Soulumination, a local non-profit and organization that I love has been getting a lot of press lately. It's exciting to see for many reasons not least of which is the hope that it might generate more financial support as greater numbers of people are exposed to their gentle mission of love and compassion. But perhaps even more so are the lessons to be learned in the work of Soulumination.
When I was on the board of Soul (our affectionate shorthand for the foundation) we always made education an underlying priority to our overall mission of providing beautiful photographs to families with either a parent or child facing life threatening illnesses. Lynette Johnson, the founder, is keenly aware of how uncomfortable our modern, Western society is around the difficult subjects of illness, death, loss and grief. The discomfort is understandable, I share it in many ways, but it becomes unacceptable when it means we leave people walking through the valley isolated and alone. None of us will escape this life untouched by the particular sorrow felt by losing someone you love, so perhaps we would do well to acquaint ourselves with how other people have coped with such grief.
If we can find it in ourselves to abide with and learn from someone else's experience of loss, or at least not turn away from it, we will be better prepared and less likely to say something stupid when someone close to us is facing unimaginable grief. Because believe me, truly insane things come out of the mouths of people who are nervous and tentative around profound sorrow. I mean jaw-drop-to-the-ground-nutso.
None of us want to be that crazy person spouting off about silver linings, and how everything happens for a reason and how someone else you know had it really bad so be grateful that at least that didn't happen to you because that would have been so much worse. Oh, and how about how all you have to do is stay positive and focus on your blessings and everything will be fine. It's like busting out a round of A Spoonful of Sugar to a person whose beloved has just died. Not. Super. Helpful.
None of us want to be that person, right?
Just weeks after our twins had died I had a well-meaning, good-hearted, truly very nice friend who I know was probably fumbling all over herself when she ran into me at the ATM, ask me excitedly, "So, gosh Lori, with both boys in school now what are you going to do with all your time?"
Ummmmm.....well, there were those two babies I thought I was going to be taking care of 24/7, but that kinda fell through...
We can do better.
We can try harder to not flinch and run away from the subjects of death, loss, illness and grief.
We can put on our big girl underpants and remind ourselves that this is part of being a real grown up, and a compassionate human being, and (if that is your thing) a child of God who believes we are not only here to love one another but that we have been commanded to love one another.
And all of this is to say why I believe the work of Soulumination and the photographs they take and the families that agree to share them with us, all matter so much.
I didn't think I wanted photographs of my babies. My mom asked several times if I wanted her to bring a camera in case we wanted photos after they were born. I said, no. I was scared and sad and I didn't know what to expect and I didn't think it was anything I was going to want to remember with something as vivid as photographs.
Our nurse took some pictures anyway. They weren't very good, nothing like a photographer from Soul would have been able to do, but I will never stop being grateful to her for knowing better than I did what I would need later.
Photographs, especially beautiful, professional photographs like the ones Soulumination provides, do so many things for families. Depending on the age of the child they might mean different things to different people. I can only speak to what it means to lose a tiny infant who never comes home.
For me, those photos are validation. They are proof. They are evidence that even if no one outside my immediate family ever saw our babies, they existed. I had a reason for my sorrow. It wasn't just my imagination and all of those well-meaning words about how it "wasn't meant to be" were irrefutably wrong. They were meant to be, I know that because they were here. Yes, something went wrong- as it does all too often in our fallen world- but they were meant to be.
I have the pictures to prove it.
I encourage you to read the article about Soulumination that recently appeared in Slate Magazine.