Shortest Life, Greatest Impact

On January 10, 2010 by Aimee

With camera in hand, I narrate the last scene of one chapter and provide the opening to the next.

My art’s chosen tool hangs discreetly from the black strap around my neck in preparation.

In repose, she looked to them, her eyes unfocused, unblinking in as calm a state as possible. Her arms lay at her side, too short to reach her own torso. Legs, no longer tethered, free to move, remained still. The movement of her chest, no longer noticeable, no longer audible.

Too soon. Too little. Not yet strong enough.

Carlie. 3:05 p.m. At peace.

I observed with an eye through the rounded glass, focused on the planes of faces.

The man in white searched, listened, felt. He repeated to be sure. His eyes meet hers, red-rimmed, chocolate brown, glistening, clinging to a last shred of hope – he could be wrong. She remained upright though the tears began in earnest as she reconciled herself to his unspoken word.

Fissures became visible in the quiver of the Mother’s bottom lip. Her emotional strength palpable.

Frederic. 8:05 a.m. At peace.

I moved subtly, a shift from left to right, a changed composition that went unnoticed except by me.

His need for answers understood, the explanations futile. A width equal to that of a single strand of sewing thread, simply too large for her vein. Attempts, visible at her brow, the crooks of her elbows and atop her centimeter long foot, marred her otherwise beautiful appearance.

His vow never to fail her, Father held the weight of the world – one pound, one ounce – in his hands as he fought to hold her steady.

Kienna. 12:13 p.m. At peace.

I took no more than an instant, the shutter opened as quickly as the moment closed.

A hand gently quieted the bleeps and whines. In one final moment, freed from the lines, tubes, masks, and machines, life was altered for eternity. His story might find its end, but the lives of those around him would begin again.

It was Three Little Pigs recanted by Brother, four years his senior, that began a journey of healing. Long and compelling, no one moved, no sound was uttered until he finished.

Jackson. 6:45 p.m. At peace.

I adjusted for the harsh light of overhead lamps. My goal simply to imitate life.

Dressed in pink, they’ve kept her warm. The soft glow remained on her cheeks though her color began to leech when her heart took its final beat. With wisps of hair pulled together into a tiny bow, she resembled a porcelain doll who awaited placement among the treasured heirlooms.

A teddy bear found its place on the left, a kitty cat on her right, carefully laid by eight year old fingers. Lips of the same placed gently on her forehead was Sister’s final act of surrender.

Alexandra. 9:09 p.m. At peace.

I removed color, added light to life and darkness to shadows in deference for the tones of life.

In start contrast to his dark complected brother, he paled under the light from above. His separation protested only through his muffled cries. Reunited, briefly, he reached for and captured his hand. It made no difference there was no reciprocation. Once a twin, always a twin.

A single tear ran down Grandmother’s nose, hanging, deftly to her skin as she reached for her tissue. Behind her, another prepared. Her tissue already in tatters.

Alex. Sometime the day before. At peace.

I open myself to the solace of others and in return find my own measure of peace.

I am one of the five thousand volunteer photographers of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep who provide remembrance photography to families suffering the loss of a infant.

When others’ emotions run highest, sorrow the greatest and fear most obvious, we are called in to create art – family and photographer connected at the most inopportune time.

To provide the service takes a strong heart, a giving nature and selfless desire to serve others. Moments inspire our creative minds. Environments challenge our ability to make the dire discreet. Participants acts as our palette. We seek revelations in their interactions.

The words we share with families are minimal, and often are not necessary. Language barriers are no hindrance, for we seek to show love through the generosity of heart and talent.

What we learn from those served is humbling and often overwhelming. For many, a one time sacrifice is all that can be offered. For others, a hundred or thousand will never be enough. For me, my next shall be number seventy.

None are reduced to simple quantification. He has his place in my memory. She has her spot in my heart. Each has made an indelible imprint on my life. From their short lives and the impact on mine, I have become a more loving, kind and patient person.

My phone rings, a new voice, the same request.

She’s just been born. He’s just passed. She’ll live but briefly. His parents have chosen to remove support. She’s going home with Hospice. He is inoperable. She’s never left intensive care. He never had a chance to be admitted.

Then the question is asked, “Please, will you help?”

I will.


On March 20, 2009, with nearly seventy-five in attendance, the first ever Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep exhibition, entitled A Helping Hand for a Healing Heart, opened at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex, North Carolina. Forty-six photographs and three tapestries were placed on display. The images represented twenty-eight families photographed by five local photographers, including thirty-eight of my own images. As I stood before them, my husband behind me, I thanked them for giving me the experience of their children and in turn allowing me a chance to help them heal.

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