We all experience and will experience loss. It is inevitable. Loss isn’t just about death; it’s about losing what we cherish. It’s failed relationships, lost jobs, destroyed homes, failing health, and a loss of trust or faith in others and ourselves. Loss comes in different forms and stages, and it is unique to each of us.
The Ashes Project is a way for us to face loss and find the strength to heal through sharing our own unique stories.
Through The Ashes Project, we TAP IN to courageously seek and share:
What comes out of facing our emotions
Our tools for coping
How we rise from the brokenness and reboot our lives
WHO WE ARE
Anne J. Koller, Founder and Chief Muse
My world broke on July 4, 2011. My dad – the most important person in the world to me – died suddenly on that day. He was my mentor, my friend, my spiritual teacher. And he was gone. Forever.
I was in heart wrenching agony. I had no idea how to cope with the emotions flying at me every minute – resentment, anger, despair, loneliness, guilt, complete emptiness.
Books didn’t help me understand what I was feeling. People didn’t know how to approach and support me. I decided that in order to deal with loss, I would have to find my own way of coping.
I began to heal by exploring every emotion I experienced, feeling my way through each of them. I captured my journey in journal entries, emails to friends and notes from counseling sessions. There were some emotions that were too difficult to deal with at first and lingered like shadows. Four months after my Dad passed I decided to go back to the dark emotions that plagued me the most – despair, loneliness, hopelessness and Anger – and dig into them so I could finally be released from the pain and be able to move on. In order to do this, I embarked on a journey with my dear friend and photographer, James, to capture these experiences on camera.
The Ashes Project is the product of that journey. The photos and thoughts collected here were my way to make sense of my broken world; an attempt to follow my emotions – like bread crumbs – in hopes of putting the pieces of my heart and life back together. I wanted to someday rise from the ashes and live again. I wanted to look back and know that I had conquered my fears and faced grief, and that I could do it again.
As I share this project with you, I hope it will open a discussion on loss, helping each of us learn to understand and cope with the pain.
Anne Koller is a Milwaukee native who currently resides in New York. Anne works as a creative consultant by day and a spin instructor by night. She is constantly inspired by the world and people around her. It is her hope that The Ashes Project provides insight into her grief journey and serves as a platform for a broader discussion on facing loss and healing.
James Wrona, Photographer
In November 2011, I received an email from my friend Anne. She told me that her father had died unexpectedly in July, three days before his 61st birthday.
During our conversation, Anne proposed that we work together on a project documenting her journey through the grief of the next year.
Unknown to Anne, there was a personal reason that I was drawn to the project. The 14th anniversary of my own father’s death had just passed, also in July. I’d been thinking about the years that had passed, and I was dwelling on the association between the words “father” and “farther.” As the years have rolled by, I don’t miss my dad less, but the memories of that time have changed. Waves of sadness still come, but sometimes days, weeks and months go by when I don’t think about this event that I once felt I could never get through. I never expected the pain and sadness to pass, but it just happened. So in many ways, we were the perfect team to investigate this journey.
Over the course of the year, Anne and I photographed the overwhelming emotions of death. Our underlying motivation was to illustrate that grief – the pain, anger, and despair – is something that everyone goes through. And that dealing with grief is what makes us human.
We hope that others can find comfort from this body of work, realize they are not alone, and grow from such a painful experience.
James Wrona is a portrait photographer, based in New York who has worked globally. Examples of his work can be found at: James Wrona Photography
Daddy (Greg Koller), Love Inspirer
Speech at his memorial on July 8, 2011 by Anne J. Koller:
“I knew at an early age that I would have to share my dad. For those of you who know me, this was unacceptable for me. I was my father’s princess and had ultimate dibs. But I quickly got over this as my dad showed me that the more we love, the more it comes back to us in boatloads and enriches our lives. Like some sort of “love bank” where the deposits and withdrawals are endless. My dad was so easy to love and he loved on everyone in this room. It is a testament of him to see you all here. My dad took in so many people. Whether that was into his business as employees, into his circle of friends or into his home as part of the family. He made it a point to share everything he possessed and his most valuable gift to all of us was his joyous, loveable spirit.
My Mom and Dad taught me and Ben that as each spirit is born in a child they get to choose their parents along with the life they desire. Mom and Dad used to say ‘we are so happy you choose us.’ This was very powerful for me to know as a child because I never doubted that they loved me. I once told my Dad that I would’ve waited in line just to get him. When I first heard that Dad died, I was so full of anger. Seeing you all here and remembering the man he was makes that anger fade. I can see him now, shrugging and smiling and saying “Hey you chose me!” My Dad could walk into a room, meet everyone, say one thing and have a room full of lifelong friends who instantly loved him. He could look straight into your soul and touch something you didn’t even know was there. He made you feel so special and loved even with a glance – he taught all of us what love looks and feels like. My Dad trusted people, he gave with no strings, he loved life and his family and everyone around him.
Lastly, Dad was not afraid of death, in fact, he talked about it often and joked about it with us. Six months after we lost his father and stepmother on the same day we were driving from one funeral to the other. Dad was driving and posed a question to the car, “What would the sermon at your funeral be?” None of us really knew and I asked him what his would be. He smiled and laughed and said “Get over it!” This is advice we all can take from him and learn how to face tough things and move on. My final thoughts are thoughts I want your help with. I shared my Dad so I want you to help me celebrate and share his love legacy with the world. I want us to go out there and love on everything we touch. I want us to be Greg’s legacy. And remember, ‘Get over it’.”
To know more about my amazing Dad, read about him here:
“Milwaukee businessman honored for love of community”