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day one : life goes on

| Aug 23, 2015

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 Part 1

Life goes on.  Man, I hate this.  Can I just say this?  I remember the first Christmas after losing Penny, I got a Christmas card in the mail and it was from a family that lost their son.  The card listed the family members and of course this son’s name was listed and said that he had been gone for 5 years.  5 years!!  I cried and cried when I saw this card.  Would I someday say that Penny would have been gone for 5 years??  I hated that time went on.  That life had to move forward.  That perhaps one day, we would barely remember her or know what her skin felt like, or what she smelt like.  That she would become a memory that almost did not seem real anymore.  This crushed me.  This is why saying three years is so difficult.  However, I can find more peace in it because of things I now understand, as well as, things we have proactively done.

In the first few months, many, many people told us not to make any big decisions in the first year.  To give it time.  I knew why they said this, however, Ben (my husband) and I strongly disagreed.  After losing a child or a loved one, your life is put into perspective.  You have a clear vision of what really matters in this life.  We wanted to make life changing decisions while we still had this perspective and before the world came along and mucked it all up again!

So in the first 5 months we moved states and got pregnant. ha!

First we moved.  We buried Penny is Heber, Utah but at the time we lived in Huntington Beach, California.  When I went home to California after her “celebration”, I knew it was too far from her.  I wanted to be with her, take care of her, visit her.  Also, it seemed to busy where we were.  At the time things looked so clear, so black and white.   Slow down, don’t work as much,  be with your kids and family.  I am a photographer and was working a ton.  A ton for a mother of three kids at the time.  It no longer seemed important why I was working so hard.  Moving to a small town in Utah, allowed me to be near to Penny, slow down, and because of the cost of living difference, allowed me to not work as much.  This was all very important to me and for the next step for our family.

This is how and when Penny Ranch was born.  Penny loved animals more than any child I have ever seen.  It started at a crazy young age.  She would flap her arms and breathe heavily when she saw a dog and she was only 6 months old.   By the time she was 18 months, animals became more than an obsession.   Two weeks before we lost her, we brought her to Heber.   She insisted we stopped and pet all the animals we drove by.  “Touch it Horse.” “Touch it Cow.”  “Touch it Dog.” and “Touch it Deer.”  She loved it here.  We stopped every time and pet every horse and animal.   So when we were looking to move here we had a dream of making a “Penny Home.”  A home where we could feel Penny, her love and enthusiasm.  We were blessed to find an older home on two acres, with two barns and all set up and ready for animals.   Within the first year we had horses, bunnies and a dog.  The next year we added goats and chickens.  This year we added cats and sheep.

Penny Ranch as allowed us to incorporate Penny into our every day lives.  I can’t put Penny to bed.  But I do go out with animals every night.  My kids are not able to play and run with their sister who would now almost be five years old.  However, they do go out and run and play with their animals.  Daily.  Penny’s spirit dwells here.   Everyone who visits feels it.  It’s old, the barn needs work, the house needs work, the pasture … needs work.   It’s not perfect and we are not rich.   It doesn’t need to be.  She is here.

I tell you this because this started something within me.  It helped me to realize that life does go on.  But just because Penny is physically not here, does not mean she is gone.   I am a member of the LDS/Mormon faith.  Every sunday and scripture passage is read during our Sacrament.  It is D&C 20:77.  A excerpt of it says,

” O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them.”

Remembering = having their spirit.   This was huge and started a dominos affect for me.  See for months people would say, “I pray you feel her” or “You will feel her” or worse, “I have felt Penny.”  I say worse, because others were telling me they felt my daughter, when I did not.   I didn’t know how to feel her, what that meant!  This was frustrating and made me very angry.  Then this simple concept made sense to me.  Remembering.  As I remembered, I could feel what she felt like, remember what it felt like to have her near.   I had Penny with me everyday for 21 months.  I knew what she felt like.  As I remembered her, I could be with her, spirit to spirit.   Have her spirit with me.  Just like this scripture says we can do with Christ, as we remember him.   It is the same promise.

Remembering is not always easy.   It can be hard and very painful.   I began a journal of her memories and collected her photos (which I will talk about later).  However, this is and was very painful.   This is not the kind of remembering that was necessary.

“We are more than our physical bodies, a truth that can comfort us during the many closures of life that are part of the human experience.  Our bodies’ apparent relation to chronological time is only an illusion, one that our spirits are tasked with revealing.  It is unnatural to our Divine design to let our thoughts live for too long in the past; such an imbalance creates time warps that interfere with our ability to live in the present and receive spiritual guidance each day.  That guidance will make no sense to us if we focus only on unraveling the mysteries of yesterday.  If we live fully in the present moment, the mysteries of yesterday will gradually be unraveled for us.  Our spirits are drawn instinctively to this sacred truth.  From it we can receive inspiration that lifts us into ecstasy.  We thrive and we heal in ecstatic moments, when our spirits become stronger that our bodies and our bodies can respond to the commands of our spirits.”  Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss

There is so much truth here.  How do you remember, but live in the present?!  The answer for me was to incorporate Penny into our present.  To take my memories and bring them to the present.

Here are a few ways we have done this:

- Taco Tuesday with Penny every week (as long as it’s warm. If it’s not we sit in the car)

- Visits and decorations

- Penny Ranch Wednesday, were we invite all friends to come and enjoy Penny Ranch with us!

- Christmas Penny Tree : this is a tree decorated in copper, angels, and deer.  We put it out every Christmas.  It is beautiful and full of many loved ones and many of you that have contributed to our tree.  It is full of love.   Christmas morning we open presents and when we are done we gather by the Penny Tree.  There is a beautifully wrapped gift for everyone under the tree.  With the special gift is a note “from Penny” to each one of the kids.  The note goes along with the gift and tells each child how Penny has watched, noticed them and helped him.   This is our VERY favorite part of Christmas!

- Lighting candles all around Penny every Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve.

- I light a candle for Penny every night in my bedroom.  Even when we are out of town.

- We do a annual Easter Egg hunt at the cemetery.  We invite friends and family.  We tell a funny story about Penny and frogs and hide three frog that are worth cash prizes.

- We bike from her to our home every memorial day and put out beautiful flowers

- We care for our animals as a family on her anniversary and send balloons like we did at her “celebration”

- We have a animal party on her birthday!

- We light sparklers with her every fourth of July!

- We cover her with hearts and kisses at Valentine’s time

- We decorate her for every season and holiday.  It can be a little out of control.

I try to post a lot of this on my instagram.  I was going to try to share photos here, but there are just too many.  You can visit my instagram at @_jillthomas

I know many family’s that have lost children and I am in awe how they have found ways to incorporate their child into their everyday life.   It allows you to connect and be with them spiritually but live in the present.  Because a new day comes and keeps coming.  As life goes on, there is hope, hope that you can truly feel and be connected with those you have lost because the reality is … their not really lost at all.

Part 2

I am doing a part 2 to today’s posts because I have a received quite a few emails or questions about having kids after losing a child and I thought it was fitting to put these thoughts here.

After losing Penny, I immediately got pregnant.  I was in such a haze and did not think much about it.  Penny passed at such a dynamic part of her life.  It was a time that she was full of personality and light, yet still very dependent on me and with me every day.  Toddlers are special and bring such a light and spirit into your home.  To have it gone so sudden was very very difficult.  Our home felt dark and lonely.  We did not want to replace Penny by any means, we just wanted that light back in our home.  Ben and I LOVE our kids.  We LOVE being parents.  We truly enjoy and want to be with our kids.  I guess we just really lucked out because they are really fun!  So to have more kids, seemed natural.  I am so grateful I did not think more beyond this and in this haze decided to add to our family because I think as time would have gone on I would of over thought and analyzed and it would of taken me longer.

How is it having kids now??  Wow!  How to begin to express this?  We have had two.  Van and Fern are 17 months apart.  These babies have healed and saved our home.   They have brought light, love, and hope with them.  Our home shines once again because of them.  Laughter, smiles, sounds of running little feet and even baby cries are back.   They are not Penny, but they are Penny’s siblings.  They each brought with them Penny qualities or what I like to think of as little gifts from Penny.  We are truly in love with these babies.  I am so grateful for them.  I am grateful that they have helped the rest of us step out of ourselves and our grief.  As we care for them, we are reminded, not to sit in self pity.  They need us, each of us.  They help us to move forward, to love more, to laugh more and that it is okay to do those things.

Yes, there are times it is hard.  Van is so much like Penny right now.  I love how he helps me remember the things Penny did.  He is also around the age we lossed Penny and that is scary.  I rarely leave him, as I know how fast bad things can happen.   I am constant fear of losing both Van and Fern.  I am checking on them 100 times a day and never let either out of my site.  So yes, this means two babies are with me at all times, no matter what I do or where I go.  I recently hiked to the top of Timpanogos Mountain with Fern on my back because I could not leave her.  If you don’t know what that is, google it!  It was quite an accomplishment.

It can also be difficult because of the reminders of Penny.  Even though reminders can be good and you want them, they can also be very difficult as it sends a bomb of grief and loss to your entire being.

However,  all this said, I thank my Heavenly Father each day, that I have these babies.  That each day I have them is a blessing.   No amount of grief, fear, or pain would over power the love I feel for them, especially when I truly believed, at one time, that I would never love like that again.

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wedding photography

three years

| Aug 22, 2015

Penny BW23

Three years. just saying this out loud carries so much weight.   I am not a writer.   First, please know this and I apologize for my future posts and this one.   I usually avoid writing.   however, I have avoided it long enough and there are somethings I wish to share or just collect some feelings for myself.   In the last three years I have grown, changed, made mistakes, and have learned so much.  In one week from today, I have my daughter Penny’s anniversary.   We call it a “anniversary”, as it is the day we lost her.   The whole month of August is a difficult one for me. I relive what we did that last month with her, but the last week, that is the hardest.   as I thought what I would do this week, I decided I wouldn’t relive it like I normally do.   that I would share, each day this week, something I have learned or experienced.   I do this selfishly and also hoping it may touch one person and help them.

So back to … three years.   I don’t talk much about that day.   You wont find it anywhere on this blog, on facebook, or on my instagram where I explain what happened.   I have never written it down publicly or privately.   I have told people close to me and that is about it.   When people ask, I just say “it was a tragic accident, she was 21 months old.”   This is not going to change.   However, I will tell you why.

My daughter died in our swimming pool.  How she died is not important, neither are the events before or after it.   It is not what I dwell on.   She went home and it took me a long time to accept that.  I am not a mother that lost her daughter in a water incident, I am a mother who has a daughter who made it make to her maker.   Penny was and is incredibly special.   Everyone who met her knew this.   She pulled people in one by one and every person felt connected to her.   I do not want how she died to define her or me.  During her life she was loved and I mean really loved.   We obsessed over her as a family.   It is incredible to say, that i have no regrets to her life.   I loved her enough, I told her this enough, I hugged and kissed her as much as I was physically able, I played with her, sang to her, put her to bed, took her with me everywhere.   She traveled from Italy, to up the California coast, to Lake Powell, all over Utah, and Arizona.   I took her to every single one of my favorite places.  She lived at the beach and loved the beach, I took her there almost daily.   This is what I want to remember and I want you to know.

Over the next week, I hope to write posts that will help you understand this more.  However, inevitably someone will ask how she died.  I hate that question, so so deeply.  However, I know it is just human nature.   So there you go, done.

People have tried to connect me to others that lost their children the same way we lost Penny.  To put it lightly, I have not loved this.  This does not mean that I don’t try to help others that are going through the same kind of loss that i experienced, because I do,  but I find it more helpful to connect with others that grieve the same way you do.   It’s not about how you lost your child, but how you can come together and help one another as you grieve in similar ways.   I have been around all kinds of grieving mothers over the last three years.   I have seen angry ones.  I have been angry, dont get me wrong, but I hated being around mothers that were filled with so much anger.   It was hard for me.  I have been around mothers that have been depressed, or mothers that are doing very well and are too encouraging.  I hated both of those.  I soon enough found how I grieved.   I sought knowledge.   I wanted to know truth.   So I studied, and studied and studied more.  A couple months after losing Penny, I heard the most amazing talk by Jeffery R Holland.  Please listen to it, it is the best way to experience it and you can do so here.

This talk illustrates what “could have” happened when Christ asked Peter three times “do you love me”.  Here is what Elder Holland says,

“Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”
“To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do.”

This hit me so hard.  I imagined Penny saying this same thing.  Do you love me?  Then how did I change you, what did I teach you?  Don’t come back to this same shore with these same nets.  What are you going to do with this?  She had a mission and a purpose and I was going to make it all worth while.

It has been three years and I know i have not done everything right that I had hoped I would do.  I know I am not done.  However, I have done a lot.   So thank you for letting me share somethings with you over the next few days.

If you know of anyone that could use this message, please share it with them.  You can also contact me at jillthomasphotography@gmail.com

**This image was taken by Jonathan Canlas.  We did not do an open casket at Penny’s funeral (or what we call her “celebration”).  I did not want anyone to remember her that way.   Instead we put photos everywhere of her lively, beautiful little self!   That morning just I was going to go see her one last time, my son asked me if he could come too.  Jonathan captured this very special and sacred moment as noah and I saw her one last time.  I am still amazed at how young Noah looks here.  My little son, just 7, looked up at me and said what I already knew.  “It’s not her Mom”.  It wasn’t her.  It was just her body that I got to touch and hold one last time.

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wedding photography

Happy Easter

| Apr 20, 2014

“Day turned into night, his friends scattered, and death thought it had won.  But heaven just started counting to three.”

Today is a day to celebrate. Today might be the day I rejoice more than any other day of the year.  Today we celebrate the day the bands of death were broken. Today, death has no victory.

Abinadi taught:

“But there is a resurrection, therefore, the grave hath no victory.  The sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.”

Is this hard to believe??  That Death can and was overcome?  If not, Are we thinking about it enough?  The possibility that people who have died can be brought forth and live again in a resurrected body has brought hope to many and has stirred up controversy.  I wonder if we fully appreciate the enormous significance of our belief in a literal resurrection.

I grew up Cliff jumping At Lake Powell.  Each year the cliffs we would jump got higher and higher.  My palms are sweaty just thinking about it.  I would get nervous every Time. Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of going to Mexico where my husband and I decided to bungee jump off a high ledge over the ocean.  As I reached the EDGE, so many memories rushed back, and I was nervous, just as I had been as a child — Nervous to take that plunge.  But Why was I so nervous?  Because the second you jump off a cliff, attached to a bungee, or out of a plane, there is no going back!  Every time I have stepped over that edge I’ve thought, “this is it!  There is no going back now!!”

The only other time I thought this was the day we lost our sweet daughter Penny.  My dad had told me to keep her connected to the machines that were keeping her alive and breathing.  And I knew why.  Death was one of those cliff jumping moments where there was no going back.  I couldn’t bear the thought, but it kept coming to me.  I felt hopeless.  When the doctor finally told me that she had passed, I knew there was nothing I could do.  It was like jumping off a cliff.

This latest bungee jump experience was different than cliff jumping.  After cliff jumping you hit the water and swim to the boat.  But this time, I didn’t hit the water. I bounced a few good bounces, and then I saw something!  I was looking for it because the instructor (a trained professional who had done this many times before) told me it was coming.  It was a rope!  A rope that he had instructed me to fasten to my “D” ring on my harness.  This rope was to pull me back up.  back to the top.

I liken this experience to this Easter Day, because, brothers and sisters, I was wrong that day at the hospital.  In that moment of despair and hopelessness, I was so wrong.  Death does not finish us!  It is not the end.  When you have watched someone go, when you have held them and seen them pass to the other side, this is a very hard thing to accept.  Although we’re taught our whole lives to believe you will see your loved ones again, it’s hard to believe it when you’re faced with it.  I’ve been given a small glimpse of what Christ’s Apostles must have felt.  I think of them watching Christ die, taking him down from the cross, and carrying and caring for his body as they laid it in the tomb.  I’ve known a small piece of the pain they must have felt, even though Jesus told them many times that he would rise on the third day.  It was just too hard for them to believe it.

But Brothers and sisters, that’s exactly what He DID!!  Three days later, Christ rose from the tomb and we can read the written accounts of the resurrected savior in the bible and the book of Mormon.  Hundreds saw the risen lord and touched him, feeling the prints of the nails in his hands and feet.   In third nephi, the savior invited a multitude to have this experience “one by one”, so that they would know that he was the Son of God, that he had died and risen from the dead.  That he reunited both the spirit and the body back together as one.

We also know from modern revelation, that without the reuniting of our spirits and our bodies in the resurrection we could not receive a “fullness of joy”

Samuel the lamanite taught us that Christ had to die for the resurrection to be made possible:

“He surely must die that salvation may come; yea it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead.”

Jesus Christ had to be the first to break the bands of death.  We are taught in the scriptures that The order of the resurrection will come to those that are most faithful first then down to the wicked, being that last to be resurrected.  Christ was the only one of us with power over death.

Lehi Taught this principle to his son Jacob:

“The Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh and taketh it again by the power of the spirit that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.”

This reality, this hope the resurrection gives us can change our whole perspective. This is not the end! We don’t have to fear death.

elder Oaks said:

“this assurance of the resurrection and immortality affects how we look on the physical challenges of mortality, how we live our mortal lives, and how we relate to those around us.  The assurance of the resurrection gives us the strength and perspective to endure the mortal challenges faced by each of us and by those we love.”

The song “I will rise” has become especially close to my heart.  Its chorus says, “I will rise, when he calls my name. no more sorrow, and no more pain.  I will rise.”

I say these words to myself daily.  Today I celebrate the most remarkable day the world has known.  Today I celebrate my savior and the sacrifice he made so that I will indeed hug and hold my Penny again.  I will be reunited with all those I am separated from in the flesh.  I’m not just saying this.  These are not just words.  I have been to the depths, and this knowledge and this knowledge alone has pulled me back.  The knowledge that death has been conquered by my lord, my brother, my savior Jesus Christ.

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