From Us to You: {Robin Chavez Photography}

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kayleigh's Journey


As a family photographer, I love photographing children. I spend time with the families
and get to know them. We go for one-on-one walks and we talk and play. 
We connect.

In Kayleigh's case, I watched her grow up. I had the privilege of being a close family
friend. To photograph Kayleigh was simple. I made sure to capture her spunk, 
that sparkle in her eye, her laughter, being loving toward her baby sister and baby cousin
...and her just being a girly girl.

The last time I saw her, I had set up a Candy Shop session for her and her baby sister.
Kayleigh's eyes lit up when she spied the doughnuts. One of her favorite things to do
was to watch the Chicago Bears with her dad and eat doughnuts together.

Catching her personality on camera was easy. She radiated spirit.

After our candy shop portion of the session, Kayleigh wore her graduation dress
and we walked down to my mom's creek for more portraits. She spoke about graduation
and starting at a new school. Middle school. She talked about the cross she wore around her
neck and told me her mother and father had given it to her right before they got married.
She splashed in the water asking if she'd be a good model, popping her hip and holding her face.
I left that session and told my husband
I wanted a daughter.

It's hard to believe that wasn't so long ago.

This is titled Kayleigh's Journey because it's about Kayleigh's journey to Heaven.
It was also a journey for so many of her loved ones.
A journey of change. A journey of faith. Of coming together. Of gratitude.
And finding some peace in a time of darkness.

The doctor thought it was pneumonia.
Only it wasn't.
Shortly after arriving to the hospital, she was diagnosed with Cancer.
The most aggressive form of Cancer there is.
She had a large, complicated tumor over her heart and lungs and the Cancer
had taken over her entire abdomen.
It moved quick. It was aggressive and it continued to grow.
But she fought.
And her family and friends gathered and prayed.
And we prayed.
And we prayed.
And we prayed.
Kayleigh's stay in the hospital was only a week. She spent her thirteenth birthday
in the hospital. There were balloons in the waiting room. A birthday poster was hung in her 
hospital room along with handmade posters wishing her a speedy recovery.
A week doesn't seem long, but spent like this, it can feel like an eternity.
The want for her to laugh again, and jump off her hospital bed and hold her
baby sister in her arms again. To dance and run and be a thirteen year old.
The want for her to no longer be in pain.
She fought like crazy. She fought like that spunky sparkle in her eye.
But her body was tired.
And God was calling her home.

One's first reaction after the shock is to ball up our fists and stomp and shout
and yell at God, "WHY?"
Why so young? To rob her of her plans, her dreams, her innocence, her future...
Yet God doesn't make mistakes. And so we're left baffled. Baffled at why.
We want to keep our faith. We want to believe in Him. We want to understand.
Yet some things, we are not meant to understand.
We have to trust. We have to have faith.
How else can we survive without it?

And so the pain sets in.
Takes over.
Clenches our throats.
Twists our bellies.
Aches in our hearts.
To hear it is like a growl. A moan. Sadness in sniffles enveloping us,
blinding us with our tears.
A mother's choking confusion,
"I'm so sorry Kayleigh. It wasn't supposed to be like this..."

Those words will always stick with me.
The plans? The usual.
Middle school. Friends. Slumber parties. Boys. Birthday parties. Prom.
Walking her down the aisle. Grand babies. Long life and all those special moments in between.
But God had other plans. He needed her.

So many gathered to be with Kayleigh for her last moments. The room was full.
People filled the hallway. Others stayed in the waiting area.
But there was so much love.
So much love in a time of sadness.

I watched a grandmother become a rock, holding her family together. 
Like tragically broken pieces of a puzzle, scattered and lost, she picked up them up
and held them together, while lying a hand on her granddaughter as she slipped to Heaven.
I witnessed love.
I witnessed so much love.

And these are Kayleigh's last portraits.
Her perfect hands.
Chipped nail polish.
On her pink blanket.

The cross we had spoken about, now worn around her mother's neck.

You will be missed.
You will be missed.
You will be missed.

Kayleigh's funeral was a sea of pink. It was her favorite color.
Pictures of her happiness were scattered around as mourners laughed, hugged and cried.

And there was the smell of roses.

A purple casket lined in pink.
A mother with a piece of her daughter's blanket.
The ruffles of tissues.
Red eyes.
Last goodbyes.

Oh, that they must make little caskets that are purple and pink...

You are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved.

So many people came to honor her. To celebrate her life. To support her family.
To come together.
And there was so much love.

The building was full.
The pews were full.
People stood lining the walls.
The hallways were full.
The overflow rooms were full.
It was full.
The heart can fill up and spill over.
With love. With sadness.
Everything was full.

A fellow photographer friend of mine shared a piece of this poem with me,
written by John Alessi.

"...thus at that moment the brave little soul was born into the world, and through his suffering
and God's strength, he unlocked the goodness and love in people's hearts. For so many
people dropped their differences and came together to show their love. Priorities became
properly aligned. People gave from their hearts. Those that were always too busy found time.
Many began new spiritual journeys, some regained lost faith- many came back to God.
Parents hugged their children tighter. Friends and family grew closer. Old friends got together
and new friendships were made. Distant family reunited, and every family spent more time
together. Everyone prayed. Peace and love reigned. Lives changed forever. It was good. The
world was a better place. The miracle happened..."

I thanked God for the love I witnessed. 
That's what life is about.

Kayleigh showed me that life is precious. Love is what matters.
I will love more.
I will appreciate more.
I will be grateful.
I will be a better person.
Because life is precious, we may as well focus on what really matters
while we know we are here.

As a photographer, I have the privilege of being a part of weddings and watching two people
join in love and make life-long commitments to each other. I attend birthday parties and
family reunions. I photograph expecting mothers, then have the pleasure of watching their
babies grow in front of my camera. It's an honor and a blessing.
What I believe was a turning point of my journey as a photographer and also as a person though, 
is this one image. It's why I believe God set me on a path to be a photographer.
Everything happens for a reason. 
Every time I look at this image, I cry. I cry happy tears.
Because I feel God. I felt God in this moment like I never have before.

In case you don't see it...

An angel.
Praying directly over Kayleigh's closest family and friend's at her burial service.

God is powerful.
God is amazing.
And he does great things.

And I breathed. And I knew.
We may not understand all things, but we don't have to in order to have faith.
We must keep our faith.

As family signed her casket, two messages stuck out the most for me.

"Forever More, My sweet baby girl. I love you to the moon and back.
Always in my heart you'll be.

"Love you Pretty Girl!
You'll always be smiling to me!

And so she was left with kisses and messages from the heart.

Until we meet again.

Hug your loved ones.
REALLY hold them.
Be kind.
Be grateful.
Love each other.
Friends. Family. Strangers.
Reach out. Connect.
Because that is what life is about.
And life is precious.

Trust in God. Even in darkness. Because he's always there. He's working his powers.
We just have to open our hearts.



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