I dont know if i can really make this post.
Angie, the beautiful mother of two, passed away this month.
she deserves more than the words that i can write here, or the pictures that i can show here. And, although i, for a time, thought i just *wouldn’t* make this post- so many people have reached out asking for updates on Angie that I thought it was only fair for me to swallow the lump in my throat and write the words above.
I can only tell you of my experience, from this side, of her.
When i did my previous session for her it was, at that time, what was supposed to have been her last month of life. Clearly, she was beating the odds. she seemed so.healthy. so full of life and love and energy and enthusiasm. there was no way this thing was going to beat her. two years later and she was still fighting against every odd that was placed in front of her. she was still teaching in Special Education in Chicago Public schools, still raising her two children on her own, still writing encouraging and positive posts on facebook about her experiences.
I never wanted these sessions to be about grief, or make this any kind of pity party. there was no talk of cancer. no talk of death or what might happen, or even the reasons behind why we were taking these photos in the first place- for memories in case she wasn’t with her children any longer.
and because of that, because i wanted these sessions to be full of fun and life and happiness, i didnt ask the questions i was burning to ask. I never knew, really, how bad things were.
This last session i could see she was tired. she was sick. she had lost weight. her wonderful mother was helping her more than before. but Angie put on a strong face and she smiled, as beautifully as ever. we rested, we took photos sitting. the kids found baby animals on the farm, they caught frogs, they tickled their mama, they hugged her hard. This time around… Hannah held her mother tighter. i could see in her eyes she knew fully what this session was for. she wanted to show me through my lens how deeply she loved her mama. how she was going to hold on to her- because she was doing it right then.
i didnt let the lump in my throat rise. i willed my eyes to stay dry.
this was a regular session. i would not let it be anything else.
I knew angie was going to die the day that she did. i sobbed to my husband that this was going to be the day. i thought of her babies, barely old enough to fully understand what was happening. my oldest son, who is an old soul, cuddled into my lap and put his arms around my neck, while i held on to him tighter and tears ran down my cheek two and three at a time.
i knew even before i got the email.
i thought of the unshot rolls of film i had left in my bag. each one burning a hole in my heart as a moment left un-captured. a moment her children would not have of their mother. a guilt set in and burned me from the inside out.
Never have i been more honored to have someone’s facebook profile picture taken by myself. and it will remain there, unchanging, as she is no longer there to make updates.
At thanksgiving, as we all went around to say what we were thankful for, my oldest son said “i am thankful we are all alive” and i grieved inside for Angie’s family.
and when my sons were waiting in line to see Santa the next day, a little girl ahead of us sat on Santa’s lap and whispered something to him that made him cry and brush away tears down his cheek. Perhaps there was another little girl out there hoping santa could bring back her mommy. I wondered what Hannah and Max’s requests would be this year. i prayed inside it was for things any kid should wish for. a new game, some sort of electronic this that or the other.
Last year, Angie sent me a little gift as a thank you for the sessions. it was a box, beautifully decorated in bright yellows and oranges- and it was labeled ‘Little Box Of Sunshine’. inside were yellow and orange nail polishes, a bright sunny yellow scarf, a brightly jeweled box, hand written notes, and hand made decorations. it was so beautiful and so thoughtful, and i kept it. because i knew what it was. we, the people who are not battling cancer every day, have the luxury of pretending like our life is not ending. we have the luxury of saying ‘i’ll do it later’. we have the luxury of pinning on pinterest all these great ideas of things to do for other people but we do not actually get around to doing them. This beautiful handmade box of goodies was Angie making sure that she had thoroughly thanked people in her life. had made them feel loved. had made sure everyone knew just exactly how she felt about life and them. because she knew the impermanence of life clearer than most.
i hope she knows that she did more than that for me. she handled life and death gracefully, and is my role model.
i hope her children know that i wish i could have done more, given more.
i hope her children look back on some of these photos when they are older and can ‘feel’ their mother, remember her scent, remember how it felt to have her arms around them.
i hope, if you are out there reading this, that you will grab any kind of camera, cell phone, video recorder, tape recorder, and take a picture of yourself with your children. right now. today. a simple easy task. it doesnt have to be good. you dont have to be wearing makeup. just snap a photo. you dont even have to hire someone to do it.
Thank you to One Fine Day Productions for the video they made in collaboration with me at Angie’s previous Session.
Thank you to Richard Photo Lab who generously gave me a discount on film development so that I could afford to gift Angie’s family these sessions.
Thank you to the Johnson Family for allowing us play and make memories with Angie, her mother, and her children on their beautiful farm in Wisconsin
Thank you Angie, for reminding me to not take life for granted, and for showing me what true grace is.