Jessica writes her story in Boston in the white Chillax sneaker

POWER IS writing my own narrative

By Jessica Latshaw

Storyteller, mother, wife, musician and good vibe spreader

Photographed in Boston by Heather McGrath

In my twenties, my husband leaves. I move home; one night the lights are off, my despair blending in with the dark, when my mom sits down.

“You know, Jess,” she says, the familiar sound of her voice a homecoming. “I love your pop and if he were to die today, I’d be devastated.” I listen, waiting for the part that’s supposed to cheer me up. “And yet, I’d still have purpose. Nobody can take your purpose from you. You can be both—hurting and having purpose.”

The word power comes from the Latin word potere, meaning: “to be able.” One of grief’s gifts is discovering that I am able. I find a therapist and our conversations are a flashlight; I see paths forward in the dark.

I write. Choosing the words of my narrative frees me from the cell constructed by another. I am not a victim; I am a storyteller. A different part of my brain lights up. It’s not trauma—the cortisone that demands fight or flight drains as my frontal lobe rises to the task of creativity. I am Scheherazade, preserving my life by telling my story, one night at a time.

Jessica Latshaw
“I am able to see that ‘bad things’ in a story doesn’t mean the story is bad.”
Jessica Latshaw with children

I move to New York City and meet a man whose love for me makes my parents sleep well at night, knowing their daughter is cared for from her fingertips to her soul. We marry; we have a daughter. It is more potere. I am able to see that “bad things” in a story doesn’t mean the story is bad.

And then we have a son. But it is too soon—35 weeks—and he is too still, too quiet. Luca is beautiful and perfect and also dead.

Oh God.

How do you give your baby back? You don’t, not really. I watch my husband kiss his head for the last time and reverently hand him to the nurse. Luca’s ashes are cradled by the earth, but more than this, he is forever cradled in my heart.


Again, grief is on my plate. And so is this idea of potere: I am able. I take my infinite grief and hold it to the measuring stick of my own rhetoric. I cannot choose if my son lives or dies, but I can choose the way I tell our story—Luca’s and mine. I am able to care for my daughter. To laugh with my husband. With time, I am even able to look forward to life again—a shocking revelation when grief steals from us the invitation to live wholeheartedly; when grief leaves us only a crack in the doorway through which we peer and watch the rest of the world enter in.

There is a dormant seed in the ground, only ignited by the hottest fires. These fire ephemerals are magnificent—they paint devastation with the most vibrant blooms. Grief is a kind of fire that burns too deep, asks too much. And it ignites the fire ephemerals. This potere I didn’t know existed—a revelation that I am able. From getting out of bed and brushing my teeth after having left my son’s body at the hospital, to writing my story, night after night, until this boulder on my chest becomes a stone in my pocket. The fire is terrible, yes; and it lights up our world, revealing us as the fire ephemerals we are. This is the power God planted within: I am able. To grieve and to heal. To write it all down with words I alone choose; this is my power, my gift, my blessing.

Be sure to pick up her book My Baby Died (and I’m okay) out this spring.

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Heather McGrath, @heathermcgrath, Photographer, Boston

Power is facing your fears and coming out stronger.

“Photography and directing gives me the power to show my point of view on a subject. I choose lighting, angles, location, and colors based on what I am trying to say about them. All of that is so crucial to help me show my take on a subject. My subjects are always strong and fearless. I gravitate towards people more like myself. I want to elevate fearless and courageous subjects.”

Heather McGrath

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