Desiree’s Family Photos in Maui

Desiree and I met in college after dating the same guy, kind of at the same time.  It’s a long story. 🙂  We were on the ballroom dance team and had a lot of fun.  Life moved on and we both got married, then we were pregnant at the same time with all three of our children.  I danced on her Ballroom Dance Team in San Jose for a year.  We got to go to each others’ kid’s birthday parties and had fun catching up every once in a while.  I had my youngest, Halle, two weeks before she had her daughter, Aurora.  Having two older brothers, Aurora was born a beautiful princess and I got to photograph her newborn photos.  It was awesome!  Here is one of her pictures:

A few weeks later, Desiree and her family moved to Texas, which I was bummed about, but knew it would be great for them.  Texas gave them a lot of time as a family.  Her husband was able to work from home a lot, she didn’t have as many other commitments, and, in general, they just got to spend a lot of time together as a family.  Little did they know how precious a gift this would be.

One night, I got a text, “Pray for a miracle for my little girl.  I need a miracle.”  Little Aurora, a few weeks before her second birthday, suffered a tragic accident.  Desiree was able to perform CPR.  They took a helicopter flight to the hospital where countless doctors and nurses worked as hard as they could to revive her.  They were able to get her on life support, but even that started to fail.  Aurora’s dad, grandmas, and brothers were able to make it to the hospital to say goodbye, and then she died in her mother’s arms.  There were lots of little miracles, but the big miracle we all hoped and prayed for didn’t come.

Now Desiree and her family are dealing with grief, a grief I cannot fathom, but they are also dealing with the after effects of trauma.  I got to go to Texas to visit her about 3 months later.  We basically cried for the 3 days I was there.  Desiree was always the strong one, so to see her so defeated, grief stricken, depressed, and a puddle of emotions, was gut wrenching.  I learned a lot about mourning with those that mourn.  I’m still learning.

We went to Aurora’s grave site.  Desiree has decorated it fit for a princess.  She told me about picking out a casket.  There is a special little book with pictures of little caskets in it.  None of them were right, so Desiree bought a white one, took it home, and decorated it.  She rhinestoned it and put lace and beautiful things all around it.  Time stood still and she worked until she felt like it was right.  She prepared her daughter’s body for burial and painted her fingernails for the first and last time.

We went to a cute little restaurant that Aurora loved to go to.  We went by the dance studio where she was taking ballet.  We spent time remembering this sweet little girl.

Desiree tells me that grieving for your daughter is like being in a deep dark hole.  People throw things down to you: flowers, books, cards, etc.  Sometimes they help.  But every once in a while, someone will climb down into the hole and spend some time with you down there.  I was privileged to be able to spend a few days down the hole.  Then I got to go home.  I got to get out, she doesn’t.  My heart breaks for her.

A couple of months later, I got a text saying that Desiree and her family were going to go to a wedding in Hawaii.  This would be there first family trip without Aurora.  Would I please go to Hawaii with them and take their photos? Of course!  Whenever I told people I was going to Hawaii for a photo shoot, they would light up and say, “Oh, I bet you’re so excited!  That will be so much fun!”  And I would kind of shrug or say some vague, generic response.  The truth is, that I was terrified.   I knew how important this would be and how emotional this would be.  And I knew that I had to get it right!  Desiree is very gracious and never put any pressure on me, but I put it on myself and I’ve never prayed so hard for a photo shoot to go right.

I got to Maui in the evening, which meant I had one morning to go location scouting, then we needed to do family photos Friday night.  That was all the time I had to scout, so I had to make it count.  That morning I drove out to about 9 different beaches, I would scan around, take some pictures, then head off to the next one.  The great news is that I went from being terrified to being really excited!  Maui is gorgeous!  And, thanks to the guide book my friend, Heather, loaned me, I was able to find some hidden gems, too.  I came back to the hotel and said, “I have a plan!  Tonight we are going to take family pictures, and tomorrow I’m going to take you on an adventure.  Can you climb rocks?  And how do you feel about chickens?”  It was so nice to feel like I could do something for them.  I know that neither of the parents had the energy to organize a beach hopping adventure, complete with chickens, but I could.  We ended up having a great experience.

Mother’s Day is in a few days, so I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to Desiree for teaching me so much about mothering.  She has taught me that being a mother never ends, not even when your baby is in heaven.  She has searched for ways to mother her child.  She decorates Aurora’s grave site and spends time caring for the ground where her daughter’s body lays. She puts a picture of Aurora in a frame from that month a year ago and lights a candle.  She takes time to remember Aurora.  She has pink flowers at the kitchen table because you can’t sit at the table without your whole family.  She had her wedding ring re-made with a pink stone.  These are just a few of the ways that she remembers, loves, and mothers her daughter while she is on earth and Aurora is in heaven.

So, when we took these family photos in Maui, they wore pink.  We had pink flowers and pink balloons so that Aurora could be part of the pictures.  On our way to the beach, we saw a rainbow, and the sky at Sunset had amazing tinges of pink.  Aurora was with us.

Oh, there is one other reason that I want to honor Desiree on Mother’s Day this year.  She is close to becoming a mother again!  That’s right!  She is pregnant.

Normally, I’d be jumping up and down and yelling congratulations, but the excitement of this pregnancy is laced with sadness of their family dynamic changing again.  It’s grief and excitement all at the same time.  Which pretty much tells you exactly what a rainbow baby is.  Just as the rainbow is the beauty that comes at the end of the storm, and rainbow baby is the baby that comes after a loss.  Here’s the thing with rainbows though, they only are seen when there is sunlight AND rain.  This is just like my dear friend who is experiencing happiness and sadness all at the same time.

At the end of our photo shoot, the boys begged to get in the water.  Mom and Dad agreed that they could strip down to their undies and get a little wet.  As Desiree and her husband stood watching, the weight of what they had just done came crashing down.  I heard her say, “There should be three.”  They cried and watched the boys play as the sun set.

If you want to see photos from our amazing adventure the next morning, come back tomorrow.

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