This photo session was a first for me, one that I was a bit nervous to take on but I’m so glad I did. You see, this session was all about paying tribute to someone no longer with us. They would be memorial pictures for my dear friend Anna, who lost her father not long ago. She had an idea—It would be a surprise for her mother. The pictures would be of Anna’s 3 nephews wearing their papaw’s prized pieces of clothing. They would have to commit some *Santa approved* crimes to get this done. They would lie to mom, and steal their dad’s most treasured pieces of clothing, his IU & Notre Dame gear.
I knew this session might strike up my own feelings of grief. I lost my mother in 2017 not long after Anna’s dad was taken from her. Despite the emotions that this session might stir up, I knew this was just the job for me. To have the chance to provide a service that could assist in the grief process of someone else, is just the kind of therapy I needed for myself. I knew that if I was a bit nervous about this shoot, Anna and her sister most certainly would be experiencing some of the same feelings and this appointment would likely be even more difficult for them to get through than it would be for me. Knowing that we were in this together provided me comfort, I only hoped that it would do the same for my clients.
Enter 3 squirrely boys with just enough attitude to lighten the mood and jumpstart the healing we all needed. If there is one thing I’m good at, it’s working with resistant teens. Though these boys were polite enough to do as they were told (albeit, with a groan here and there) they were entitled to those feelings, this would be hard for them too. So bring on the mean-mugs boys! (Just know, that I’m equipped with just as much sass & sarcasm to make this work.) And what a great session it turned out to be. There were far less tears than there were laughs that day, and I truly felt honored to be apart of this special time in Anna and her family’s road to recovery after such a traumatic loss.
Once we were done, we went our separate ways, they went home I presume, and I went somewhere I had yet to go since my mother had passed. I went to her grave. I had been avoiding visiting my mother’s grave for awhile because I wasn’t ready to accept that this was where she would rest, forever gone from my life—with the lord now. Somehow, this memorial session inspired me to deal with my grief head on and reminded me that i’m strong enough to face my own emotions just as I saw a family do just minutes before. So I visited my mother. I sat at her grave and told her about our session. I cried, a lot. But I needed to. It was a release I didn’t realize I needed. It was only after leaving the cemetery that I realized how many emotions I had been bottling up over the past few months. It’s not a fun thing to lean into your grief, but man is it necessary for healing. And I have Anna to thank for this.
After I sent off their finished gallery Anna’s sister posted some words on Facebook about their memorial session. Her words resonated with me so much, I’d like to share them with you.
“…Who knew that 13 year-olds mean mug while getting their pictures professionally taken? And who knew laughing at said mean mugs would be so therapeutic? Grief is not easy for anyone to face. It will suck the life out of you. It will cause you to shut down, to forget to laugh, breathe, isolate you. But take it from me…healing will happen. Small steps, small moments will begin to bring healing. Sometimes it takes a t-shirt once worn by your hero smuggled out in a trash bag.
Later today when our Mom opens her gift, I know that she will see Dad in Ben’s face, Mikey’s eyes and Jacob’s smile. I know she will sob (as will all of us) and she may even be upset that we lied. Heck, she’ll probably be most upset that Anna smuggled out the clothes! My biggest is hope is that she will feel a small bit of healing…as my Dad lives on in all of us.”
So whether it be the simple act of smuggling precious cargo from your mother’s house, or visiting the place that you never wanted to have to visit— we all took a step forward in our grief process that day. Our hearts may never be whole again, but we will continue to do what we can to mend the parts that can be mended. We will keep our loved ones memories alive. We will be kind to ourselves. We will lean into our grief even when it seems too difficult to handle, because we have the strength from our loved ones to get us through, and we also have each other. <3