Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A thousand words

Very slowly, the immediate agony subsides. Around the edges of that opening, things begin to heal. Scar tissue forms. The hole remains, but instead of allowing only a constant stream of emptying, it begins to permit things to enter. We receive some of the love and wisdom that loss has to give us. Now is when loss can have content beyond the ache. This is the time to create meaning. Pay attention to what comes in that open space. Nothing can make the pain go away. Making loss meaningful is not making loss disappear. The loss endures, and time will not change that truth. But now it has some purpose.                ~Rabbi David Wolpe (from Making Loss Matter)

Jack is having his senior pictures taken in two weeks. I'm a little behind with this one which I blame on a mix of denial and my usual procrastination tendencies. Some people who know me might find it surprising to hear that I am a procrastinator but that's because I hide it under a carefully constructed veneer of perceived competence and efficiency. Ultimately, I will always finish a job and usually I will finish it well so no one is the wiser of how much of it came together in the 11th hour. Someday I'm going to write a book titled, The Organized Procrastinator, but I keep putting it off so I wouldn't hold your breath.

Lucky for me, I have a dear friend who is a gifted professional photographer and she was happy to sneak Jack into her busy fall schedule so he won't have to wonder someday why he was the only one of the graduating seniors not to have any formal pictures taken. I'm always trying to stay one step ahead of winning that Laziest Mother of the Year award, but there are some days it feels like it is breathing down my neck. Especially lately... what with it being October and all.

As I was emailing my friend, Lynette, about scheduling Jack's pictures, I couldn't help but think about the interesting turns life takes and the fact that if it weren't for my babies, Joseph and Molly, I might never have met Lynette. That would have been a loss on so many levels not the least of which is the simple gift of Lynette herself, as vibrant a personality as you would ever want to meet. But it would also have meant that I would have missed the opportunity to be a part of something very special.

It's amazing to me to look back and remember how early on I knew that my twins were leading me to something that would bring meaning to their short stay on this earth. Even in the midst of deep grief, I knew I needed to have my eyes open for where they were taking me. I had complete faith that once the thickest fog lifted there was going to be a place or a task or a mission that I could pour all of my broken heart into. But I also had the sense to take my time. To wait. To resist the urge to jump toward the thing that appeared the most obvious. Because I knew my strengths weren't going to be in the areas of direct fundraising, organizing major events or even just licking and stamping envelopes. All important, necessary work in the world of charities and non-profits, but I wanted to land somewhere where I could have an impact using the gifts I felt I had to offer. Quieter gifts. Behind the scenes support and maybe a little writing? I wasn't sure... I didn't have any idea where it might be or what it might look like, but I was prepared to wait.

In the waiting, we approached the second anniversary of our twins' birthday (it's hard to know what to call that day, but for simplicity we opt for birthday). One of the things I decided I wanted to do for myself in honor of their birthday was to figure out a way to make sure the few photos we had of them were preserved properly. We had a handful of photos taken with the hospital camera and then also some polaroids. Frankly, none of them were wonderful and my mother's eyes felt they didn't do justice to the sweetness of our tiny babies but they were all we had and I was determined to make sure they would last a lifetime. I knew that my little home scanner was not enough to make quality images of the polaroids that we could then save to a CD but I was positively terrified to take them outside of my home. Where exactly are you going to go with such sensitive photos? You can't exactly walk up to the photo counter of your neighborhood drugstore and casually explain what it is you need. Nor was I willing to send them off to some online service for fear that I might never see them again. I was stymied but still determined.

Around that time there was a new, local non-profit establishing itself that was garnering quite a lot of media attention. It was founded by Lynette Johnson, a well-known local photographer who had been quietly offering her services to Children's Hospital to photograph children with life threatening conditions. For many families, the only chance they have to get beautiful, professional-quality photographs of their child is if a photographer comes to the hospital where their child must spend his or her days. That can be difficult for a family to not only think to arrange but also to know how to find a photographer comfortable handling a potentially difficult photo shoot. Lynette's story is long and amazing and I won't attempt to do it justice here, but in short, as she worked with more and more families she became painfully aware of an unmet need in our community. A need she was uniquely gifted to fill. Today, Soulumination, the non-profit Lynette founded has a team of over 30 volunteer photographers who will give their time, free of charge, to photograph families facing the unthinkable- a gravely ill infant or child. They have also since expanded their mission to include families in which a parent is terminally ill. Their mission and gift is to provide these special families with gorgeous professional photos and they do it in a way that would take your breath away. It's so much more than photos... these are memories. Priceless memories.

When I learned about Lynette, and Soulumination, I thought they would be able to help me in my quest to preserve our twins' photos. I wasn't looking for anything more than guidance since our photographs were already taken and we couldn't turn back the hands of time to improve upon them (though I wish we could have), but I felt this was at least someone I could trust to understand what I was looking for. Initially, I sent an email, feeling far too vulnerable and nervous to try and talk with someone on the phone about these photos that I had never shown to anyone outside my immediate family. Even after sending the email I had regrets wondering if I was really ready to go down that road. Well, I had to get over those regrets quickly because in a day or so after sending my email I got a phone call from Lynette. And in her fantastically Lynette way, she cut right to the chase. She was kind and sensitive, of course, but she was also unafraid to ask me some very direct questions about the photos, our babies and our experience. Having worked with so many grief-stricken families Lynette is a rarity in that she is able to look loss straight in the eye, with great love and empathy, but without flinching.

She insisted I bring the photos to her office which then housed both her professional photography business and Soulumination. She felt confident they would be able to do everything I wanted themselves, all I had to do was trust them. It was several years later that Lynette learned how truly poignant that day was for me. I didn't tell her at the time that this was the first time anyone outside of my family had seen these photos. She had no way of knowing how fragile I felt handing them over to her, waiting for her reaction. She also couldn't have known then how much it meant to me to have her respond to their little faces as though they were the perfect baby photos everyone hopes to have. "Oh! Aren't they just little angels!" Which, of course, they were.

And that was the beginning. The beginning of our friendship and the beginning of my involvement with Soulumination. Sometime later I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Soulumination and my primary responsibility during that time was to write and produce the annual newsletter which was a labor of love I enjoyed for many years. In producing the newsletter, I had the blessing of seeing the images of many of our Soul families day in and day out as I worked with the layout and copy. I knew all of their names and even in the tiniest faces I could see that unique spark gifted to each one of us at our birth. It was, for me, holy work.

There are so many incredible people and organizations doing important work in the world and both my faith and my heart compel me to try and support as many of them as I can. But one of the things I learned from my work with Soulumination is that even as we struggle to fight against the seemingly insurmountable injustices that plague our world, we cannot forget the power of offering a gesture of kindness and compassion to one person at a time. Photographs are not likely to bring us world peace, but they can bring an enormous amount of peace to the hearts of parents afraid that their precious, irreplaceable memories of their child might one day fade.

So, during this week in which thoughts of our heavenly babies are closer than at any other time of the year, I wanted to thank them for the gifts they have given me and the special spark they brought to the world. Love you always, little ones.

"...each person's life has meaning simply by virtue of carrying his or her own Divine spark into the world. But also we help create meaning for the lives who touch us. When we change our lives because someone else has changed us or moved us, we create meaning for the other person's life as well." ~Rabbi David Wolpe

This prayer flag was created for and displayed at
Soulumination's 5 year Anniversary Celebration

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