In December of 2015 I came across a volunteer organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Their sole purpose is to provide remembrance photography for grieving families who have lost a baby before ever having the chance to be professionally photographed. This usually means in a hospital setting. Sometimes the parents know what is coming and for others it is not.
My first reaction was probably a lot like yours, overwhelmed with grief for these families. You know that your imagination is a feeble attempt to understand what these parents, siblings, and grandparents must be dealing with.
I sat through a webinar trying to get more information. But what I was really looking for was whether or not I’d be able to even do it–be in the same room with a family that is going through the worst day of their life and not join in their grief. That answer did not come in the hour spent asking questions and listening intently.
Then 2016 happened–a year surrounded by loss. It started with my grandmother passing. I lost a dear friend at church. A fellow photographer died from an unexpected stroke. I had six client families who I had worked with burry a child ranging from 2 to 22. I watched families all over the country burry their brothers in blue, including one down the street. I even photographed a celebration of life for an eleven year old girl who had lost a fight with a brain tumor. And my uncle died. Each funeral attended gave me strength in the middle of grief.
I believe that everything I have been through was to bring me to the exact spot I am standing in today. I believe in giving back because the air I hold in my lungs has been given to me.
I took my time, well over a year, before I decided to apply for the photographer position. There are other positions with in the organization that have nothing to do with photography but I felt that this was the best way I could contribute. I submitted work samples and waited the four weeks for my application to be processed. I was approved!
I shadowed two sessions and was given a lot of support from the San Diego team. Phone calls, texts, in person meetings. I finally felt ready to step out on my own. I took an assistant with me and she was a godsend!
While I was photographing my first family my head was full. I had things to remember to say, things I was not supposed to say, and an angel baby to photograph. My assistant helped with my poses because I totally forgot my shot list once I stepped into the room. I went to work and just kept talking to the little guy, just as if he was still with us.
When I got to the car, I was surprisingly ok. I was much more ok than I thought I was going to be. I had a few friends on speed dial just in case, including the friends I have on the San Diego team. I was thankful for the traffic on the drive home just to give me some space before I laid eyes on my own children, so thankful that my story went differently.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop praying for these families. I know there is very little anyone can do to give them comfort, but I’m grateful for the little I can do. I can validate their love and loss of this little one. They will be driving home with an empty car seat and a shattered dream. They may not even be able to look at these photos for years to come. The one day they will realize that they can’t quite remember the shape of their baby’s lips or how small their fingers were. The memories will fade but the heartache won’t. At least the images can bring some comfort.
This organization is headquartered in Colorado but has teams all over the world. The San Diego NILMDTS team today has six photographers and two assistants. I am the newest member but I won’t be the last! We are trying to grow so that no family is left without the opportunity if they want it. Some positions have nothing to do with photography! We need people willing to provide education for hospital staff, dispatch calls, and hold lights during sessions. One thing I can say about NILMDTS is that they send a strong message that you are not to neglect your own lives in anyway by serving. There is a lot more information on the organization website. My intension here is only to share my own experience, strength, and knowledge so that if you feel so called to serve you know where to start. Although I am new, I’m happy to entertain the questions that I can. And all prayers are welcome.