I recieved some sad news yesterday.
But in order to tell this story, I need to go back a little bit.
It started with a friend of TK’s, a girl from high school whose daughter was undergoing treatment for leukemia. The amazing Kim set up care pages, with updates and photos of their journey with their beautiful daughter Claire. TK and I were regular readers, and I reached out to Kim, offering my photographic services to her family. I knew that things were looking good for Claire (thank heavens!) but I thought it might be important to document this important time in their lives. (I’m a documenter. Have a look at my scrapbooks. Nothing is off limits. Can’t help it.) She told me about this service called Flashes of Hope, an organization that brings photographers to childrens’ hospitals all over the country, providing family portraits at no cost to these families. She had just had a session with them, and had such wonderful things to say. I checked them out, and immediately submitted my name to be added to the list. The lovely folks thanked me, but without a Providence chapter, they would just keep my name on standby.
That was a year ago.
In May, I got a call from the FOH people again, good news! There was a Providence chapter being set up, and could I come to the first session at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in June? YES. SIGN ME UP. I was put in touch with Teresa and John, the area coordinators. They have a personal conenction to FOH, having received a photo session when their youngest was sick. They truly understood the importance of these simple photos, having lost their dear girl just a few years ago. Again–something else that reminded me how lucky I am, and how right this was for me.
The night before my first session, I was nervous. Really nervous. It was completely unknown to me. What to expect? What will I talk to these kids about? How sick are they going to be? Can I do it without totally losing it in front of everyone? It was my mom who calmed me down as I left that next morning–she said, “Sa. These are KIDS. Be yourself, and you’ll be great.” And she was right. The first little girl walked in, had her make-up done and parked herself in front of my camera. She smiled like she was a supermodel, and we talked about boys and school and silly things. We (yes WE) giggled and high-fived, and she blew me a kiss as she went back onto the oncology ward. That was how the day went. Even the kids who looked the weakest, looked like they would break if the wind blew too hard, they were not immune to my stupid jokes, heartache over the Celtics, and commands of NO SMILING (tell a kid NOT to smile, and watch a great big smile bloom!) I sat on the floor with one particular two year old, who came in with his IV stand and two big plastic alligators, absolutley screaming, refusing to let go of his mother’s leg. Well, John and I started playing with the alligators, they were balancing on my head, popping up behind my back and singing songs, and before we knew it, the sweet boy was sitting on the floor with me, singing and smiling for the camera. HIGH FIVES all around. (that’s him in the collage above, the bottom row in the middle.)
I left there that day feeling uplifted. Like I was better for having met those 9 kids. I went straight to Sam’s school to pick him up (it was his last day) and as he came running out of the building I was overcome with gratitude for my healthy child. It was all I could do to not wrap him in my arms and weep with happiness. I managed, “come on, son, let’s get to the car quick!” before the tears really started to flow. By the time I got home, I was exhausted. My head, my heart, everything was tired. But when I started to edit the images, I felt that uplifting feeling, that pride in having done something amazing that day.
I have done two more sessions since then, I’ve had the honor of meeting 30 incredible kids. If they know we are there, sometimes they come and say hello–there’s nothing like getting a hug from one of those kids. And my mom was right–they are KIDS. They aren’t defined by their cancer, or where they are in their treatment. They are kids who want to talk about My Little Pony, iCarly, the Red Sox (or, heaven help me, the Yankees) or what sound a duck makes. There was a young boy at my last session, small and frail, who was sleepy and shy and NOT falling for any of my tricks. I offered to sing a song, and before I got the words “twinkle twinkle” out of my mouth he held his hand up to silence me and said, “NO. Lady GaGa.” And so help me, I busted out some insane old lady version of Poker Face…and got that kid to smile.
So yeterday I heard from Teresa, the Providence coordinator. Along with some admin stuff, she had some news. Our little friend, the one with the alligators, died. I was overcome. She reassured me that we were able to give his mother a beautiful gift, something that she will cherish forever. I wish I could reach out to his mom, give her a hug, and tell her that it was my honor to have had the chance to see him smile, and that he will stay with me, forever and ever. I couldn’t help but think a lot about his mom. As a mom it is impossible not to put yourself in another mom’s shoes, and imagine. But how can you really imagine that?
Instead of trying, and instead of crying, I gathered up Sam and Jane, kissed them, and went to bed with a very grateful heart.
(Edited to add: Local photographers out there, if you are interested, Teresa and John are in need of some more photographers to add to the Providence network. Drop me a note if you’re interested in being a part of this organization….you will be changed, for the better, having met these kids! The next session is on September 16! Come with me and see what it’s all about!)