Grief and the Power of Photos


October 8, 2023

A toddler and a newborn photographed together in a white room.

I had a phone call from a past client yesterday that ripped my heart out. I was sitting editing and I received a text from Catherine*. It read, “Can I call? Just wanted to share something.” I responded, “Sure!” thinking she wanted to tell me that someone commented on her photos (the power of photos is immense). Oh, how I wish that was the case.

Catherine called and I greeted her warmly – it had been some years since I had seen her for her maternity photos with Brian* and subsequently for Brian’s sitter and cake smash sessions but we had spent some fun moments together along the way and I was happy to hear her voice.

An awake baby lies on a blue backdrop with his sweet little lips pursed. The power of photos means that his momma will remember this moment always.

She wasn’t actually sure whether I’d remember her and, while it’s true that I’m not the greatest at remembering names and, in fact, will have to ask someone to repeat their name multiple times if our meetings are brief and spread apart, I always remember a client’s name. Probably because the time I spend with them is concentrated, often it’s at a pivotal time in their lives so there’s an intimacy surrounding it, and I spend hours looking at their images while I’m editing them. So, of course, I remembered Catherine right away. That’s the power of photos.

She wasted no time getting to the point. She said, “I wanted to call and let you know that we lost Brian.” GASP. Immediate tears. “What?!?!?”

An awake swaddled baby on gray backdrop and a sleeping baby with his hands snuggled under his cheek on a blue backdrop.

She told me he had been three years old, perfectly healthy, and that no cause of death was ever identified. I’m sobbing, incapable of speech. She’s perfectly poised, filled with grace, under control the whole call.

I’m still stunned. It’s so hard to believe that this beautiful child, who was here on earth for three years, is no longer here. The story is hard to hear but it’s also beautiful and it makes me ever more so grateful about the power of photos. Catherine mentioned multiple times that, even though she had three kids, the only pregnancy and first year she had documented professionally was Brian’s. It was almost like she was nudged by God into contacting me and having photos done. She wouldn’t understand the power of photos until she experienced the greatest loss a mother could go through.

The power of photos is that they highlight the relationship between family members such as in these newborn pictures with mom, dad, big brother, and baby.

I kept remarking about how strong she was. How do you make a phone call of this nature, while your child has only been gone for 3 months to the day and be so brave while a near-stranger sobs on the other end of the line?? Grace.

Catherine told me that, although Brian’s life was short, he fulfilled such a huge purpose. She’s a lifelong Catholic and had all of her children baptized but her husband, Dan*, was not a believer. Yet ONE WEEK after Brian’s passing, Dan came to the Lord. He said he felt Brian’s presence and wanted to see him in heaven. A lifelong unbeliever who, in the midst of the worst nightmare of his life, came to Christ. Chills. More sobbing.

Newborn photos show a baby on a blue background, a baby in a bear hat, and a baby on a gray backdrop in a hammock pose. The power of photos freezes this baby in this stage forever.

This morning, on the way to my kids’ homeschool tutorial, we were listening to the bible story about Moses disobeying God. On the podcast, they were talking about how the Israelites lost faith in God and, subsequently, wandered for 40 years in the desert. God’s plan was not for them to wander but to enter the promised land but, because their hearts were disobedient, they were not permitted to enter. If they had only trusted and believed in God’s promises to them, the story would’ve turned out much different.

This resonated so much with me. Catherine’s words from yesterday were ringing in my ears. Her faith throughout this entire nightmare was rock steady. We mortals cannot understand the plans that God has for us but He never called for us to understand…only to trust and obey. She assured me that she still cries every. single. day. for her boy but he is not lost. He is with the Lord and she knows that his life existed for a purpose. Because of Brian, his dad will spend Eternity in the presence of God. We are saved by grace, the only requirement is belief.

A sleeping baby captured in two different looks: a brown bear in a wooden bowl and swaddled in gray.

SO. This is a lot to absorb and I’m still feeling heavy over it but I remain grateful that I was given the opportunity to meet this little boy during his short stay on earth and that, because we met, his family will remember him as he was. The loss will never go away, though the grief may fade over time. But the power of photos will stand forever. Amen.

*Names have been changed to protect their privacy. Additionally, the photos associated with this blog post are not the photos of the family but rather an unrelated, healthy newborn.

Featured on Subkit, Liz Viernes Photography is based near Columbia, MD, and specializes in maternity, fresh 48, posed and lifestyle newborns and first year milestone portraits.

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