It’s May, and May in America seems to be synonymous with moms. I have two moms: the one who gave birth to me and the one who raised me. They are both special even though I’ve never met or even talked with the first one. I respect my birth mother because she chose to give me life and then chose to give me a life. My mom, on the other hand, loved me through every up and down, every bruise, and even getting my foot caught under a lawn mower. I still tear up just writing about her and the love that she showed me, but also taught me.
I was in Las Vegas at a writing competition for the Jaycees when I got the call “There’s a ticket waiting for you at the airport. We will pick you up in Chicago and get you home – we don’t think she is going to make it through the week.” It was like a movie you can’t get out of your visual memory: I was on my knees in a convention hall where thousands of people were passing by, moving through life as nothing was different, and my life had just halted. Someone in the same competition saw me, walked over, sat next to me, and asked, “What just happened?” All I could say out loud was, “Moms shouldn’t die before their daughters get married.”
It was a few years later, after I had held her hand and counted the seconds between each of her final breaths in this existence and she had moved onto the next, that I got another call. This time it was from a bride who had hired me to be their photographer, “Would you be available this Wednesday night…we have moved the wedding up. Mom won’t make it to our planned wedding date, so we are changing it.” I documented the wedding and held my breath every time the tears welled up in my eyes. I knew exactly how important every single image from that night was going to be. I have kept this in mind at every other event I’ve photographed.
I met Judy at a singles Bible study – I loved her joyful spirit, her fantastic smile, and her insightful statements. Soon after I met her, she stopped attending as she had met someone and started dating. Last year, they asked me to photograph their wedding. A few months after we discussed their wedding plans, she emailed me and shared that they were going to get legally married early; she said I didn’t need to be there, but she wanted me to know. It was April, and her mom was in the final stages of a cancer diagnosis; they weren’t sure that she was going to make it to the established wedding day. They had a nice private ceremony at a small restaurant, took a few pictures, and celebrated as a newly-formed family.
God blessed this family, and her mom was able to be there on the formal wedding day in August. Her mother introduced me to her wigs, which she had named, and the cats who freely ruled the house; she sat comfortably watching her daughters and granddaughters get ready for the big day. They chatted joyfully and giggled through the prep and climbed into the limo for the ride to the wedding site. This was a wedding about new beginnings and holding onto love.
Although her mother made it to the wedding and reception, she took her first breath of heaven on October 20. I was honored to meet this incredible woman, to photograph her love for her daughters and her husband, to document the love shown to her throughout the day, and to witness the love she shared with everyone she met. Judy and Doug have merged their lives, their families, and their heartbreaks all within one year. This article is officially dedicated to the memory of Judy’s mom, Sharon.
If you are planning a wedding and someone very close to you is ill, here are three suggestions to keep in mind.
- Inform your photographer in advance. When we are aware of these heart-string issues, most of us know to add a few images to our standard image flow. Although this is your wedding day, a wedding is also about the extended family and how it changes from generation to generation; sometimes that change happens more quickly than it should.
- The people who are special to you feel the same way about you, and they want you to celebrate your day of commitment. It is perfectly fine to have fun and to celebrate with great happiness. They, too, want to be in that joyous moment with you.
- Be fully present with everyone in your life every single day. Tomorrow isn’t promised and yesterday is the past; love deeply right now.
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