Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep | First session

I'm so sad to say that I have my first volunteer end of life session tomorrow.

If you're not familiar with this organization see my original post here.

I wanted to talk about it before the session just so I can remember where my head was because I'm sure 24 hours from now I won't even be able to remember.
At the moment I'm feeling stoic. I would think I would be crying but I'm just trying not to think of it. I'm focusing on the logistics like what time I need to be there, who's going to watch my kids, are my batteries charged, where am I going to park, etc.
I know I have to stay focused on my job once I get there so I don't make any mistakes or regret missing something because I was too emotional.
I definitely won't be sharing the images on my blog for a few obvious reasons, but I do want to document the sessions verbally as they will likely emotionally effect my life forever and play a large part in who I am as a photographer.
I'm sitting here tonight with my family as we deal with the trivial thing that are necessary to get us through our day while thinking of this other family who is preparing to say goodbye to their newborn son forever. I am unbelievably grateful for my healthy almost 4 year old twins especially because of the fact that I went into pre-term labor at 29 weeks and was prepared by the doctors for the worst.
I know nothing I say or do will ever help this family get their son back but I hope that the images I capture will one day bring them comfort.

I will update this post after I get home tomorrow.


Updating when i got home was absolutely not an option. It took all I had just to drive home from Boston, pick my kids up, get them home and in bed. I literally couldn't see out of my eyes properly from crying so hard and long. It's been over 24 hours now and my eye lids are still swollen.

I arrived at the hospital at 11:45 am. I met the social worker first thing and she brought me into the NICU room where the baby was surrounded by so many family members. They were about to give him a bath and get him dressed in his baptism outfit. I didn't talk to anybody and definitely felt weird taking pictures. I had to keep reminding myself that they requested my services so I had no need to feel out of place. There were some tears from the family as they dressed him but also some smiles. He was so cute it was hard to keep a smile from your face. The mother was talking to her son as she stroked his head and hands. She was saying "mommy loves you so much". I couldn't hold back the tears when she said that because I say those EXACT words to my babies every single day. I felt so guilty.

The Priest arrived and after some encouraging words about the baby being needed in heaven he began the baptism.

When that was over the family wanted to take some time with him before they removed the ventilator. At that point I had been in the room for over an hour and needed a break. It was a good time for me to go get something to eat. I waited for two hours or so until the social worker came to get me saying that they were ready. I believe that was around 3 pm.

I went back in the room and was hit with the horrible cries of the family, especially the mother.
She was saying "I can't do it!" (meaning remove the ventilator) while the family held her and encouraged her that she was doing the right thing and that everything was going to be ok. It took all I had to not sob out loud. I will never forget it.

The chaplain said a prayer with the family as the nurses removed the tube. As soon as it was out the mother picked him right up and kissed his sweet face that was now free of tubes and tape.

Mom held him for a while, then Dad, then each of the family members got a turn. There were around 10 adults and 3 children there, all immediate relatives. It was amazing to see the support this couple had.

I photographed each of the family members holding him. I stayed for a while getting some amazing photos of him including one with his eyes wide open! Then I left again for another break. This time I was really feeling like I had hit a wall. All I wanted to do was fall asleep.

I stayed in the waiting room for maybe 30 minutes then went back in. The nurse had been periodically checking the baby's pulse. It was so sad because every time we knew it was possible for her to say he was gone. At 5:50 pm she checked, obviously didn't find anything and after using a stethoscope, she called in another nurse. This nurse gave the sad news that he had passed on. Once again I had to seriously control my crying. It was more than heartbreaking to see a mother in so much pain. She told him she was sorry.

After about a half an hour they put him down on his little bed. He was all bundled up in a blanket so I felt really bad asking if they wanted me to photograph his little feet maybe with their rings etc. They said yes immediately. I went to my camera bag to change my lens and by the time I turned around his feet were already removed and he had a ring on each foot and one on his hand! We all had a little chuckle. I only took 5 photos after had had passed away. I do regret now that I didn't try to pose him all curled up with no clothes on, but I just didn't have the heart to ask them to take his clothes off. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have minded but it all happened so quickly and I was trying so hard to be unobtrusive.

After that I packed up and left. It was 7 pm.

I cried in the elevator down and on my way out of the hospital. I called my mother to tell her all about it and we both just bawled on the phone. I hugged my kids quite a bit tighter when I picked them up that night.

I was able to look at the pictures today and I have to say they are amazing. The lighting in the room was far less than ideal. No window and only one florescent overhead light. I normally don't raise my ISO over 100 to avoid any noise in my images, but I had to suck it up and put on 800, had my 50mm on 2.0 f/stop and with that I was able to keep the shutter speed around 200. I wanted to avoid using my flash at all cost! My new 7D is supposed to handle higher ISO better and it is definitely true. I was incredibly pleased with the reduced noise in the images. They are very clear and because I didn't use any flash they are so real and natural looking. It was hard to miss capturing any emotion in the room since it was filled with emotion. The photos just ooze emotion. Even though they are very sad I absolutely love them and think the family will too.

The photos are in a password protected proofing site. If anyone is interested and brave enough to look I'd be glad to share the login info.

I don't know if anyone is reading this but it has helped to get it all out of my head!


Lynne said...

Kerry - You are so brave and kind to do this. I'm sure this means so much to the families of these children. You are an angel.

Kelly said...

Hi Kerry,

The other day you stopped by my blog after I had commented on Kristen Duke's blog. Thank you for your comment! I just wanted to say that your pictures, blog, and this current story is so beautiful. I actually cried while reading it, just trying to imagine what this mom must have felt. You are very lucky to be a photographer and capture all of the emotion that is going on around you and be able to freeze it for people. I'm sure this family will cherish these images forever.

I'd love to hear more about advanced photo classes that you may have again in the future. Please keep in touch.

(And I grew up in Litchfield too! Small world..)
Thanks again-

Anonymous said...

Hi Kerry - you don't know me, but I wanted to say that you did an amazing thing. Best friends of ours went through some thing similar and they are so grateful to the photographer that photographed their sweet baby girl. 1 1/2 years later, they look at those pictures every day.
-Erika Curley Vogel

Kerry Lynn said...

Thanks for the kind words ladies. It's nice to hear them after how difficult this was.
The parents are so thankful already and I have received several emails from the mother saying how much she appreciates it. That makes it all worth it.

Kelly, I will be in touch! OH, and my friend and I didn't grow up in Litchfield (Lynnfield, MA) but she lives in Litchfield with her family now.

Erika, do you know me? If you grew up in Lynnfield then you definitely know my husband's family because I totally know your name!

Stacie said...

Oh, Kerry. I bawled when I read this, too. My neighbor lost one of her twins in November to a genetic disease. I recommended NILMDTS to her. She didn't ultimately go through them, but my suggestion spurred her to call the photographer who did her wedding (and who donated her time and the pics). They are her treasured momentos. That's so important when there is so little else to hold on to when a baby passes.

Such an amazing thing you did. So heart breaking...but oh so amazing.

Much love to you.

K J and the kids said...

That is amazing...and I'm so glad you donated your time to such a worthy cause.
I too had friends that used this service.
I would love to see the pictures of that sweet angel.

amy said...

I found your blog from KJ's. I love her header!! I totally cried while I read this post, we have a photographer that we use for our family here in Atlanta and she also volunteers her services for this incredible cause and I'm always moved by her stories. You are incredibly brave and I'm sure the family will be forever grateful for your kindness.

seattlegal said...

I couldn't even imagine what that family is going through and how hard it must have been to witness it yourself. It was wonderful of you to do this for them and as others have said, brave.

Anonymous said...

Kerry, I think it's amazing that you were able to do this. I cannot even imagine how hard it was. How terribly sad!


Wendy and Karen said...

Just. Wow.

Humbling. Incredible.

You are strong.

Adele said...

What an experience! I'm so impressed that you were able to be present with that family and provide them with a memory of their fleeting family member. Your post absolutely brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this experience. We should all remember to show up and volunteer where we can.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for volunteering your time to such a worthy cause. Those photos will mean so much to that family in the years to come.

Kerry Lynn said...

Thank you all for such supportive comments. They really mean so much.

Anonymous said...

I am crying just reading your post.

Ida Mae said...

This was an amazing story Kerri. Thank you for sharing. I would so love to do this; but I am just so unsure I could and actually make decent photos.

I am so glad you shared your feelings from the experience. I was crying right along with you.

Anonymous said...

wow. the work that organization does, and of course the volunteers- you- is amazing. I never knew about this service until i saw an obituary of a baby today wanting people to donate to the organization. and somehow i ended up here. anyway, i hope you do more of these (not that i want more babies to die) but u know what i mean... better luck with less crying next time? maybe