Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Those words have been a driving force in my life for as long as I can remember. They are a founding principle for my business, and for my life as a whole. I’ve had several giving back programs in place through my photography business for years, and while each venture has been so rewarding, nothing quite fit what I was looking for. Then I came across a comment on a Facebook post about NILMDTS, and I knew it was finally the right time. What I didn’t know at the time is what a profound impact serving with NILMDTS would have on me personally.
Through NILMDTS I have had the honor of being with families through the hardest moments they will likely ever experience. I’ve held the hand of a mother as she wept for her baby, and I’ve smiled with a dad as he showed me the tiniest details of his little one, bursting with pride. Each session is just that: an honor. I get the privilege of creating what are likely the only images that will ever exist of this little one, knowing that while nothing eases the ache of not having your baby, the gift of remembrance portraiture gives parents something tangible to show the world, something they can hold for decades to come, and something that says their baby existed and will be remembered.
One of the biggest things that stands out to me about NILMDTS as a whole is the sense of community and camaraderie amongst volunteers. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know hundreds of other volunteers, both offline and through the private volunteer Facebook group. It amazes me how the community of volunteers rallies around one another to make sure everyone has the support they need. The huge amount of tips and tricks I’ve picked up through talking to other volunteers that help me in my NILMDTS work and my photography business is fantastic, but the way someone is always there to listen, to offer encouragement, and to let you know that you are never alone in this is phenomenal. It really is like being part of a family, where everyone is there because we all have the same goal: serving families and fulfilling the mission statement we all believe in so strongly.
Photograph courtesy of NILMDTS Volunteer Jess Weltner
Like most volunteers, I was nervous before my first session. The training is very detailed and made me feel as prepared as possible, but I wondered if this was something I could do. My expectation was an overwhelming sadness and grief, and while both of those are present for these sessions, the amount of love and pride is just as strong. Knowing that all of these emotions and moments will be permanently preserved for the families we serve is such an amazing feeling. Knowing that I had a great group of people to lean on for support both before and after the session, along with all of the knowledge I had from training made a huge difference. To know that something that takes so little of my time can have such a profound impact is truly humbling. I will never forget the first time I had a parent call me after a session to tell me how much it meant to them to have those images, how much they loved that I talked to their child, calling their baby by name, and how much it meant to them that I came.
When signing up to volunteer I truly had no idea what to expect. I knew that I wanted to serve, and I knew that the NILMDTS mission statement resonated with me. I knew that I wanted to offer some small measure of comfort to those who were facing unimaginable grief and that I wanted every parent to know that their child would be remembered. I knew that I’ve always enjoyed being able to use my photography skills to make a difference and that I was looking for a more lasting way to do that. What I didn’t know is how much the organization would help me in my own journey of finding the place where I felt at home. I found a purpose, something that will leave a lasting impact on others, and a sense of interconnectedness with the families I’ve served through NILMDTS, the other volunteers, and the organization as a whole.