2016 was a year of tremendous loss.
I also have that typical photographer story - I've had a camera in my hands since I was about 10 or 11 years old. In elementary school I played with disposables my parents would buy for me for special occasions, and they also got me a simple film camera around that time. I took the most random pictures. Most of them were pretty horrible. But I really enjoyed documenting life, and I still have those old prints in a box in my closet, some in albums to look at. Those memories are precious to me - even the cringe-y ones. :)
My gift for 8th grade graduation was a nicer camera. My high school graduation gift - another camera. My dad got me one of the earliest nice point and shoot digital cameras when I was in college, circa 2006. That thing took great pictures even though it was slow as a snail, and from there my interest in photography exploded.
My second post-college job was with Lifetouch, doing school photos, and then also at their JCPenney studios. I learned a lot in those jobs about why photography really matters, and much of it centered around loss. Often the school portraits we took were the last portraits when a child passed away, and heartbreaking as it was, we made a big deal of it every time it happened and highlighted the importance of creating the best quality photo possible.
I've carried that with me through the years as I moved on to other things, including returning to teaching and starting my own photography business on the side, and even now as I run my business full time.
But in 2016, loss became a lot more personal.
A couple of years prior, my friend Kim had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I'd known her and her family for a number of years through our church, and it hurt so much watching her fight this battle. It has always seemed that cancer strikes the most wonderful people, and it didn't feel fair. Still, she was doing well overall, but in the fall of 2016 she took a turn for the worse, and passed away less than 24 hours after I got to say goodbye to her in the hospital. It was heartbreaking, especially knowing how deeply the loss affected her husband and her two teenage twin daughters.
But we weren't through yet.
In August, my sister-in-law gave birth to her second child, a little boy named Oliver. He was born with some medical issues, but came home with a feeding tube and oxygen and a plan to tackle his other difficulties. He was a sweet little boy, and I feel so blessed I got to hold him once or twice, and I took his newborn photos at JCPenney as well. But at 7 weeks old, he suddenly passed away, without warning. He wasn't my child, but he was my nephew, the son of not only my sister-in-law but long-time friend. And seeing his tiny, lifeless body will forever be etched into my mind and heart. And after becoming a parent myself, loss of a child affects me even more deeply.
They say things come in threes. My third loss came a year later. Patrick, the son of another friend from church, had just graduated high school. I did his senior photos. I spent a lot of time with him that year, after having seen him grow up from a distance. At his graduation party, his mom, Kelly, was taking pictures of him and all of his guests. I don't remember where I needed to be, but whatever was going on, I decided I couldn't wait around on a photo any longer as Patrick was off doing something else at the moment.
I will always regret not waiting to take that photo.
A few weeks later, I saw a Facebook post from Kelly that Patrick had been in a motocross accident during a race. I texted her and she said they weren't sure if he was going to make it. My husband and I met them and a slough of other people at the hospital. The waiting room was jam packed with family and friends, crying, praying, hoping for good news. Eventually we did get some good news, that Patrick was at least stable, albeit in very serious condition. He was in a coma. Despite some uplifting news over the couple of weeks he was in the hospital, he took a turn for the worse and passed away. It was another gut-wrenching loss, of someone far too young.
That summer I also attended the funeral of a student of mine. He and his two siblings, and their mother, passed away in a car crash that summer.
Attending all of those funerals, of people gone far too young, people dear to me, filled me with sorrow. I don't fear death, as I know where I am going, but it did make me treasure life a lot more. It's something I've carried with me ever since. We all have those moments where we don't appreciate the life we have enough, but it doesn't take long for me to snap out of it and remember my blessings anymore.
This deep appreciation of life, and its brevity, carries over into every photo session I take and deliver. I can be SO hard on myself when I don't feel I've provided my best work or client experience. When I forget to change my settings to be just right. When I forget a pose I really wanted to do. But I try to remember that I give my best from the heart, and that these photographs will be treasured memories, now and in the future. We're all going to pass away eventually. But our photographs can be a legacy and a priceless treasure to those we leave behind, whenever that may be.
Parents, get in some pictures with your kids. Even if they are selfies. And make the investment in professional photos at least a few times. You won't regret it. Take the pictures on your phone of your vacations and when you're playing in the yard. Capture your littles feeding the giraffes at the zoo, covered in mud after a rainstorm, running naked around the house. Don't forget your parents when you're grown up and on your own. Take pictures with them then, too. Take pictures with your friends at that concert or ball game or barbeque. Just do it. We are so blessed with digital photography technology. I have a ridiculous amount of photos saved on my computer and I don't regret a single one.
If you've read this far, bless you. :) I can be quite verbose on this topic. Just treasure your life and your loved ones. And if you're not sure where you're going when you die, send me a message. I'd be happy to share my beliefs on that topic with you in a loving and non-judgmental way.
You are loved!
What's your story? Let's capture your own memories to cherish for generations to come.
Let's connect and plan your next session today! It is truly a pleasure for me to celebrate all that you and your family are through images that will be treasured keepsakes for all time!