Archive for 'family'

It’s taken me too long to finally write out my thoughts and post them on my blog. But as the busy fall season is just weeks away, I can’t start the season until I share about my client and friend that passed away.  Along with all his family has endured as it’s more pain in their lives than anyone should experience.

While it’s been 12  years since I left the classroom as special educator for children with emotional and behavioral disorders, my passion  will always be working with children that have special needs.  I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with people that struggled in advocating for themselves, being accepted into the general public and help society to see them just as they are….a child, a teenager or an adult without their special abilities defining their lives and their relationships.

I want to give clarity before I go further as it’s a point that I want understood.  In 1993, I started my first job in a school district as a paraprofessional working 1 on 1 with a kindergartener that had Autism.  Back then, Autism wasn’t the familiar, or popular word, that is now frequently spoken of in today’s world: the incidence was 1 in 5,000 at that time.  Anyone that knows me knows about that little girl as she’s still a constant in my life, her name is Lauren.  I remember the first time I spoke with Lauren’s mother and how powerful she was in advocating for her daughter’s needs as efforts to help her function with every opportunity that was available to her.  But the most powerful lesson I learned from her mother was when she spoke in a meeting that she didn’t like it when she was referred to her as “Autistic {insert any word}”.  She didn’t like it because Lauren was a girl, student, child and daughter BEFORE her Autism.  That laid the ground work for how I viewed all the children I was going to begin working with.

12 years late, I still find my true passion for people with special needs finding their way into my 2nd passion…photography.   Let me introduce you to my friend Luke, whom I met for the 1st time 9 years ago, when he was 9 years old. Over those years, I grew to look forward to seeing him, hearing of his milestones and challenges and photographing all the stages in his life.

Luke had special needs because of a Tramatic Brain Injury that resulted from an accident when he was 6 years old.  My husband is friends with Luke’s father, Mike,  since high school and I clearly remember when TW heard about the accident when a newly installed, large RV gate at their recently built home came unhinged.  Luke was playing nearby when the gate fell, struck him and knocked him onto cinder blocks. The injuries he sustained were severe to the degree that the doctors didn’t expect him to survive but he did.  3 years later, I received an email from his mother, Stacey, wanting to schedule a session with me.  Right after I received that email, I went to TW in tears that THIS family wanted ME to take their pictures.  The feeling I had was overwhelming and a complete honor.  I knew I wanted to make this opportunity epic for them…I wanted to give them pictures where they saw their son and children and who they are individually and together BEFORE they noticed his T.B.I.   I knew this was a challenge for me but it was a challenge I desperately wanted and couldn’t wait to tackle, even though my nerves were crazy.

Over the course of the 9 years I photographed Luke and his family, I grew to know Luke and his family and learned that this family was different. They were the true definition of unconditional love that can’t be described.

While I could write about all the challenges and struggles Luke and his family faced because of his T.B.I., I’m going to share them as the special abilities that he taught his family.  Luke was a determined boy.  Stacey called him their Gladiator when he fought the odds against him and never gave in to his injury or challenges.  In turn, they fought with the same determination in going to any length necessary to ensure Luke had the best quality of life.  They sought out and explored all the medical treatments available to help him to help overcome his physical limitations, speech and language deficits, and social/emotional development.

When I schedule a session, I always ask the client if there is a type of location they are most interested in and Stacey was always interested in every option I had. However, there were locations that I’d often tell her would be difficult for Luke in getting him there or for him to navigate around.  But when I was honest with his mother, every time she would say that it didn’t matter because Mike would be able to make it work for him.  And….she was right!  I often witnessed Mike carry him and move him as and parent would for their child, his father never allowed Luke’s physical limitations to interfere with the options that were easy for those without special needs.  And each time I watched Mike maneuver Luke, my eyes would fill with tears watching how it was almost poetic seeing him with his only son.   In Mike’s eyes, Luke didn’t have any special needs…Luke was just his son, his boy that he would move mountains for.  I also have to add that Mike talked to and with Luke like he had zero language deficits…Luke was perfectly okay and typical in his eyes.  And most of the conversations between Mike and Luke were funny…typically centered around how painful it was to have pictures taken (written with humor).

But as the years went on, the challenges that Luke’s family faced, because of his injuries, did begin to dictate where their pictures were taken, resulting in having the sessions at their home.

The pictures below are from the very last time I will ever photograph Luke and that makes me sad all over again in knowing I won’t be hearing about Luke’s celebrations, milestones or new challenges.

During this session Stacey wanted to include Luke’s new therapy dog and of course I loved that idea as pets always bring an element that brings out the side of people I can’t bring out … no matter the antics I try. I’ll never forget when we were trying to encourage the dog to be a part of the session, Stacey brought out treats to help.  I had one of those treats and I don’t remember why but I put one of the treats on Luke’s leg do something.  Next thing we knew, Mike was saying that Luke was eating a dog treat….insert everyone in shock, scrambling to get it out of his mouth and laughter. I remember someone asking how Luke got a hold of the treat and Mike wasted no time in saying that it was MY fault…again, we were all laughing and I kept apologizing all while Luke was just happy he got away with something and chewing.

I’ll always remember that chaotic and funny memory, because that was Luke…determined to do what he wanted, making everyone laugh and reminding us to enjoy the moment.

This past July, just days before his 18th birthday….Luke lost his fight against the injury that he and his family fought to overcome and lived with everyday.

I’m writing this post at great length that because of photography, I have been fortunate to meet, get to know, love and become a part of people’s lives as I photograph them through every stage in their life.  It’s because of photography that I’m still able to work with children with special needs…in varying degrees.

Every session I had with Luke, I worked hard to understand what thoughts he may have had in his mind and enjoyed the process with him.  While I know I’ll never see him again, I truly believe he knew that he made me happy.  I could often get him smiling by bribing him with me doing some stupid antic that I looked completely ridiculous doing.

I’m going to miss him.  I’m going to miss this boy and his smile so much.

When I spoke to his parents at his funeral, his parents told me that even though it was hard having family pictures not just because of Luke’s challenges but due to motivation, schedules, etc. that they will NEVER regret getting the pictures taken and it was worth everything.

 

If by chance you’ve made it through this long, sappy and probably dramatic blog post then let me introduce to you Luke and his beautiful smile in the pictures below.

To Luke’s family, I’ll always hold my times with Luke close to my heart and never forget.  I don’t know why you chose me to photograph the stages in your family out of all the photographers in your area 9 years ago, but I THANK YOU!  You shared your son and lives with me and for that, I am a better person.

I’ll never forget my first session with one of the most amazing, sweet and beautiful duo of girls.  With every session I have with them, I’ve been fortunate to truly get to know this beautiful mother and learn that her beauty radiates from the inside.

After this session, we spent way too much time in a parking lot talking about being a mother, priorities, tough decisions and finding a way to be okay with NOT having answers. However, my favorite part of our visit was on making our children a priority.  And while this priority comes at a cost with other important aspects in our adult life, we know that we only have once chance with our babies and we won’t let any day, lesson, or hardship pass in vain.

The relationship between these two is truly indicative of a mother’s love for her child.