Every year we take photos in the Fall. Of course we take photos all the time, but certain times of year I become more insistent in my demand for photos. Every Easter I make sure we get a family photo at church, and every Fourth Of July I insist on a photo of all of us at the lake. Ryan and the kids will be quick to tell you that even at these more casual photo times I’m still a bit of tyrant when it comes to getting one good photo of all of us looking at the camera and smiling. There have been years where this was a gargantuan task, but we’ve always managed to pull it off.
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Fall photos are a much bigger ordeal. I plan what everyone will wear. We beg or bribe friends to go with us to some pristine location, and while one friend takes photos we implore another one to stand behind the camera and elicit smiles by whatever means necessary. Sometimes this has involved the use of flying dogs, peek-a-boo babies, and one time famously, it led to the invention of the “butt dance.” If I’m perfectly honest, tears are always involved somewhere in the process of the Fall photos, sometimes they are the tears of an uncooperative child, but most of the time, they are mine. Tears because we are running late. Tears because I couldn’t put together outfits as cute as the ones on Pinterest. Tears because as we are driving home after the photos, I convince myself that we really didn’t get a decent photo this year, because no one is willing to try hard enough. High expectations, disappointed, has led to far too many frustrating Fall photo days for my family.
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This year I was expecting the tears. Not for the regular reasons. I knew there would be tears because on Easter Day we barely managed to take a photo of our family all together, in between sobbing sessions, Ryan and I somehow pulled it together long enough to take a photo of our family, so incomplete, just a month after losing Joel. It felt important to still have photos of our family now, so we took the photos that were hard to take, we cried more afterward, and visited Joel’s grave. On Easter Ryan asked several times if we could just skip the photos this year, but I insisted. By the Fourth of July Ryan knew it mattered to me, and patiently took photo after photo of me with the kids. He even had a stranger take one of all of us. I distinctly remember lying in bed with him that night, looking at the photos we had taken, but only seeing what was missing. We remembered all the Fourth of July photos that had come before, when our family was happy, when Joel was still with us. Ryan was in a funk that whole week. It wasn’t just watching the fireworks without Joel, it was the pictures he was missing from. So, I knew that our first Fall photos without Joel would be hard. I was counting on it.
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This past Christmas, we had been given a gift certificate for a free family photo session with a Denver photographer, by a foundation that gives presents to cancer families. (Jordan’s Angel Foundation is amazing, and gave us an incredible Christmas last year when we couldn’t afford presents.) The certificate for free photos waited beneath a magnet, on my fridge. Joel’s eye turned in just after Christmas, and I told myself we would wait to get photos when he was better, but then he got worse. In the ten months since we received the gift of photos, I have looked at the certificate from time to time, a reminder that we would need to do photos again sometime, and it helped me look forward to it, even though I thought it might be too hard. Could we send a puffy eyed Christmas card this year? People would understand.
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I emailed the photographer a few days ago, I apologized for the delay in using the certificate and explained why we had waited. She was amazing. She scheduled us for just two days after I emailed her, and asked if we wanted to bring along a photo of Joel, or one of his favorite toys. At first, I shuddered to think of making Joel’s absence so present a part of these photos. We decided to bring Joel’s blanket, but I worried the kids would cry when they saw it, or that Ryan, remembering all the nights he slept with the blanket in the heartbreaking weeks after Joel’s death, wouldn’t be able to get through our already challenging photos with that blanket boldly displaying our loss.
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We had our photos taken yesterday. It started out the same way all our Fall Photos do, running late, mom upset that things aren’t working out, dad urging the kids to please be patient and helpful because these photos are really, really important to mom. On the drive, I mentioned, as casually as possible, that we had brought along Joel’s blanket to put in a few of the photos, to show how important he still is to us. There were no tears, no choked back emotions. The kids seemed to agree that it felt right to include Joel.
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It just got better from there. Our photos were fun. The kids did so well. We were glad we had Joel’s blanket, we pulled it our more times than we thought we would. We were remembering Joel, but there was joy in our remembrance. I never would have imagined that our first big photo session without Joel could be anything but heartbreaking. We had one teary moment right at the end, when the photographer was snapping a quick photo of the kids playing in the stream. Without meaning to, they had left a little space, a space where Joel would have fit. The photographer pointed it out to us, and we put his blanket there, and shed a quiet tear or two, but even this was good. It was a beautiful moment, at the end of a joyful experience.
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Today the photographer sent me one quick preview of our photos. It made me so happy, I just had to share it with you and write about our day. She also wrote in her email, “Now I can tell you that I’ve been praying about the session since I received your email. I even asked my prayer warrior friends to pray to so I am not surprised that it went so well. Having a family photo taken without Joel is a important step to take toward some kind of future healing and probably an impossibly hard one. I felt honored to take them and you all are such a blessing. ” So, all this time, there on my fridge had been a gift certificate from a woman who would pray for my family to have a good photo shoot. It is a small thing, but it made such a big difference. I will be able to look at these photos and not remember a hard day without Joel, but I will see grace when I see them, a joyful day where a hard day should have been.
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Here’s the photo she sent me, when I have more I’ll post them too. Also, would you be willing to pray for our Thanksgiving and Christmas? I have been dreading these days. I have been imagining oppressive sorrow and a very stark contrast between our past celebrations and the ones coming up. This photo reminds me that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that I should pray more about these small things that are so big in my heart.
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forjoelsite
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Comments

There are 2 comments for this post.

  1. Anne on October 25, 2014 4:41 pm

    This is such a great pic! (oh, and Ryan, your oldest didn’t fall too far from the tree . . . just sayin’). There will be good days and bad days, and the good ones will eventually the bad ones. The ache never really goes away but yes, there is still joy and good times to be had still.
    Wishing all of you peace, healing and joy (yes, it IS possible!).

  2. Lacey Ballard on October 26, 2014 6:43 am

    Wonderful picture, beautiful story, and amazing family. Just so you know, even though we have never met, i pray for your family daily still. i know i am not alone in this either. God bless you and your precious family!

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