Hello… Cristy here. If you follow my facebook page at all you know that this past week was incredibly tough for me… I was asked to take on the hardest photo shoot ever in my photography career. Without repeating myself, here’s my letter to Susan… a woman who has forever touched my heart and in only two short days changed so much about how I think and love.
You and I never met prior to Wednesday, yet I feel like somehow ours souls are connected in a way that I can’t even begin to explain or put into words, but I’m going to do my best to try…
On Monday my husband asked me about several posts that were swirling around on facebook after the news about your stroke. I texted our mutual dear friend Maggie, to ask who everyone was talking about. When she told me it was you, my heart hurt…. While we haven’t met I have heard of you over the years, seen your posts on friends pages, and knew you were an extraordinary woman. As a mom of two girls, and me not being much older than you, it broke my heart to know that you and your family were going to be facing the biggest challenges of your lives. The reality of the situation hit especially hard because you have such a young son. I cried tears for you, a woman I hadn’t met, yet felt connected to all at the same time. I religiously followed the beautiful website that your friend Theresa set up for you, I searched all of our mutual friends facebook pages for updates and posts, and the news was hard to read. I started reading about strokes online, trying to gain as much knowledge and information as I could to try to understand. The gravity of your situation was just so scary and difficult for me to comprehend.
On Wednesday your best friend Angela contacted me and asked if I would come to the hospital to take some photos of you with Matt and Andrew. I of course, could not say no… although I have to be honest and admit I was so incredibly nervous and scared as I knew this would be the hardest work I had ever done behind my camera. I called a fellow photographer friend on my way to the hospital, literally screaming, crying, cursing, and just asking her how the HELL would I do this, and how would I do it in such a way that would be beautiful, yet at the same time respectful of you, your family, your husband and your son. My friend’s advice was to just DO… just be there, capture the love, the grace, and the emotions in the room. I normally photograph birth so in a way this was similar given the hospital setting, yet SO very different… The normal feelings of joy were replaced by deep sorrow and anguish. My only goal was to make sure that Andrew had photos to someday help him understand this time, and to maybe give him some answers when he asks questions as he is getting older. At the very least he would see very clearly just how much his daddy loves you…
At that point we were hopeful and optimistic that you would pull through… but when I got the hospital and saw you lying in the bed, the intensity of the situation hit me like a wall of bricks… and as hard as I tried to be strong and not cry I just had to let it go. The tears fell like rain, down my face, onto my shirt and onto the floor. The harder I tried not to cry, the more tears fell. My hands were shaking, so much so that I had a hard time keeping my camera still. I continued on through tears, knowing that these photos were for Andrew. That was the only thing that made what I was doing make sense and feel even remotely okay…
I could see you fighting, I could see your spirit trying so hard to escape the situation you were in, you were so brave. Even though you were connected to so many machines, tubes, and wires you were INSANELY beautiful, truly beautiful beyond anything I have ever seen. You radiated light and love, and that was felt to the core by everyone there. Your husband was so sweet with you, loving you every minute, and trying so hard to be strong for the rest of your family. You could see the love in his eyes for you, when he cradled your hand in his, when he looked at you, and the way he touched your face. Your parents and Matt’s were wonderful, talking to you, sitting at your bedside, and so wonderfully supporting Matt and helping care for Andrew. Our midwife Kelli came to see you, prayed for you, held your hand much like I’m sure she did when Andrew was born. It was so hard for me to see her in that place, because it felt so much familiar to how she is with laboring mamas. You could tell that she adored you and loved you to her core. Angela was truly amazing, and I will never forget watching her care for you, talking to you, telling you stories and laughing until she cried. I know she is forever changed by your friendship and love for her. And I know she will continue to care for and love Andrew as if he were her own son. When I left that night I was hoping my next phone call would be that you woke up, and to come quick to get photos of that…. I knew I couldn’t just tell part of the story, I had to tell the rest too.
On Thursday Angela texted me at 2 pm, telling me to keep my phone close. My heart sank, I could just feel that it wasn’t going to be good news. By 6:30 she called and asked me to come… that Matt, Andrew, and your family would be saying their final goodbyes and could I come and capture that. Again the rush of emotions came back… how can I do this, how can I make sure I am respectful, kind, unobtrusive and giving the space for your family to love you and say their goodbyes. I arrived at the hospital and immediately knew you were gone… your spirit was profoundly felt in that room, but you were not in your body. As hard as that was, I was at peace with this… knowing that you were no longer suffering, and free to be the beautiful light that you are. I could feel the intense warmth and love all around you coming from every single person that walked into CCU room 3218. I had asked Matt to bring your wedding bands, which I put into the palm of your hand and photographed. A few minutes later Matt told me your anniversary is next week… again came the waterworks of tears. I tried as best as I could to photograph all the little moments, the details, your dad holding your hand, your husband kneeling at your bedside, Andrew showing you his toy truck and touching your hand, and the prayer that the chaplain led. I watched the nurses and staff prepare your body for organ donation, and for a moment felt a sliver of bright light in this knowing that so many families would be getting the phone call they had been dreaming of and that your selfless gift would save and impact so many more lives. I feel forever bonded to your family after this… and I’ve never been through something so moving with strangers whom I can now call friends.
When I packed up my bag to go home for the night, knowing this was the last time I’d see you I took your hand, kissed your forehead and said thank you… with tears dripping off my face and onto yours, I thanked you from those of us who never had the divine opportunity to meet you prior to your passing. You will never know how much you impacted so many strangers in such a huge way over these last days. Thank you for sharing your love story with Matt with me, thank you for sharing the love of your family and dear friend Angela. Mostly I thank you for giving me the gift of your presence, even though it was fleeting, it made me wish I had the chance to know you all along. I hope that someday we can meet again, and start a beautiful friendship like so many others have had with you. My heart breaks for your family, and for Matt especially. His love for you is so strong, and I have no doubt that he will continue to love you eternally. I’m certain that you are looking down upon us all with pride. You have brought together a community filled with so much love and support for one another. You taught me how to live in the moment and to let go of the little things. Even though I only knew you two days, you will be remembered in my heart forever. Thank you for that gift, and the honor and blessing of photographing your final two days on this earth, it truly means so much to me and my heart has grown bigger because of you…. Much love, Cristy.
I close this post with an image from Wednesday night, Susan’s hand being held by her husband Matt, and their son Andrew. The other photos I took are being kept private and will be shared if and when Matt decides he’d like to do so.