Grief is a complex emotion. It is a multifaceted reaction that is universally understood as one of sorrow, and yet each handling of the emotion is completely unique to the individual. Reactions vary in their form, ranging from emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, or even reaching into the spiritual and philosophical realms. A person may experience only one form of grief or multiple variants at a time. It is a process so complex society has even named the stages a person follows when processing grief: the Five Stages of Grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are to help people understand where their actions lay within the process, but not to define what their actions are, for there is no correct way to grieve. That is what makes grief such a fascinating and terrifying emotion to experience. There is no prescribed way to handle it, and the only real truth is its catalyst - loss.
A close representation of these stages, and of the complexity of grief, can be found within the photobook, The Epilogue by Laia Abril. It is a tale of loss and love for Mary Cameron “Cammy” Robinson, who ultimately succumbed to complications from a battle with bulimia for most of her life. The book, hardcover and containing 172 pages, is primarily told through a series of flashbacks from Cammy’s family members and friends. They retell her degeneration from their perspective and reflect on their own personal battles as indirect victims of the eating disorder. The central characters are Cammy’s father, Harry Thomas “Wejun” Robinson, her mother, Jan Wright Robinson III, her brother, Harry Thomas “Tommy” Robinson IV, and childhood best friend, Ashley Yates, whose testimonies slowly form a timeline of Cammy’s life and her descent into the eating disorder.
Abril is able to tell such a complicated story through the way the book is structured. Organized into three sections, all of which are defined by single dates that gain more importance as the story progresses and more about Cammy is revealed. In the first section, “June 16, 2013” (which also happened to be Father’s Day that year), the reader is presented with an epilogue, a section that comments on or concludes portions of a story, typically found at the end of a narrative. This is a bold storytelling decision by Abril, but one that informs the reader rather quickly that while Cammy is the focus of the characters attention, this isn’t her story, but rather of those who were a part of her life. This can be concluded by the lack of Cammy’s voice being present in the section, informing the reader that there is no growth for her as a character in the book, and instead remains the tragic representation of loss for the characters who are about to unfold this story.
The final two sections, the second, “May 16, 1979,” the date of Cammy’s birth, and the third, “September 2, 2005,” the date of Cammy’s death, function to structure a timeline for the rest of the book. They form a literal timeline of Cammy battling her eating disorder, told through multiple perspectives and the insight of those close to her during those time periods. But, they also form another timeline, one that references back to the first section of the book, of the grieving process for those close to her. This is the timeline that the first section functions as an epilogue for. This structure of the book is something that becomes informed and not fully realized until the viewer has finished the book. It is through Abril’s use of images, text, and design that fully form the story and timeline that is being told…
This sequence is the combination of all elements: image, text, and design, coming together to form a compelling and important narrative about the grieving process. Readers become entranced within this story about Cammy, retold through those who watched and experienced her regression into someone who they barely recognized. Most importantly though, this sequence establishes that this tale is not about Cammy, something that can be hard to realize at first, but after completing the book, becomes overtly clear. That is the success of The Epilogue, and what these elements aim for. Abril, rather than attempting to have the reader understand what was happening within Cammy’s head, pushes the reader to empathize with those who surrounded her and tried to support her through her disease. This distinction allows for a greater discussion of eating disorders to form, and reinforces that this is not just a single person’s experience, rather one that affects all those who are close to the individual.
Cammy’s life has ended, but life goes on, as seen in the final pages of the book, showing a photo of Tommy and Kristen holding their newest child. This is a book that seems to be about a death, yet ultimately becomes about life instead. It even starts and ends with a birth, and while the first is metaphorical and the second literal, it speaks to the quiet struggles and hardships that life presents. The impossible odds that life throws towards people, and how hard it can be to overcome them, and the harsh reality that not all things can be beaten. Despite all this, as we learn in the beginning of the book, people must continue on, and all that can truly be done is to show empathy and understanding for those in need.
Published January 31, 2014