Saturday, December 14, 2013

 {When the call comes, and That Door opens}

I've written minimally about my work with the non profit organization Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. Obviously there's confidentiality and  respect for the families, which makes this a rather private endeavor. At this point I have done several of these photo sessions for grieving families. Although I have not yet tried to put many words to my experiences with NILMDTS, my heart and head are very full on this subject.

These are some of my free-flowing thoughts, finally making their way down to the blog. 
For more on this organization, you can see the NILMDTS website. 


I'm behind the door in the space that has been their home for the last 48 hours. Forty-eight excruciating hours.  I'm trying to be as unobtrusive as I can be, to melt into the walls. It's not that I do not want to be there, for I am truly in all action mode and I am ready. I am feeling every bit of the professional that I need to be for the moment.

My eyes are seeking, and my mind is ready. I wait for the moments. I'm watching this family unite and converge in a common grief. No, it's not fun. It's not about fun. It's about Ephesians 2:10. Hearts are shattering all around me, but the peace in my spirit is all consuming, and there isn't a second of anxiety or indecisiveness. I know what I need to do, and I am doing it.

I frame up the family hands clasped around the sweet little baby, so brief a life. My camera comes to my eye and the flash of light suddenly seems too bright. Brighter than it has been in the past. The electronic click that usually dissolves into background noise seems suddenly harsh and startling. I look around. They don't notice a thing, and I am glad. Their focus is on the preciousness in front of them, and the assault of pain crashing down around them. My heart twitches, but it never caves. I know the difference between their pain and my pain. It's not about me. 

Grandpa looks away from baby. I study him for a moment, and catch his far away look with my camera. He glances distractedly in my direction. He's ok with my presence now. I'm glad. He wasn't sure when we met in the waiting room. That corridor overflowing with love and pain and questions. But mostly love. As a stranger looking in, I felt the nearly palpable concern and affection that this group had for one another. I had knelt at each chair and quietly inquired who each individual was, and briefly explained my role in this nightmarish day for them. He hadn't heard, and had approached me warily. Something about him reminded me of my own father; maybe the beard, maybe the gruff cover up for tenderness. I pushed back the intimidation I initially felt, and lightly touched his flannel clad shoulder.

"I'm here to take pictures."

"Yes, she asked for me to come." 

The grieving mother is his baby. The little breath of heaven, now returned there, was to be his first grandchild. IS his first grandchild. And there's no way he can wrap his mind around all of that. He is protective and detached all at once.

"No, I don't work for the hospital."

"No, these photos don't have to be taken."

"No, no money, no orders, they are for you all, and they are a gift. No charge."

He looked up from the floor and for a second he allowed his eyes to look into mine. And we were okay. I don't know what he saw there, but after that, we were ok.

So, I'm still in their "suite", that hospital room with the pale yellow walls and the slight antiseptic scent. I am watching something stunning and ethereal unfold all around me. I stoop down and turn to the side for another perspective. I'm nearly breathless, and how can I explain it? So many people can't grasp why anyone in their right mind would do this job. I can't promise that I am in my right mind, but maybe I don't need to be.

The young father, so focused on his beautiful + brave wife, yet torn by his shock and pain steps to my side. "Thank you, thank you!" - He's already said it so many times, and I just smile. We are all repeating ourselves alot. I've said it before, but I squeeze his hand and just whisper, "She's going to be ok". His gaze is locked on her. She goes from smiles to gut wrenching sobs in seconds.

His best buddy is sitting there; a true dichotomy of tough meets tender. His work boots and inked skin  mean nothing in contrast to the broken sobs.

At some point we exit and return to the red and yellow couches in the waiting area. I don't know when, or where, or how. I'll later realize I was there for over 2 hours, but time has no relevance at the moment. Mr. Ink + work boots tries to get a hold of himself and in a jerky motion points a thumb in my direction while wiping his face with his other hand.

  "I'd hate her job."

His voice is husky and thick with emotion.

I get it. It's very hard to understand.

Why do I do it? Is my heart so walled off that I click the shutter, void of feeling? Oh no. Not even close. But I have a job to do, and it is immeasurably valuable.

So, I approach him and give him the open look that says, "go ahead and ask all that you need to ask".

And he does.

Do you know of this pain?
Who drives an hour in a snowstorm to do something so heart ripping as this?
{He doesn't say "What is wrong with you?" - but I see it between the words that are uttered}.

As much as none of this is about me, I briefly answer. Yes, I do know some of this pain. And I do it because I know that someday this is going to be a treasure to a family forever scarred. - That those scars will turn to a beauty for ashes story, and these images will be a part of that redeeming process.

And I care. No, I've never met them before this hour, but yes I care. If you don't understand, I don't really have words to express why. My heart is overflowing with a love that has poured into it, and I care. 

His eyes are tender, if perhaps still rather disbelieving. We care for this couple. We are all in this nightmare together, so we say "okay, yes, let's do what we can."

I'm exhausted when I exit the parking structure. You know the adrenaline crash and the emotional effort. Yeah, it's that. But again, peace and fulfillment.

Of course it brings memories, and opens That Door. The door that compartmentalizes the ache of personal loss. There's no way around That Door. To do this work, we go through That Door. But God has covered That Door in softness and peace, and He Himself gently opens it and leads me in - sometimes even carries me in it and through it. And when each job is completed, images retouched and edited, letter written, prayed over and, with love, sent out in the mail, He graciously pulls the door half way shut. 

It's not latched, and certainly not locked. Because shutting the door on my pain shuts the door on my empathy.

And That Door doesn't even shut anymore because the pain is a part of me.

And it will be opened up all the way again when that call comes, so I keep it ajar and I pray to continually be strengthened for the job he puts before me.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn."

From Isaiah 61


Anonymous said...

Life is precious and God's Holy breath enervates each individual. The first breath is always a Holy moment as is the last: the transition from this reality to the next. Thanks for entering into this family's Holy moment. Thanks for Knowing what a privilege it is. Hugs to you!! Pastor Steve in Des Moines

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Thank you, Wendi, for doing this holy work so well.

Christy said...

I'm moved.