Christmas must be an especially emotional time for those couples that have lost a child. I was deeply moved when I read this touching post by Kate Ellis. Kate is a professional photographer and has written this wonderful post about Heartfelt, an organisation for which she volunteers her photographic skills.
Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers, giving the gift of photographic memories to parents who have experienced stillbirth, premature births, and seriously or terminally ill children.
-I am sharing this post with the blessing of Daniel and Victoria.
“Anyone who has lost a child longs to still speak their name, to see it written down, especially by someone else, is an even greater acknowledgement ….”
~ Victoria . Mum to Ethan & Xavier.
18 months ago, I stepped tentatively into a room full of grief, and love, and heartache.
I introduced myself “Hi, I’m Kate, I’m a Heartfelt photographer. I’m so sorry for your loss”
The room is dark and quiet. In the usual see-through rectangle crib-on-wheels, lies a little bundle. Still.
Smiling at this beautiful bundle, I say “Hello, Ethan”.
“He is perfect”. Mum and Dad nod. Dazed. Shattered beyond measure. I can’t even imagine. I photograph.
This is not a journey I have traveled myself. There but for the grace of Mother Nature, go I.
Perhaps that’s why I can do this?
Ethan’s little body is held snuggly by Mum. Then by Dad. I photograph. Lump in throat. Now is not the time, Kate.
The fragility of Ethan’s tiny body, the way he needs to be held, is something no parent should ever have to learn.
The immense bravery in that little room. Mum and Dad hold each other, as they hold their little boy. Heavy sobs. I photograph.
The click of my shutter rings loudly. Too loudly.
I pack my bag, pop it over my shoulder.
Outside the sun shines. Cruelly. A smack in the face that life goes on. The most precious of precious cargo, in the shape of an insignificant 8 gig CF card, sits in my pocket. I don’t put it in the camera bag. That could be stolen. In my pocket, it feels safe. Ethan feels safe.
Xavier was born on the third day of August, 2013.
A tiny round silver pendant hangs on a chain around Victoria’s neck. Two tiny footprints. Ethan is always there.
During Xavier’s photo session, we chat a little about Ethan. Now a big brother to little Xavier.
Words like “Yes, he’s perfect. And alive”, replace the usual chit chat about milk dots, and reflux. These parents know the spectrum of emotions these little people bring with them, but thankfully most of us only feel them in our nightmares.
On the outside, they hold their babe no closer than any other parent, but there is a different feeling in the studio today.
A sense of relief. A celebration.
A feeling of hope.
I’m so happy to hear that Victoria & Daniel have their pictures of Ethan on their wall. They are not hidden away. Ethan will not be forgotten.
Slowly but surely the Western cultural norms of hiding from death (from life?) seem to be changing. The images of Ethan are gentle, subtle. They hold unimaginable grief, and every parents fear, but they are of a little boy who kicked his mumma for 9 months. Wriggled and squirmed while dad held his hand on the growing belly. Hopes and dreams grew as he did. They are pictures of a tiny boy, who died before he was born.
He now he graces the walls, along with images of Xavier – brothers forever.
The 5th December is International Volunteers Day.
Not by any plan, I’m sure, I opened a little square envelope yesterday. Of all days.
How can we ever thank you for giving us our most treasured possessions – the photos of our boys, Xavier and especially our angel Ethan. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough.
Our Heartfelt photos of Ethan are proudly displayed in our house and are the last thing we look at before we go to sleep.
As time goes on we worry about forgetting what he looked like, I don’t know what we’d do without them. They make our loss more bearable somehow. It lets us remember more clearly the two days we had with our precious boy before we had to say goodbye for good.
Thank you so much for the beautiful volunteer work you do.
Victoria, Daniel & Xavier”
And I cried. Big heavy tears.
Those tears carried the memories of the (far too many) dark, quiet, grief filled rooms I have walked into over the years as a Heartfelt photographer. They carried the thoughts of the (far too many) parents with silver pendants, chains, old Polaroid images, stamped feet and hand prints on cardboard, birth and death certificates which carry the same date … the parents with the precious reminders of their little people they carry in their hearts, but not in their arms.
And I knew it was time to write.
This story and images are shared with permission from Daniel & Victoria. I wrote to thank them for the honor of capturing those memories for them. For allowing me into the darkness of that room. At their darkest hour. And for their beautiful card.
Victoria wrote back “I knew I had to write to you after a conversation with a stranger .. A lady, perhaps in her late 60′s, asked if Xavier was my first baby to which I replied as usual ‘no, he is my second, unfortunately my first boy was stillborn 18 months ago’. She went on to tell me that she had lost her first son at birth too, but she had not been allowed to see him or hold him. This is completely heartbreaking. It was then I realised how incredibly lucky we were, not only to get to meet our son and hold him, but to also to have photos taken. Professional photos. Which were then given to us for free! We are so incredibly grateful to have photos we can display in the house that show everyone – YES our baby was real! Yes we loved him as much as if he had been born alive and love him as much as we do his living brother”
I write this post to share Ethan’s story. I write this post because, sometimes the “why would you want to do that?” questions are hard to answer. I write this post for you to share with your contacts. With your friends. Your family. The more Heartfelt is shared within the community, the more parents will have the chance to ask for a photographer to come to them, if they choose. Or, as quite often is the case, the loved ones of grieving parents make that difficult phone call.
I write this post because “Anyone who has lost a child longs to still speak their name, to see it written down, especially by someone else, is an even greater acknowledgement ….“
With heavy tears, thanks for reading.