Processing Death Through Photography

September 04, 2014 / Stories
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Today is my brother’s birthday. He would have been 44 years old. His name was Mike “Myrick” Cowart.

He passed away on March 2nd of this year from a sudden heart attack. My family didn’t see it coming. We didn’t know there were any heart conditions. He was just gone in an instant. Here and happy as could be in one minute… gone the next.

I thought I would share the timeline of events this year, along with some really meaningful photos and stories to go along with them.

January 31st

Our middle brother, Benji, and his family had just moved back from New York this past winter. So my brothers and I all decided to take our daughters to a Daddy/Daughter dance together. It was the first time we had really hung out as a threesome in years and super special to have our daughters with us.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 11.52.23 AM

At one point during the dance, I had a great idea for a photo. They turned the snow machine on above and I thought it’d be cool to have a photo of me throwing my daughter into the snow. But I needed someone to take it. So I explained the idea to Mike (since he’s also a photographer) and he nailed the shot.

Eisley-7527

Not only do I love this photo but this ended up being the last photo Mike ever took of me.

February 27th

Fast forward a few weeks to February 27th. Mike posted this note in celebration of his new website, MyrickStudios.com. He was so excited and proud of this new website. Gosh, did he love it. And what a celebration that website was and still is.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 11.51.11 AM

Mike also recorded this version of “Say Something” that same day. This ended up being his last-ever performance…

March 2nd

On the morning of March 2nd, Mike and I were both at the airport at the same time. I was flying to Vegas to speak. He was flying to Hawaii for a job. He was sooooo excited to go to Hawaii. We went there on vacation a few times as kids and I think he had been in love with it ever since. Anyway, we weren’t able to see each other at the airport this morning but we exchanged these text messages as I sat on my plane to leave:

texts

A huge snowstorm was coming in that cancelled all the flights that day. I barely got out in time.

So I fly to Vegas for a big photography conference called WPPI. I basically had to speak as soon as I got there, which was later in the afternoon. As I’m getting up on stage (keep in mind, I’m standing in a room full of about 500 people), I get a text from my sister-in-law, Penny. It said:

penny

I called her immediately (while still on stage) and she told me my brother had been found unconscious. They were taking him to the hospital and would get back to me asap.

I then told my audience that something urgent was going on and I might have to take a call in another few minutes.

I start my talk and I’m cruising, doing my thing. 20 minutes into the call, my phone starts ringing non-stop. I finally picked it up and jumped off stage to take the call.

It’s my Dad. And through tears he says “He’s gone.”

Heartbreak, shock, numbness, memories, you name it. Everything starts rushing through my head.

I got back up on stage and told my audience what happened. At this point, I was weeping.

A few girls walked up on stage immediately and hugged me. I don’t know who they were but thank you if you happen to see this.

wppi

 

If any of you know Mike, you’ll see that I look EXACTLY like Mike in this photo.

Then my friend Matt Ebenezer walked me back to my hotel room. As we took the eternal walk back to my room, I couldn’t help but remember the John Schneider story. You need to read that if you haven’t seen it yet. The short version is John asked me to take his portrait immediately after hearing the news of the death of his father. It was a super interesting response and surprising to say the least. But I couldn’t quit thinking of his story. For whatever reason, it felt appropriate to “pay it forward” and do the same thing.

When we got to my hotel room, I asked Matt to take a few photos of me with my camera. Wow, what a crazy experience. Of course I was still weeping at that point and couldn’t find it in me to look at the camera. It was far too difficult. I don’t know how John did it. But he went ahead and took a few and that was it.

DSCF0716 DSCF0722 DSCF0727 DSCF0730

The rest of the evening was spent trying to figure out how to get home. Nashville was shut down due to the snowstorm. All flights were cancelled and the airport was closed. After hours of looking into options, I finally tweeted about it to see if anyone knew how I could get home. After a little while I got a call from a very special person (aka angel), who I really didn’t know that well, offering to fly me home on a private jet. Direct flight to Nashville from Vegas, in the middle of a snowstorm. All to get me home to my family.

Next thing I knew, I was on a private jet, flying home to my family. I was literally the only passenger. I think that will forever be the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.

1 2

Here’s a photo I took early the next morning as we started to land back in Nashville. This was over the storm.

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March 7

The following week was a blur of grieving, logistics, visiting family and planning for his funeral. I kind of took it on myself to plan his funeral because I knew it would be very media heavy. There would be tons of photos, music and videos to be shared so I started digging through his phone, computers and external hard drives. It’s pretty surreal to be immediately dumped into someone’s digital life. I found that it’s a beautiful way to grieve. I pretty much cried that entire week and haven’t cried since. I looked through thousands and thousands of photos and watched endless videos of Mike’s life. It was truly a healing process. Well, as much as one can possibly heal in one week. I know that I’ll aways be recovering from this for the rest of my life.

My friends Eugene and Heather Brown jumped in and helped me produce a couple videos for Mike’s funeral.
HUGE thanks to them for all their hard work.

Here’s a bit of Mike’s testimony, mixed in with some footage from his life…

And here’s Mike covering the hit song “Redeemed” that our middle brother, Benji, co-wrote with Big Daddy Weave:

Lastly, here’s the entire funeral service if any of you have interest in watching. It’s a pretty different and special funeral service. Hope you enjoy.

Oh, and here’s a quick photo I took before the service started. Keep in mind, this is the church we all grew up in together, singing on that stage together. So many memories in that room.

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After the funeral was over, I went into a side room to take a few moments to myself. I walked in and noticed this extremely odd rainbow on a chair. The rainbow made no sense whatsoever from a light standpoint. I couldn’t find the source inside the room. I took a photo of it and it was immediately gone.

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April 26th

We moved our parents out of the house we grew up in, into Mike’s house. As we were packing up, I was moving a coffee table with a huge sheet of glass on top. I put the glass down in the grass and immediately was stunned at how beautiful the image was. Just for fun, I yelled over to my brother and my Dad to come take a picture with me. They were super annoyed cause they were sweating in the heat, moving a couch and here I was, taking artsy photos haha. But they came over and I grabbed a quick iPhone photo.

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Immediately after taking this photo, I realized how powerful it was.

This grass was our backyard. It’s the grass we all wrestled in, played ball in, you name it. This was our backyard as boys. And it was our last day to ever be at that house, in that yard. I haven’t been back since this photo was taken.

There were 4 sides to the glass and 4 Cowart men in the family. You can see my feet, my brother’s feet and my Dad’s feet around the edges of the frame. But there’s a pair of feet missing.

The missing feet are also on the sky side (aka heaven side) while our feet are still on the earthly side.

Special photo indeed.

June 15th, Fathers Day

My family spent the day together and we released balloons in Mike’s memory…

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August 8th

I took this photo of Mike’s daughter and my niece, Reese, as a part of my new personal project, “PortraitQA”. I told Reese to turn on her iPhone flashlight. Then I noticed that the lens flare was going straight through her body. I asked her to turn her phone and I turned my phone as well. I wanted to see if I could change the flare. But no matter how either one of us changed our phone angles, that light remained straight down her entire body. Couldn’t believe it. They say our loved ones show up in very mysterious ways. I couldn’t help but believe this was one of those moments.

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September 4th

Fast forward to today. It’s Mike’s 44th Birthday. My family will never be the same and this day will forever be a hard day for us. Nothing can ever replace the loss of Mike. BUT. We have a new reason to also celebrate this day.

Right now, as we speak, my brother Benji and his wife are bringing their daughter Fodie home from Sierra Leone. This is a photo of my sister-in-law Jenna with Fodie. They just took this this morning in Brussels.

She will literally be home with us tonight, on Mike’s birthday.

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We love you, Mike! Happy Birthday!

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196 comments
honeynbennkids
honeynbennkids

I came to the site because of SeeUniversity.  I noticed the "IN LOVING MEMORY OF MIKE "MYRICK" COWART"....


I clicked over and this is a beautiful story.  A wonderful living memorial.


I'm so sorry for your loss.  My husband recently passed away unexpectedly too.  He passed of a blood clot.


Mike seems like he is an amazing guy.  If you feel him around, ask him to tell my Ben I said 'love you'.  I'll tell my Sexy Beast to tell your brother what an amazing tribute you've shared for him.


~Honey

TedPins
TedPins

Saw you at crosspoint today and Mike was a friend and took photos of my real estate team a few years ago.  Your story (and Mike's life) is so inspiring.  Thank you for the gift you placed in my heart today!

BonnyHoeflein
BonnyHoeflein

Jeremy, this is just so personal,so unusual, I feel like I'm looking into the souls of your family members and seeing so much weep worthy beauty and power. I just became familiar with your work at STORYnashville. Thank you for including the world in your gifted perspective.


kialjames
kialjames

Wow, Jeremy, I literally have tears streaming down my face. Incredible story of what sounds like an incredible brother. God bless. - Kial James

JenniferStevens
JenniferStevens

It is probably a good thing that you were able to take some pictures and document before he passed away.   Having a loved one die is probably something that can be pretty hard depending on the situation.  When something like that happens, I can imagine that the person would want to make sure that funeral plans were made so everything could work out. http://www.ahlgrimfuneral.com/?page=pg__planningafuneral 

DeniseSanchez
DeniseSanchez

Thank you for sharing. I am left speechless by the beauty in the Blessings. <3 

My name means pearl
My name means pearl

 Hey Jeremy and Shannon,  I just heard on Christian radio with Dave Ramsey that you guys are doing a conference regarding Stewardship.  That is so exciting because i have been working Dave's plan for the last year and it is going so well Praise the Lord --I am trying to teach a class at my workplace -i wish i could go to nashville to see hear you guys. I read your testimony that dave has on his Stewardship.com website-i will be debt free from everything including student loans by dec 2016 or sooner--that's with giving to the Lord each pay period-then 2017 i promised the Lord years ago 10,000 and that goes to Him--so what i like about the Stewardship website is that i have more of a game plan beside debtfree and tithing-like where is the best use of the resources the Lord has given me--


Jeremy you cowarts keep popping up to bless me in all areas of my life!  You guys obviously have found the best use of all your resources!!


Your friend 


Margaret

MynamemeansPearl

photographybymcd36
photographybymcd36

Wow, very powerful!  This brought tears to my eyes, so raw.  Your article/tribute reminded me of when I lost my brother a few years ago at the young age of 46.  I received the call seconds before I walked into my client's home to discuss their wedding, I was so numb that I went through the meeting without showing any signs.  I then walked out when the meeting was over and I broke into a million pieces.  It's been 7 years since the loss and till this day, I see little things during my day to day living that reminds me of my brother... license plates with his initials (all the time), some random item falling on the floor in my house, etc.  They do show up in mysterious way, I so believe it and when this happens... makes me smile.  I hope it does for you as well. 


Thank you for sharing.

KathleenBillingsVeltsos
KathleenBillingsVeltsos

I feel very blessed that you have shared your brother with us. Most of us didn't know him but I feel that you have allowed us to know him. You have put the connection that we desperately seek as humans into his story. I am humbled. Thank you.

SandyS
SandyS

I am very touched by your story. Your family is beautiful and you were truly blessed to have had such a wonderful person - Mike - in all of your lives. My son's birthday is also Sept 4th and I know that I will also think of you and Mike and all who loved him, on this day every year. Sending love and positive healing energy to all of you. Sandy

rajkirk
rajkirk

I just watched your session on CreativeLive and just now visited your site. Thanks for all you have shared, very moving and inspiring.

donniefitz2
donniefitz2

I have followed your work and your career for a few years now. I feel like I know you. After reading this post I feel sad for your loss. I too have felt a similar type of loss. But you have something many don't. You have the assurance that your brother was a true believer in Christ, and death has no victory over Life. Your brother has stepped off the stage and now sits among the audience, watching the show and waiting for the final act. 

ashleynicolejones
ashleynicolejones

Jeremy - thank you for sharing. It's really cool that media helped you grieve and process things to allow you to heal. I am actually working on starting a non-profit to help families diagnosed with terminal illness through photography in hopes of giving them the same gift. I'm Kate Gazaway's friend if she mentions it to you... I hope you continue to find peace and comfort through photography/media, memories and love of those around you!

JasmineAlston
JasmineAlston

I truly admire your strength. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you and your family.

ErnieFeliciano
ErnieFeliciano

My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.  Thanks for sharing.

My name means pearl
My name means pearl

Jeremy and family--precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saint Mike--psalm 116:5 precious are you all to me--God's blessings are on you--thank you--YOU HAVE BLESSED ME, COWARTS!! 

aaron_grayum
aaron_grayum

Jeremy, what a moving tribute to your brother. Thank you for putting this out there and sharing it with us. Love you, man!

My name means pearl
My name means pearl

Hello, Jeremy,


 I am basically a stranger to you a little less a stranger to Benji and Jenna-my former beloved worship pastors.  I will tell you how i ended up looking at your sight and how for the last two days i have cried and currently have a lump in my throat.  Pastor Jerry this weekend in his sermon mentioned the home going ot Mike back in march, of which i knew nothing about then. But because Benji and Jenna have meant so much to me-my heart broke for them and your family -they mean so much as much as the couple in california who first led me to the Lord,--so much so that anytime they come back--i try to greet them at the airport coming or going (i work for the TSA), i took off a sunday to go see them at crystal beach when they came--it is so hard to get off on a Sunday-i try to give them gift of acts of love-words of encouragement -because before i came to the Chapel in 2006 --even though i had always loved worshipping the Lord since 1993 when i became born -again--the evil one had used people to destroy the meaning and purpose of worship--but because of specifically benji and jenna's hearts that the Lord gave them the Spirit flowing freely through them--the Lord restored worship to me--and now like king david--EVEN MORE UNDIGNIFIED THEN THIS WILL I BE--WHIRLING BEFORE THE LORD--AND BE HUMBLE IN MY OWN SIGHT-2 samuel 6:22  so  I researched the Mike Cowart story through youtube and i found the beauty of Mike and the whole Cowart family--the love that God has put in all of your hearts for Jesus and loving each other as your own flesh--I am so grateful that I have become a recipient of the fruit of the Spirit through you all --through Benji and Jenna and through yours and mike's testimonies--I watched the funeral and all things associated with Mike to honor this family and in it I became so blessed--with tears of joy and gratitude that the Lord God has worked so mightily --i ask my Lord that i too one day someone can say of me that the Love of the Lord and the Fruit of the Spirit were indeed evident in me--but I know that it is not with you guys nor with me but that Jesus is proclaimed --that only by His blood His supernatural power and Resurrection power is any of this possible--WITH MAN IT IS IMPOSSIBLE BUT NOT WITH GOD FOR ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE FOR GOD--IN JESUS NAME I ask Lord cause many come to the salvation through Jesus Christ through this story--I iask and by faith i receive it now--thank you Lord You are Good --margaretvargo@rocketmail.com

aarongreene
aarongreene

I'm not on twitter much but on that day we were connected in a small way. A mutual friend tweeted at us both and you replied. After the tweet I thought I'd invite you to dinner or something if I saw you at the conference.


I was across town at a workshop and the guy standing next to me said "oh no, something terrible has happened." He had no idea I knew you but a friend of his was in your WPPI workshop and had texted him. I remember instantly feeling hollow inside and I just couldn't believe it. 


After I found out I followed your tweets a bit and it was all related to you just trying to get home. There was no way I could help though, also a bad feeling. I remember feeling helpless and so sad for you. I'm very sorry, still.

jwhittle
jwhittle

So powerful, thank you for sharing your story with the world. 

TinaKatCourtney
TinaKatCourtney

Jeremy, this is so cathartic and beautiful. I feel like a better person for having read this, and shared in your story and images. Thank you for the honesty, bravery, and artistry.


Tina Courtney

Paul Ramberg
Paul Ramberg

Heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing Jeremy.

Stephen Vosloo
Stephen Vosloo

so incredibly powerful... love your candor, thank you for tapping into what it means to be human, and being willing to share that with us.

BethanyRecaido
BethanyRecaido

Photos are such a huge part of how I process grief, I can totally relate to this post. Thank you for sharing. This is such a beautiful tribute to your brother! I hope that you continue to heal and learn how to celebrate him through the "new normal" of your life without him. God bless. 

Trees R Cool
Trees R Cool

Beautiful! I especially love the 'Glass on the Grass' in your backyard Photo! So meaningful! You have a great, close family. Thanks for sharing.

Brian Park
Brian Park

Miss that guy. Thanks for sharing this Jeremy especially the funeral video. Wish I could have been there. How's the family doing?

karalayne
karalayne

I lost my father suddenly and tragically when I was 10. He was 45 years old and went in for a triple bypass surgery and never woke up. He had a stroke during it and passed away. I didn't know it then, but that single moment changed everything, every decision I made and will make in life after that and it is the sole reason I was able to discover that I was a photographer. Photography is the one medium that allows us to hang on to the things that we physically cannot. My father was the documenter in my childhood and was always behind the camera so I only have a handful of pictures of him. Documenting life and people's stories is the single most important thing we can do. I will never be able to put into words what photographing the dark times in life does for me, but when I see your portraits above, there's a connection. I get it. And it doesn't matter that anyone else doesn't I guess. The shock won't wear off for years, but the sting when you think of him does begin to subside. It will be 20 years this New Year's Eve since I had my father and it still feels like it happened last week.

I have followed your work for several years now, Mr.Cowart. Thank you for always doing things in such a genuine way and wearing your heart on your sleeve. It's a beautiful thing. I am so sorry for your loss and what your family is going through. Remember to continue to create your own self portraits because your kids will thank you one day. Those photographs will become priceless pieces they share with their own children and the stories they tell of your life. And stay as close as you possibly can to your nephew and especially your niece, Miss Reese. She will need amazing and inspiring father figures in her life. They truly make all the difference.

And my birthday is also September 4th. And I enjoyed some chips and salsa yesterday while celebrating. Big hugs, Mr.Cowart

Misti Jackson-Derringer
Misti Jackson-Derringer

I'm in! Would be cool to do something for a good cause while we're at it...collect toys for h'ville community childcare center or something idk?

Jeremy Cowart
Jeremy Cowart

Agreed! Maybe we could all make that happen this Christmas? That would be amazing...

BradBlackman
BradBlackman

This is beautiful, Jeremy. Sometimes the art that is born out of pain is the strongest.

lgphoto07
lgphoto07

This was absolutely beautiful in so many ways.  Thank you so much for sharing so much intimate details of this journey so far.  In it all of us who have lost someone so suddenly who was so close and so loved can identify whole heartedly with you.  We celebrated the 5th anniversary of the death of my nephew (14), Wyatt Gentry, this year.  The pain was as fresh as it was when the call came in.  Memories, photos, songs and our hearts were all shared via text, phone, social media and it helped the day and our hearts to feel close to him again for a moment.  I too am the "photographer" in my family.  I captured most of the images of him over the years and when I look at those, he is smiling at me...behind the camera...and I am warmed to my soul again.  Our family will pray for yours.  


In Christ,

Fred, Tammy, David and Thomas Gentry

Central Alabama

Nicky Smith
Nicky Smith

This is awesome - very moving, very beautiful, very personal.

sorayaabreu11
sorayaabreu11

Thank you for sharing... Praying for you and your beautiful family .


ARF_photo
ARF_photo

@jeremycowart The Grief Club is no fun to join (speaking as a member) but work like this makes membership more bearable & beautiful. Thanks.

MichaelKeshen
MichaelKeshen

Thank you for sharing this very moving story and I'm sorry for your loss.

Melissa Blanchard Arroyo
Melissa Blanchard Arroyo

I was in that auditorium on March 2 at your seminar.....never met you and hardly knew about you but the topic of your seminar interested me....haven't stopped thinking about that day since and I cherish everything so much more now. I pray for your family's strength...you seem to have a strong family and you are so lucky in that. Big hugs from someone who you don't know but your experience touched.

Andi Allen Stubblefield
Andi Allen Stubblefield

Continuing to pray for you and your family. Thank you so much for sharing these precious moments with us.

Analia Paino
Analia Paino

Brought tears, just beautiful, thanks for sharing Jeremy.

Jeremy Cowart
Jeremy Cowart

Thanks Misti! We need to catch up one of these days...

Joseph Marsh
Joseph Marsh

Jeremy, brother. Thank you for your eloquent and poignant words. You share your experience with deep, heartfelt empathy and authenticity. You're willingness to be raw and vulnerable with very precious and perhaps typically private thoughts, memories, and emotions is a blessing and is such a timely reminder of how precious life is. You are a beautiful soul, as it seems your brother was as well. He took the best parts of you and his family with him to heaven and left the best parts of himself in your hearts. You do him great honor with living your life the way that you do! You honor his memory by being vulnerable and showing others who are desperate how to walk in/through grief with dignity and honor. I pray a special blessing on the whole Cowart family right now! May the God of peace fill any and every void in their hearts, Lord I pray for memories filled with laughter and love, and that when they mourn for the loss of their brother, son, dad, and uncle joy would well up deep within them. Blessings brother! Standing with you in spirit!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Processing Death Through Photography by Jeremy Cowart […]

  2. […] WPPI talk in Las Vegas, he learned of his brothers’ passing. Photography, says Jeremy, has helped him process that loss. Because photography — and particularly digital photography — is changing the way that we […]

  3. […] everything Jeremy Cowart knows as a photographer. From the sudden and tragic death of his brother Mike “Myrick” Cowart last year, Jeremy’s big question is what if every single human documented everything they learned […]

  4. […] Processing Death Through Photography | Jeremy Cowart – March 2nd. On the morning of March 2nd, Mike and I were both at the airport at the same time. I was flying to Vegas to speak. He was flying to Hawaii for a job. […]