“There are certain people you never plan to meet in life. The grief counselor at the hospital, the director of the funeral home, the photographer who arrives to take photos of your dead son…when your baby dies, you need these people. However, you would give your last breath to have never heard of them, and it is then, at your lowest point, that the person behind these titles can make all the difference.
Our photographer was a gentle, wizened soul named Paul. He had a thin, stooped figure, used a soft voice, and had pained eyes that spoke of a deep loss. I have no idea what his story is. I have no idea why he chooses to spend his time waking up at daybreak to photograph the most heartbreaking moment in two people’s lives. Did he lose a grandson? A niece? A nephew? What brought him to this calling?
I choose to believe he lost a son over 50 years ago and grieves him still by giving others the gift he couldn’t have, a photograph of his boy. I choose this interpretation because it reflects the timeless, infinite grief of a parent; the grief that lasts the rest of your life, the love that lasts the rest of your life.
When our son died at just under 39 weeks, I, sadly, knew what to do. I had known other parents who lost babies, and I knew their most treasured possessions were images of their children. I asked my sisters to call Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, lay back in my hospital bed, and sobbed into my husband’s arms as the first pains of a labor that would cruelly bring my son into the world, but never give him breath, stabbed their way down my back.
Our son was born at 12:53 am on November 7, 2018. We named him Kegan Christopher. Kegan means ‘fiery thinker’ and it reflected both our dreams for him and what little of his spunky personality I had gotten to know in the nine months he called me home. Christopher was for his grandfather, Christos, who followed Kegan in death five months later. Paul arrived at the hospital to photograph Kegan early that morning.
He silently set up his camera, gasped at Kegan’s perfection (those dark curls! the tiny notch in his earlobe! the cleft in his chin!), and then wordlessly set about creating our most cherished mementos. Occasionally he would sigh, “Oh, that’s beautiful,” and I would be briefly awash with a parent’s pride in their child.
When I look at the photos of Kegan, I see love. I see my husband’s and my love for our son, I see our love for each other, I see a perfect, loved, little boy.
This is really the gift Paul gave us, he gave us a visual reminder of love. He took a little pain out of that day by showing us that love, not only loss, was present. Even more, he allowed us to share that love with the world. Losing a baby is perhaps one of the loneliest losses in the world. Society can’t wrap its mind around the death of a baby, so it gets pushed aside as ‘pregnancy loss.’
These pictures are a visual reminder of what actually happened that day – our son died. But these pictures are also a visual reminder of the love present in the delivery room. They tell a story of impossible loss and immeasurable love.
They tell the most important fact about Kegan, the fact that outweighs the story of his death and subsequent birth – he was, and forever will be, loved beyond words.”
Terrell Hatzilias, PhD