Celebrating life’s beginning and end

Today was all about families. I had the privilege of photographing a family celebrating the one year birthday of a precious baby girl and I was also invited into a hospital room of a family saying goodbye to their teenaged son.

The “Ling” family was just back from a vacation and full of stories about their trip to Disneyland. They were joyful with the optimism that youth and health bring those who don’t have to think about life’s inevitable journey. I was taken in by them and the kids as we played and cheered the first steps of a little girl dressed in pink bows and ruffled dress. Smiles and laughter easily bubbled forth during our visit.

Shortly after coming home, I received an emergency request for photos at Children’s Hospital and I took the assignment. I rushed through lunch hour traffic and entered a very tense situation. This photo shoot would be much different from my morning session. Mom’s face was very grim, dad was extremely upset and “Dakota” was trying to make peace. This family knew that their long journey of health challenges was almost over and now they wanted to create some special memories.

Dakota was very aware of what was happening. Earlier that morning he’d asked his mother if he was going to die and she said, “yes.” She told me that she didn’t want to lie to him. I nodded in agreement with her. Despite his grave situation, Dakota was taking action. He was impressive, he knew the truth and he wanted to have some photos for his parents to remember him. Definitely not your average teenager.

As I started taking photos, I girded my heart and let my automatic pilot take over. My mind was considering, camera angles, lighting situations and Dakota’s ability to respond to my requests. He didn’t have to move much, but he didn’t want to wear his oxygen face mask so we worked quickly. As the camera clicked away, I noticed a few smiles flicker across their faces and the mood began to lift. Dad wouldn’t look at the camera and that was okay. He wanted to be real and I appreciated that. I knew that he wanted to deny the fact that his son was dying and despite all the evidence in front of him, he did not want to give up hope for a better outcome.

Dakota’s mom was amazing. She shared his story with me. How he was born with a congenital heart condition and that he’d been in and out of hospitals all of his life. She said that she knew from the time of his diagnosis that he was going to die. And here she was facing her worst fear with grace and acceptance. She told her husband that these photos were important to Dakota and that later he would be thankful for them. It was a heated argument and I had to step back to let them have their say. But as the emotions simmered down I picked up the camera and captured the intimate unsaid things that loved ones share without the spoken word.

Tonight, Doug and I cooked a lemon meringue pie for the kids and we sat at the breakfast nook enjoying the simple pleasure of being together with the most important people in our lives made ever more poignant by the experiences of my day. Witnessing the joys and sorrows of these two families give me the clarity to live a purpose filled life.


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