I have been wanting to sit down and write this blog post for a while now. I had the absolute honor and joy to capture a sorority sister's newborn session a few months back. Her name is Lauren, and she is truly one of the strongest women I've ever met. Lauren is married to Brandon and they have a sweet new baby boy Carter and a precious pup Franco. There is another family member that is no longer here on earth with them, and his name is Graham.
Graham was born 16 weeks prematurely, but was able overcome all odds and grow strong enough to go home as a healthy infant. He was thriving and growing just as he should and even hit an exciting milestone of his first birthday! Suddenly, just five days after his first birthday, he began to experience prolonged seizures. These episodes began an almost two month hospital stay to figure out the cause of his symptoms. On January 16, 2017, Graham was diagnosed with Alpers' Disease, a rare mitochondrial disease that, sadly, has a very poor prognosis. On January 24, 2017 Graham passed away at home with his family.
As a mom, I remember following along with Lauren, Brandon, and Graham's journey and just feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I had just had our second son when Graham passed away, and I couldn't even imagine what Lauren was feeling in this time of tragedy. I've experienced loss in my life, but nothing like losing a child. Then, in January of this year, Lauren and Brandon announced they were expecting their second child, a son (for whom they went to great lengths to ensure he did not have Alpers' disease). I was absolutely elated for them, and who wouldn't be?!
When I found out I’d be doing their newborn session, I was thrilled. It was incredibly important for me to be able to capture every detail possible of their new baby boy. I mentally prepared myself for the session, because I knew I would have a hard time emotionally and wanted to be sure to make it all about them, not about my emotions. At the session, I could feel the love these parents had for their new baby boy. They have experienced the greatest loss a parent can experience, so I can only imagine the feelings they were having at that moment. But looking at that sweet new baby boy, there was a new life ready to begin, a new chapter in their story just starting. It was beautiful and I was so fortunate they allowed me to capture this special time in their life.
There were so many sweet and subtle reminders of Graham around their home. When we were in their master bedroom sitting area doing photos, Lauren told me that the painting they had above their sitting area was a custom piece of art of Graham’s heartbeat they had commissioned by a local Atlanta artist, Katie White. She went on to say how it came out perfectly and they were thrilled to hang it in their room. After hanging it, they realized that when they wake up in the morning and look in that direction, the sun hits the silver leaf on the art just right and makes it sparkle. I got chills! I’m a firm believer that when we lose loved ones, there are constant little reminders God sends us to remind us of them, to let us know that they are still with us. I lost a dear friend in 2003, Clay. He had red curly hair that fit his exuberant personality. Shortly after he passed, I visited his grave to just sit and absorb what had happened. While I was there grieving, a bright fiery orange butterfly, exactly the color of Clay’s hair, lingered for several minutes and even landed on his grave. I felt a sense of peace wash over me at that moment. Since then, at many important points in my life, the same color butterfly has visited me and lingered just a little longer than any other usual butterfly.
Before I wrote this blog post, I read all of Graham’s caring bridge site and read through many of Lauren’s blog posts on her blog: https://growgrahamgrow.com. She discusses so many vulnerable topics about life after loss. One of the things that resonated with me most, and that I can completely identify with, is being forever changed after loss. I experienced that change after losing my friend when I was 19, and it forever shaped my life moving forward. My constant mission is to find the joy and try to make a positive impact on others. What I do for a living is not truly an essential, people don’t NEED professional photos. BUT, capturing moments in a portrait and having that memory IS one of the few things that people hold dear forever. What do most of us think they would grab from their home in a fire? Photos! They are irreplaceable.
Lauren and Brandon want Graham’s memory to grow and impact as many people possible. They strive to foster a greater understanding of rare diseases, and thus created a research fund to honor Graham’s memory. They have partnered with the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation to create the Graham Collins Research Fund.
I can only imagine that as Carter grows up and learns more and more about his big brother Graham and his family’s story, he will be so proud of all his parents have done in his brother’s memory. I wanted to share their story here to help spread awareness for something that is so dear to their hearts. It was an absolute honor to capture this part of their story and I can’t wait to watch as Carter grows! I LOVED working with you Collins family. Thank you so much for allowing me to share your story!
I thought it would only be appropriate to close with a few images of Graham with his mom and dad (by another local photographer Bridgett Shepherd) when he was 11 months old (7 months adjusted). What a beautiful baby boy.