Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loss and Giving

Two weeks ago, sweet baby Joshua closed his eyes for the last time in the loving arms of his mommy, my dear friend Jill.

I felt that I needed to update this on my blog, because I have blogged about his life.

How does one find the words for news like this?

Even beyond that, I felt uncomfortable writing this from my perspective because this is not about me. I do not desire to make it about me.

Of course the death of a sweet baby has had a profound affect on my life, my outlook, my emotions. Because Joshua was the son of my friend he has been in my life also.

I feel the loss of a human being that I looked in the eyes and loved.

This is not why I am blogging about this, though.

Beyond changing the way I see myself, the people I love, the people I have never met, and the world around me, Joshua has changed photography for me.

I never in my life expected to preserve something the way I preserved Joshua. Even while I was visiting him in the hospital, I just did not and could not believe that was what I was doing. I could not believe I was capturing something that would so soon be gone.

Honestly, I never wanted to do that.

It is, however, what I did.

A couple hours after Joshua's death, my phone rang. It was his mommy, calling in tears to ask me to photograph his funeral.

I agreed, in tears. There was no way at that point that I could tell her no, even though she gave me an out. I believe Jill understood better at that moment what that would mean than I could.

To be clear: if she asked me again, I would not tell her no. I wanted to do this. In that moment, I would have done anything for her. She is my friend, and I love her. This decisions, as with the rest of it, was not and is not about me.

The night of the viewing, I photographed the photo boards and other things around the funeral home. I spent time with Jill and another mutual friend. We all cried and some of us were even blessed to laugh a bit together that night.

My photos were on the photo boards. There were photos I had taken of Joshua's family before Jill had even conceived him, and there were photos I had taken of Joshua within his first 24 hours of life, and there were photos of him two weeks before his death.

This moved me in ways I had not expected it to.

I stayed through the viewing. And at the end of the viewing, my husband had my camera. I was sitting with a friend. We were talking.

I looked up towards Joshua's body, and I saw Jill saying good by to him.

This is the first of many images that I will never forget, but did not capture.

This is the moment I realized that I was not capable of doing what she had asked me to do. This was a moment that was real, that was full of emotion. This was an image that still brings me to tears; it breaks me every time I bring it up.

Even if I had had my camera, I don't know that I could have captured it.

For the first time in my life, I was trying to find the line between what was a moving moment to save, and what was an appropriate moment to save.

I saw many many tears that night, many faces that brought tears to my own eyes.

The sense of loss was heavy. So many people were meeting this sweet boy for the first time at his viewing.

The weight of this, still, as I think about it, brings me to sobs.

I went home that night, knowing that I would wake up and return. I returned home that night to a two year old girl that was still awake in her crib. I couldn't grab her fast enough. I let her stay up two hours past her bed time just to hear her laugh and to feel her warm cheek against mine.

In the morning, I could not think well. My emotions overwhelmed me in ways I did not expect. I did not even kiss my babies goodbye on the way out the door.

I knew, before I even left the house that morning, that I did not know how to photograph this, but I did not know why. It took me over a week for the realization to hit me:

Photography is a way for me to embrace life. I have said before that while I tend to be a serious person, photography is where I embrace the joy around me.

I just did not know how to embrace this.

Our sweet friend Carla was a saving grace for me through this, offering me hugs and pats on the arm.

I remember trying to take a photo, but my hands were shaking so badly I couldn't focus. I remember not being able to see through the viewfinder because my tears had caused it to fog over.

But what I remember the most is Jill, holding her four year old, with tears streaming down her face, lifting her hand to worship her God.

I will tell you right now, this is the one image out of all of them that I missed, that with all my heart I wish I had captured.

This image was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I took basic photos that day, and Shane and Jill will be able to remember how it looked.

There were so many moments, though, that I could not disrupt with the sound of my shutter.

I struggled for a few days with whether or not I did the right thing, letting those moments slip by. But in the end I have told myself that this was a sensitive situation, and the most important thing was that I not make it any harder for anyone involved by using my camera.

There are many images that I will keep with me forever. They would have moved you. They moved me. But they were too costly.

Never before have I had to weigh the cost of an emotional image.

I am trying so hard right now to be sensitive to the situation and to Joshie's family while still getting to my point. Please don't think I am trying to make this all about the photographic experience. It was not.

Maybe that's why it was so hard as a photographic experience.

I am sharing this side of it so that you can all understand why...

My camera feels heavier than it ever has before.
For several days, I shook when I saw my camera bag.
I haven't even looked at these photos. They are hiding on a memory card in my desk drawer.
For right now, I can't.

But I want to tell you that after the funeral, Jill's mom approached me. She looked me in the eyes and she told me, "Thank you, Molly, for all of the photos."

And for a moment, as I struggled to find words, I felt peace. I had given them something. I had done something. No matter how small. All I had wanted to do was give them a tiny big of peace and beauty and maybe, somehow, my photos had done that.

Even two weeks later, this all feels so very fresh. The images I hold only in my heart are still returning to me daily; I am still crying daily. I am hurting for my friend so deeply.

Photographing Joshua's life and death changed the way I see photos. It changed the purpose of taking photos.

I feel that photography has many wonderful purposes but I feel that my purpose with my photography has changed, and it has changed in a huge way.

I don't want to be paid anymore; I want to give. If I can in some tiny way give a hurting family peace and beauty, I want to do that. With all of my heart, I want to do that.

I have always believed that God gave photography to me as a gift. I feel he is paving a path in my heart for me to share that gift with others. This path is so drastically different than anything I ever expected, ever.

Once again, I will state that this is not about me or my wishes, except that it is my desire to follow where God leads.

I am praying that things become more clear. I am brain storming.

It will come.

I emailed two people today and turned down sessions. I have one more session booked and I will complete that obligation, but after that is finished, I will no longer be accepting family sessions. At least not for the time being.

I want to thank you all so much for your support, compliments, and love. I guess right now I have no more words, but am thankful to have finally put these words together. I was so hesitant to write this, but I truly want people to understand where my heart is.


  1. *hugs*

    Molly, I've told you before. And I'll tell you again. I am here. For Jill. For you, as Jill's friend and now a person I call my friend. If you need to talk, to cry, to have a pat on the arm, I'm here. I have the same images in my mind, which saves you from having to explain yourself. And if you need to brainstorm, call me. I'm a project doer. I love to think through things, ask questions, point out logistics, whatever. I'm here.


  2. Molly--
    your sensitive heart has inspired me. Yes, as a photographer, but more importantly as a mother, as a mother who has experienced the loss of a child, and as a child of God desiring to be Jesus to my friends who may grieve. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  3. Molly,

    I don't know you or your friend but my heart grieves for you both. As a mother, a friend, a nurse, and a photographer I wish we all never had to experience the devastating pain of a lost loved one. I commend you for being an amazing friend and for searching your heart to bring too life something wonderful from such a tragedy. Good luck in your new endeavors.