Today I’m excited to officially announce and open registration for this year’s Swim with Santa event.
Last year we raised $1175 and with your help I’m hoping to double that. We have four swim times to choose from, space for up to 20 families, and options starting at only $100. All money goes directly to Soulumination and helps them continue providing free professional portraits to families with children facing life threatening illnesses and with children whose parents are terminally ill. While I was “all grown up” and in my 30s when I lost my parents I still feel those experiences are what give me the empathy and strength to be a volunteer photographer for Soulumination. Certainly not the easiest work I’ve done but hands down the most rewarding.
There’s a story I’ve been telling for a couple months that always elicits the same reaction – a physical jolt, a look that they’re fighting back tears, and a little shaking in their voice as they explain how moved they are by my words. It’s usually followed by my apologies for getting off topic and saying something which clearly has evoked such a strong reaction.
A reaction that still catches me off guard because the story is about my mother and has mostly been told to people who never got the chance to meet her.
I’ve hesitated writing this because I’m not sure written words can be as effective as an oral conversation but the look I see in the eyes of those I’ve told makes me feel compelled to give it a shot as this clearly resonates with people and feels like something that should be shared and shared again.
The story usually starts when someone asks me about my wedding or my summer or how I’ve been since my mom passed away and I start to explain how it all came together.
I explain how having worked in the wedding industry for most of my life I wanted my own wedding to stray from tradition and be something that celebrated our lives and families coming together in a way that felt authentically like us.
I wanted our bridal party to lead our small group of guests in. I wanted to walk in with my husband to be and our parents. I wanted to start – not by being given away like a piece of property- but to spend a few minutes acknowledging our parents with love letters that thanked them for all that they had done to get us to adulthood, to make us into the perfect partner for the other, and for welcoming that partner into the family so lovingly and seamlessly.
I guess I always figured this would be something I’d write on the plane to Hawaii. The ideas rolling around my head but never quite getting perfect enough for paper.
And then with less than a week until we were due to fly to Hawaii my life began to collapse. The week I’d ingeniously planned to take off work to tend to all my wedding details the week before flying was spent in the hospital with family surrounding my mom on her deathbed.
By the end of the holiday weekend we started to come to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going to be able to fly to Hawaii with us. While she was doing better her prognosis was still poor, her condition grave, and her heart broken at the idea that she was going to break my heart by not making it to our wedding.
Just thinking about it makes me weepy as there is nothing quite as hard as seeing your own tough-as-nails mother cry.
We talked about options and it became clear that there was nothing she wanted more than to be at our real wedding. We talked about using Skype to include her in the Hawaii ceremony but she really wanted to be AT the REAL wedding and, frankly, I wasn’t sure she’d live long enough to make Skype a viable solution anyway.
A quick trip to the courthouse, several calls, texts, and emails and our wedding in a windowless family room at Tacoma General Hospital came together in about 24 hours. And, thanks to a phenomenal set of friends, supportive family and generous flexibility from the amazing Seattle wedding professionals we’d already hired to come with us to Hawaii, it was perfect.
She must’ve told me it was the best day of her life and thanked me for such an incredible gift at least 50 times in the days that followed.
A week later we did it all again on the beach in Hawaii as originally planned with my mom watching via Skype from the nursing home she’d moved into while I was gone.
A month later I was having dinner with her in the hospital – watching Law and Order SVU together for the last time. (And yes, if you are wondering that IS an awkward thing to watch in a hospital with nurses coming in and out all the time…always when something really deviant is happening – but it was a show she liked and a bit of a family tradition) I don’t even remember how long I’d been there at that point – more than a day and a half but less than a full 48 hours I’m sure…but I do vividly remember that when it was finally time for me to go home she was coherent enough to laugh at my silly but true reasoning for needing to leave: “Mom, I’ll be back tomorrow but I have to go home tonight because I NEED clean underwear. And I’d like a shower.”
The doctor called me back urgently less than 12 hours later and a few hours after that I held her hand as she passed away peacefully surrounded by family and friends.
And then I really learned what it meant to have my world fall apart.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help”
The first dozen times I heard this I didn’t know what to say beyond ‘thanks’ and ‘I will.’ It felt empty but at that point I’d just lost my mom, creativity was not flowing, and let’s face it – there’s not much else you can say in response. Or so I thought.
The truth is there are no words that can fully explain the sorrow and grief I’ve experienced or the tremendous sense of loss I’ve felt since my mom passed away 10 weeks ago.
As I started to think about what it is I wanted to say at her memorial service I quickly realized that while I had suffered a great and inexplicably painful loss I was actually one of the lucky ones. You see a month before she died I’d said all the things you’d ever want to say to someone you love. In front of an audience of family and friends. Photographers and cinematographers documenting the whole thing beautifully.
I mean really – how many people get to do that?
Timing, my mom often told me, is everything. It can have a huge impact on how your words make others feel. She taught me that it’s not just what you say but how you say it – and when.
As an impulsive teenager it was hard to understand the importance of timing. As I reached adulthood I really began to understand that sometimes we need to tread lightly, mull things over, and choose our words carefully so our point can be made without hurting someone we care about.
I’m now a 33 year old orphan, currently grieving the loss of my second parent, and learning firsthand the other important thing about timing: It goes both ways.
You can wait too long and think too much about the most eloquent way to express yourself and the result isn’t pretty. You can miss your chance to let someone know how you feel before they’re gone from your life – or this world – forever. I can’t even tell you what I’d give to have one more conversation with my Dad.
I’ve learned there are messages that transcend the need for grammatical perfection and literary genius. I’ve learned that if your heart is in the right place they will resonate with the person you are speaking to and to them sound like the most beautiful poetry ever written.
I’ve learned the world doesn’t slow down for any of us and no matter how hard I look I can’t find ‘someday’ or ‘later’ on my calendar. We have to make a point to make things happen or they never will. Life waits for nobody and death is even less forgiving.
And so I got up in front of a room full of people, skipped the traditional eulogy, and shared this beautiful video clip from our hospital wedding:
And then I challenged everyone to stop rushing through life and take some time to really tell the ones you love how you feel while they are still here to appreciate it.
Shouldn’t we all make a point to eulogize the living and express our appreciation while they are there to experience the joy of hearing the heartfelt words of love and gratitude from the closest people in their lives?
After the service I suddenly had the meaningful response that I longed for every time someone told me they were sorry for my loss or asked me if there was anything they could do to help.
I still thank them but now I elaborate a bit, tell this story, and explain how much comfort has come from knowing that I said what I wanted to while she was able to experience the joy of my words. And yes, there is something you can do that would totally make my day brighter: take an hour and write a similar love letter and share it with someone you love while they are still around to enjoy it.
Who are you going to write a love letter to? And when?
And who can you share this with so that we all get a little reminder to remind the ones we love most just how much they matter?
And while I have no idea how many people have actually done it/will do it I’d love to hear from anyone who has or does. Somehow just knowing this might give someone else comfort later in life makes the struggle to find the words to write this coherently and share such a personal part of my life with total strangers worth it.
To quote my mother’s last words minutes before she died, “You are all wonderful.”
And if you’ve made it this far in the novel of a blog post I have to agree.
(And I obviously cannot thank Jillian of Playfish Media enough for dropping everything to be able to film the hospital wedding and providing this clip for the memorial. To see her creative genius in action I highly recommend you take 4 minutes and watch the highlight video she made of our Hawaii wedding: http://playfishmedia.com/video/sacha-and-dave-destination-wedding/ .)
We don’t rescue children or puppies from burning buildings.
We don’t save lives. We document them. Preserve fleeting moments in time. Forever – if they’re purchased and persevered – less so if they’re not.
We don’t provide what most would consider basic necessities. Food. Shelter. Medicine. Water.
What we create is certainly a luxury item of sorts.
And yet what we create is the very thing people grab when forced to flee their homes.
Photographs are the tangible treasure that can take us back in time.
Heal the wounds of living.
Bring comfort and soften sorrows.
Remind us of long since forgotten moments of joy and happiness.
Part time capsule and part time machine photographs are a way to show the world – and remind ourselves – what we were once like.
Before we got older or sicker or lost those final 10 pounds.
Or maybe just before we gained them back.
This wasn’t meant to be one of the last pictures I ever took of my mom. It wasn’t really even meant to be a picture of her at all. Really it was a quick snapshot to show off the collection of photographs I’d taped to the wall of my mother’s hospital room that night. All I wanted was to show why I value digital photography so much and how much less sterile her space felt.
Without it this entire project – and the joy it brought – wouldn’t have been possible.
You see on this day my mom was finally out of bed and in a chair for the first time in weeks.
A couple days later she was standing with a walker.
A day after that she was gone forever.
Without an organized collection of digital files there is no way I would have been able to pull this off before she passed away. Start to finish this project took me less than three hours. I downloaded images from my Zenfolio account, ordered about $60 worth of poster prints at the Costco near the hospital and hung them with a roll of packing tape that lives in the trunk of my car. All while my mom chatted with a steady stream of old friends that visited that day. I took this snapshot right after everyone had left for the night.
And you’ll see that some of the images are clearly professional in nature – including the moment my husband proposed last fall (thank you Toni!) and a few favorites from the wedding we had in the hospital with my mom a few weeks before this was taken (Thank you Alicia). Others are snapshots from random moments in our lives – family gatherings, graduations, vacations, or down time snuggling with the dog.
All are cherished and valued and important in their own ways.
This isn’t meant to be a “go hire a pro and spend a ton of money post” and it’s not meant to be a “your photographer should include your digital files for free” or even “your photographer should allow you to buy digital files” post. Although I do highly recommend finding a photographer you love, paying them well for documenting your life and family on a regular basis, and spending whatever it takes to get that digital set of images for your family archives – that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Because the truth is some of my all-time favorite pictures are not professional. Not perfectly focused. Not properly exposed. Not even taken with a ‘real’ camera. Yet somehow they’re still magical and enchanting to me. And to get to the point of this post – worth saving.
There is a never-ending debate amongst photographers about what digital files do for our industry and our society. It’s one of those things it seems like everyone has a strong opinion about and yet it’s rare to find anyone that has thought about it deeply enough to realize that the real issues they’re so concerned about are not a problem exclusive to digital image files. Or any one medium really.
Just as one photographer can tell me my photographs would be lost forever had they been on a 5 ¼” floppy disc from the 1980s instead of printed I can tell you about how most of my baby pictures from the same decade were ruined by water damage and thrown away before I ever grew up and saw them. In a single day of sifting through the boxes of family photographs I’ve recently inherited I found printed photographs that started out on film so ruined by mold I could barely tell who was in them as well as digital image files on a 10 year old CD that could not be read. The truth is this isn’t a film vs. digital issue. It’s not a printed digital file vs. cd issue. It’s not even a professional vs. amateur issue or “expensive” experienced pro vs. underpriced-too-inexperienced-to-know-how-much-it-actually-costs-to-run-a-business-newbie-photographer issue. It’s an issue of taking time to create images you’ll enjoy and treasure and doing what it takes to make sure you actually get to enjoy and treasure them.
So how do you do that?
Glad you asked.
For starters stop putting off that professional portrait. I know it’s a lot of work. It’s an investment of more than money. It takes time to plan out, find a photographer you love, figure out what to wear, choose a location, get cooperation from Mother Nature, fuss over your hair, go back to see the images and choose your favorites for printing, hang them on the wall, etc. But it’s worth it. I promise. The good news is portrait photography has evolved over the years and sessions can actually be relaxed and fun and result in images that make your heart sing every time you see them. Your portraits don’t have to be boring. Or cheesy. Know that the camera doesn’t add 15 pounds – bad photographers do. Find a skilled photographer whose work you love. Be glad in this day and age you have a lot of options and there is no need to settle for ‘good enough’.
Be in the snapshots at family gatherings. Even if you have to use a timer or take two images so there is one with you and one with someone else holding the camera. Trust me I know how easy it is to hide behind a camera. Don’t. Even if you frame the one you took your kids will love having the one you’re in when they grow up. And they’ll never even notice any of the things you’re self conscious about. By then my guess is neither will you.
Be in snapshots outside of family gatherings. Don’t go overboard and make your life a play by play homemade reality show or anything – but make a point to document milestones as well as some of the in between moments. The key is to make living your life a priority over documenting it.
Consider video. If a picture is worth a thousand words I think a video is worth a million. It’s not just what you looked like when you were talking – it’s a record of what you said and how you said it. Where did your voice shake with emotion? When did you laugh? Did you cry? Wave your hands? Sigh deeply? What was happening beyond that 1/160th of a second of a photograph?
Get the images someone else takes of you at the next family gathering, vacation, etc. before you get back to life and forget about them. Return the favor when you’re the one taking the pictures.
Get those images off your phone and onto a computer before your phone gets stolen, dropped in the toilet, or some other unexpected-but-still-tragic-beyond-what-insurance-can-replace end.
Organize your photos and videos in a way that makes finding things later easy because having it doesn’t matter if you can’t find and use it. A folder for each year is a good starting point because you can’t have an image taken in two different years. But you can have images of your dog, images of your kid, and images with your kid and dog which can make filing by subject tricky.
Get the images off your computer and onto paper. Or canvas. Or metal. Put a framed one on your desk. Stick one under a magnet on your fridge. Put them in an album. Hang them on the wall. Whatever. But print them and put them in a place you’ll see them and enjoy them beyond being in the background of whatever you’re doing with your screens.
Take care of your printed images. Exact instructions depend where you live and what format they’re in but remember things fade in the sun, magnetic photo albums will get too sticky to remove your photographs from over time, photographs can stick to the glass if they’re not matted properly, and certain materials warp or curl in humid weather.
Keep at least three copies of anything you’d cry over losing with one of them outside of your home . Backup is your BFF. Seriously. All hard drives fail. It’s only a matter of time. Discs get scratched. Things spontaneously stop working. Houses burn down. Computers get stolen. Natural and unnatural disasters strike and take printed and digital images with them. A lot of external drives can automate the backup process for you and many online cloud options exist for backing up your personal files – including photographs, videos, etc. It’s also prudent to back up the important old family photographs taken with film. If you have their negatives consider storing them in another location and/or printing additional copies of your favorite images and stashing those off site. You can also scan them and add those files to your digital image archives. Obviously be mindful of copyright laws when it comes to professional photography since buying a print doesn’t give you the right to reproduce the image. If you don’t have the option of purchasing digital files ask if they offer any sort of archiving service – many will do this for a small fee.
Store backups properly, check to make sure they still function regularly, and update them as technology changes. And it does change. Fortunately it moves slowly so it’s not like you’re going to wake up one day and not be able to find a way to read the CD you just got last week. But if you put it in a box and come back in 20 years you might run into problems.
For more information on preserving your family photographs and other history check out:
Unless otherwise marked all text and images are copyright Sacha Blue 2005-2012. I'm flattered that you'd like to use my images for your blog/school project/etc. but PLEASE ASK first. I'll often say yes. Taking without asking IS stealing and as is watermark removal. Aside from being against the law it's just not very nice.|ProPhoto Photo Blog by NetRivet, Inc.