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Friday, October 1, 2010

First Family Pictures After Losing a Spouse - One Family's Beliefs in Hope, Laughter, Strength and Love | Maris Ehlers Photography

Today IS my birthday and my birthday wish is for you to read this post, pause and give thanks for what we are blessed with.

I recently changed the tagline, elevator pitch, whatever you want to call it for my photography work to:

"Everyone has a story.  Let me tell yours."  

It was shooting this very session, and the desire to tell a powerful story out of somewhat common circumstances in life with images and words, that led me to that statement.  My hope is that my images tell a story, whether it be the love of a parent for a child, a spouse, or even to show that a mom who is not quite the "right size" or look, is beautiful just as she is, and worthy of love - from herself most of all.

I am not a writer. Nor an editor.  My posts are filled with grammatical errors and fragmented sentences, and I don't really care.  I am however, a storyteller.  Here's Teresa's story.

Believe.  Believing is an anchor that holds us tight in the storms of life, that brings us through to the bright days ahead.  Believe that those bright days are there, and hold on until you see the sun peaking through the clouds.

Believe in Hope.  Even when it seems that it has flown away.  Allie does, even though her father won't ever walk her down the aisle, or see her graduate from college.

Believe in Laughter.  Laughter heals the soul and the heart.  Megan does, even though her father will never see her as a bride, or as a new mother.

Believe in Strength.  Strength of heart, character, mind and spirit.  And yes, even of the physical nature.  Teresa does, and has more strength than most of us could ever imagine.  Of all four kinds.

I hope you are wondering what these keys are for.  They represent the beautiful part of this story that I am going to share.   The keys, so aptly named, represent the beliefs of three beautiful women, Teresa, Megan and Allie.

Allie believes in hope.  With her bright eyes, infectous smile and open personality, hope has taught her a lot in the past year, and will continue to guide her as she changes from an adorable, bright girl into a lovely young woman.

Megan, who on the surface seems shy, reserved and maybe even a little serious, believes in laughter.  How lovely that is.

I had never met Teresa, the beautiful mother of these two girls, but had heard a lot about her story through my sister-in-law Kari, who is a good friend of hers.  Her husband of thirteen years, Dave, and the father of these two precious girls, died unexpectedly last year of a bilateral pulmoary embolism which means blood clots in both lungs. The clots went right from his lung to his heart.   Certainly not the first person to unexpectedly lose a spouse, nor the first child to suffer the loss of a parent, but incredibly painful nonetheless.

When Teresa booked this session over the summer, it had to be with some trepidation as this would be the first "family photo" without Dave.  This would be another formal acknowledgement that Dave isn't here, that it's the three of them against the world.  I asked Teresa if she wanted to bring a picture of Dave with her to the session and she said no.  However, when I met them at a beautiful park a few weeks later, she smiled shyly and showed me the small picture of Dave driving a boat in a simple wooden frame.  The more she thought about it, she realized that it might be a nice transition for all of them, so that not having him be a part of this wouldn't feel so BIG.

She then brought out a pocket full of tiny antique-looking keys.  Given to her by a friend when Dave died, she brought them along because they are important to her and the girls.  She proceeded to tell me that when she or the girls have a bad day, they snuggle on the couch together and take out the keys.  They look at them one by one and say out loud why they should have hope today, or what they believe in, what they can laugh about.  As they go through the keys and their thoughts together, suddenly the day doesn't feel so bad.

Teresa chose the strength key for Dave.  She said she does really feel his strength and that he helps push her through on the days she can't do it alone.

I wrote to Teresa after the session and asked her a few questions about her journey, because I really wanted to know, and I wanted to hear her unique perspective.  I asked her what grief is like.

"Tell me about grief. What's it like?", I asked.  She replied, "It's lonely, it's raw, it's becoming so in tune with yourself, it's draining, it sucks, it's long - it doesn't end like people think. It changes, but it doesn't end. I'm sure that I will forever feel the loss. I had a great love - and he was just taken instantly. Grief is truly a journey that I'm trying to learn. Some days now go by just fantastic, and then something hits and takes me away for awhile. But I'm ok with it, it's what it's about. I understand it's something that won't go away and accept that."

When talking about the hardest part about him being gone, she said it was  "realizing that he isn't here and won't physically be here. The days are better but the bad ones hit with bigger swells now. There isn't just one thing, it is a compliation of many. The overall loss that we can't grow old together and do all that we talked about, that he isn't here to see his girls grow up and they won't have their dad with them as they grow up."  

Teresa believes.  Period.  She believes in her faith, her family and her friends, and that they build you up when you need it most.

"They have meant everything to me. They truly hold me up. There were many days I was not sure how to move on and they were there and continue to be right by me. I live in an amazing community that pulls together and helps. I appreciate people continuing to check on us and bring us a meal every so often. I still to this day don't really know what I cook, it's been hard and I used to love to do it. I would not be in the place I am right now without my friends and family."

So, today, as a birthday gift to me, please take a moment to be thankful.  For those you love, for those you've lost.  But most importantly, be grateful for the ability to have hope, for healing laughter, and to be able to believe.


Debbie said...

That was truly inspiring Maris! Thank you for putting life back in perspective for me today. Happy Birthday!

Steph said...

I don't know who you are trying to fool...besides being a very gifted photographer you are an AWESOME writer!

Lisa said...

What an amazing story sad, but inspiring all at the same time! Great photos and writing to go along to tell the story!