Creative Activism, a vibrant hub for all ages, races and religions in Malibu.
Most remarkably, we live next door to each other, which means I can spend lots of time with Amy’s children, including six-year-old Daniel Eldon Turteltaub, who recently confessed that he had had a particularly bad day. “First Uncle Dan died,” he said darkly. “And then Archie (Daniel’s dog) died and now Daddy won’t play basketball with me.”
Grumpy Daniel’s words made me smile, and also reminded me that although my route to peace of mind and spirit has been long and fraught with seemingly insurmountable challenges, it has revealed the magic and mystery of unknown lands through which I have traveled as well as the wild, dark places within my spirit that would have remained undiscovered without a tragedy to inspire the exploration. I am grateful that now I can laugh again, believing there is more joy ahead.
So for each of you setting off without a compass or a guide on a safari of the soul triggered by loss, I’d ask you not to lose hope, but to watch for the signposts along the way that will direct you and give you new hope as you find, or more likely, create purpose and meaning in your life. I hope that you too, will discover that the journey is truly the destination and that the best is yet to come. ;
Kathy Eldon is the author of In the Heart of Life, a memoir published by Harper One about her tumultuous life, and co-author, with her daughter Amy, of Angel Catcher, a Journal of Loss and Remembrance, a best-selling guided journal published by Chronicle Books to help individuals move through the pain of loss to acceptance and new purpose. To learn more visit: kathyeldon.com; creativevisions.org and daneldon.org. The Journey is the Destination is a collection of Dan’s journal pages published by Chronicle Books which is the inspiration for a feature film about Dan’s life to be released in 2017.
By: Kathy Eldon