Family Portraits After Loss

It’s a very personal thing to photograph someone. It’s especially personal to photograph them through loss and grief. So when Brandilee told me she wanted family photos, and wanted to find a way to include Finn in them, I wanted to do the best I could to make that happen for her, but wasn’t really sure the best way to do it.

I can’t even imagine what it might be like to lose a child myself, but I can guess that every first without your little one is incredibly difficult, including the first family photos after loss. I am thankful to have been trusted with this task, and hope that I was able to honor Finn’s memory while capturing the beautiful lives of his loving brothers and parents.

There really wasn’t much on the internet that I could find on honoring the loss of a loved one but Brandilee had made two requests so that was where I started.

The first thing she wanted was to photoshop Finn into some of the photos in a transparent way, symbolizing that his spirit was still there with them. I used photos from my family session with them from two years ago, and tried to blend it into a photo from this session.

The second thing she had requested was to include a framed photo of Finn with this family portrait session. So we printed her favorite image from that session two years ago, and she found a frame she like to put it in. The print was an 11×14 and I believe the frame was 16×20 inches.

One issue we ran into with the framed portrait was glare on the glass of the frame. Looking back, I wish I had asked them to remove the glass for the photo session. However, since I had the original image that the print was made from, it was pretty easy for me to photoshop the glare issue by covering up the reflection with the actual original image.

The last thing we did to include Finn in the photos was suggested to me in a forum of photographers who volunteer with The Gold Hope Project, and it’s actually my favorite. They suggested that we include a “stuffed animal or other object” that was important to the child whose memory we are honoring. What better way to remember Finn than to include his stuffed Avocado in the pictures?

One very important way that Finn’s family is honoring his memory is to be intimately involved in the continued fight against Rhabdo, the rare cancer that took Finn (and Sophie). If you want to learn more about their fight and the very important research going on at the Mayo Clinic, read this link on their blog.

To contribute to this incredible work please go to the following link: http://philanthropy.mayoclinic.org/donatemc.

Select “Other” under “Designate My Donation” and type in “Pediatric Rhabdomyosarcoma Research – Granberg/Gargollo.”

Typing in “Finn Schafran” when given the opportunity to enter in who’s memory this gift is for will help us continue to track Finn’s influence in this research

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Jaxon’s Gold Hope Session at the Parthenon

This is the fifth and last in a series of post I’m doing this month In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I’ve been blogging about my work with The Gold Hope Project and featuring all the amazing fighter kids who I’ve had the honor to meet over the past year. Today, I want you to meet Jaxson.

The mission of The Gold Hope Project is to gift families battling pediatric cancer with a free portrait session. Photos from the sessions are then used to raise awareness & funds for pediatric oncology research and treatment.

If your child is currently fighting childhood cancer, or is a survivor under the age of 18, click here to apply for a free Gold Hope Session.

If you are photographer who would like to volunteer your services, click here.

Jaxon’s Story:

Jaxson had low platelets at birth. After testing for many different conditions, Jaxson was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) at 18 months old. He was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant at the end of January. Unfortunately, his bone marrow biopsy right before transplant showed that the MDS had turned into Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). He was diagnosed with AML at 20 months old. 

In January, he had his central line placed and had his first round of chemo. He spent 10 days on chemo and 34 total days in the hospital. Jaxson went into remission after the first round of chemo! He had another round of chemo in March as a preventative measure while his donor was preparing to donate for transplant. He spent 8 days on chemo and 26 days in the hospital. Jaxson is getting to spend 4 weeks at home. We will be admitted to the hospital again at the end of April to start chemo. Jaxon had his bone marrow transplant on May 2, only a couple weeks after our session.

Jaxson and his family actually live in Smithville, TN but was treated in Nashville. He and his family had to spend several months in medical housing near the hospital while he recovered from his transplant.

They received grants to cover the cost of the first month of medical housing, but were unfortunately out of grants to apply for after that. The cost of housing, groceries, etc. adds up quickly when you are away from home and out of work. Jaxon’s GoFundMe page is linked below if you’d like to help out.

Our Time Together:

Jaxon’s mom had described in as one of the happiest boys she had ever met, and she was not wrong. I had a blast hanging out with him an his big brother Tristan. The day was gorgeous and the Parthenon at Centennial park was a gorgeous backdrop. We climbed trees, smelled the flowers and had a beautiful time. Have you ever seen such an adorable smile? He was truly a joy to be around.

How Jaxson is Doing NOw:

I have followed along with Jaxson’s journey since we met and am happy to say that his transplant was a huge success. He has passed the 100 day mark, which is supposed to be an important milestone. He is now at home and his bone marrow and blood work are looking perfect.

Where to Read More About Jaxson:

Jaxson’s Gold Hope Session Blog

Jaxson’s GoFundMe

Earlier this month, I blogged about my Gold Hope Sessions with fighters Kelly, Hattie, Amelie and Sophie if you would like to read their stories.

I still have a few Fall Portrait sessions left. What are you waiting for? Book yours today.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: In Memory of Super Sophie

This one is really hard to write. If you’ve been following me, you know that September is childhood cancer awareness month.  I am a volunteer photographer with an organization called The Gold Hope Project and I’ve been blogging about all the amazing fighters I’ve met over the past year. So far, I’ve introduced you to Kelly, Hattie & Amelie. Today, I want to tell you about Sophie.

Sophie’s Story:

Sophie was diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma in 2016, the same kind of cancer that took Finn (the wonderful little boy who partly inspired my seeking out the Gold Hope Project). She battled like a champ for almost 4 years, when she was called home on August 1.

Our Time Together:

The first moment I met Sophie, she asked me if I knew Finn. She had seen the avocado I have pinned to my camera bag in his memory. The question took my breath away a little. I told her yes, I was definitely a Finn fan. She said “me too” and then went on to tell me how he was her friend and she missed him.

I spent the next hour photographing Sophie and getting to know her family. Her mom, Mary, was so easy to talk to and I so enjoyed the time talking with her. Sophie’s little brother Gabriel is an adorable, energetic toddler who was so much fun to photograph, and clearly adored his big sister.

It was only an hour, but let me tell you, Sophie had an impact on me and I will never forget her.

She told me about her horse and how much fun she’d had with Angel Heart Farms. I was so impressed with her knowledge of 80s movies. We were goofing off and singing songs and I learned that she loves Weezer and we sang the Sweater Song together. Now I think of her every time I hear that song. She was funny, and interesting to talk to seemingly beyond her years, and super strong, and in the words of her amazing mama, the most badass little girl ever.

As I sat in my room crying the day she went to heaven, I thought about how I’d only known this amazing person for one hour. I cannot imagine how her friends and family must feel, and my heart breaks for them. 💔

I knew what I was getting into when I volunteered with The Gold Hope Project. And it is so hard sometimes. But also, I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the chance to meet Sophie, and I feel the same way about Finn. These kids have taught me something I’m not sure how to put into words…that you can find joy in the tough moments, that it’s ok to be vulnerable, and that being able to experience something truly beautiful is worth being afraid of getting hurt.

I’d like to think that Sophie and Finn are together now, taking care of each other. 💪🥑

Where to Read More About Sophie:

Sophie’s Gold Hope Session Blog

Super Sophie Facebook Page

Pediatric Cancer Foundation

The mission of The Gold Hope Project is to gift families battling pediatric cancer with a free portrait session. Photos from the sessions are then used to raise awareness & funds for pediatric oncology research and treatment.

Through my work with the Gold Hope Project, I have had the honor of meeting some truly amazing little fighters, and their families. The short amount of time that I have spent with them has changed me for the better. I want to share a little about them with you.

If your child is currently fighting childhood cancer, or is a survivor under the age of 18, click here to apply for a free Gold Hope Session.

I still have a few Fall Portrait sessions left. What are you waiting for? Book yours today.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Amelie’s Gold Hope Project & The Secret Her Parents Shared with Me

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I’ve been blogging about my work with The Gold Hope Project and featuring all the amazing fighter kids who I’ve had the honor to meet over the past year.

The mission of The Gold Hope Project is to gift families battling pediatric cancer with a free portrait session. Photos from the sessions are then used to raise awareness & funds for pediatric oncology research and treatment.

If your child is currently fighting childhood cancer, or is a survivor under the age of 18, click here to apply for a free Gold Hope Session.

If you are photographer who would like to volunteer your services, click here.

Amelie’s Story:

Amelie was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in January of 2018. She had port insertion surgery, tumor removal and bone grafting surgery and chemotherapy as well as transfusions of blood and platelets. After a very long, scary year for her family, she finished up her treatments in December 2018.

Our Time Together:

I met Amelie and her family in January, shortly after she had finally finished her treatment. I had the best time with Amelie and her little sister, Eloisa, on an unusually gorgeous January day at the Park at Harlinsdale Farms. The weather and the light were both beautiful, and we spent time running, playing, and giggling. Amelie’s mom, Alyssa, had the fantastic idea of bringing their favorite dress-up clothes, so at the end of the session, we were able to capture some really magical images of the girls playing in the sunset.

Before our session, Alyssa had let me in on a little secret that not even the girls knew at the time…Alyssa and Naph had just found out they were expecting baby #3! They had shared their first two pregnancies with family and friends using photographs made with a large frame to highlight Alyssa’s newly pregnant tummy and wanted to use our session as an opportunity to do the same with baby #3.

They weren’t quite ready to tell the world yet, and since the girls were so young, Alyssa wasn’t sure they could be trusted to keep such a secret, so even they didn’t know at the time of the session. But we took the “framed belly” photos for the couple to use when they were ready, but the girls didn’t know why we were doing that.

Now it’s been about nine months since that beautiful January evening, and I checked in with Alyssa to get an update on their growing family and on Amelie’s recovery. Amelie is in remission and doing great, but her trials aren’t over. She may possibly have to have another surgery on her arm as the original bone replacement she had because of her tumor is not growing correctly as she ages. She might possibly have to have several surgeries as she grows.

Another thing the family is still dealing with is all the medical costs associated with fighting childhood cancer. They had to switch to different insurance this year, and the out of pocket maximums are much higher. Many of their providers are out of network, making expenses even higher. The 4 scans a year Amelie has to have for the next several years will cost them $3500 each time. The family’s GoFundMe is linked below if you’d like to help contribute to those costs.

Baby girl #3 is due at the end of this month and is doing great!

Where to Read More About Amelie:

Amelie’s Gold Hope Session Blog

Amelie’s Website

Amelie’s GoFundMe

Last week, I blogged about my Gold Hope Sessions with fighters Kelly and Hattie if you would like to read their stories.

I still have a few Fall Portrait sessions left. What are you waiting for? Book yours today.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Hattie’s Gold Hope Project

September is childhood cancer awareness month.  As many of you know, I am a volunteer photographer with an organization called The Gold Hope Project.

The mission of The Gold Hope Project is to gift families battling pediatric cancer with a free portrait session. Photos from the sessions are then used to raise awareness & funds for pediatric oncology research and treatment.

Through my work with the Gold Hope Project, I have had the honor of meeting some truly amazing little fighters, and their families. The short amount of time that I have spent with them has changed me for the better. I want to share a little about them with you.

If your child is currently fighting childhood cancer, or is a survivor under the age of 18, click here to apply for a free Gold Hope Session.

How I got involved with The Gold Hope Project

I’ve had the honor of working with a few childhood cancer fighters on my own before I signed up as a Gold Hope volunteer.  My little friends Arya, Katelyn and Finn have been such an inspiration to me that I knew I wanted to be able to photograph more heroes like them.  I love that the Gold Hope Project  offers this gift to families who are going through so much, all while raising awareness and money to fight this awful disease.

My buddy Finn was an amazing little 3 year old who completely touched my heart and recently got his wings after a long fight with Rhabdomyosarcoma. The faith and strength with which his family fought this battle has been an inspiration to me, and to our entire community.  While I am heartbroken, I feel blessed to have known this super hero for even a brief time. If I can give just a little something to other kids like Finn and their families, then I want to do that.

Hattie’s Story:

I met Hattie last December, just a couple days after Christmas. She had received a bone marrow transplant just a few months earlier. Her family actually lives in Knoxville, but had temporarily relocated to Nashville for her transplant and recovery. Lots of families fighting childhood cancer have to deal with the additional burden of living away from home. This creates extra cost, and also the strain of being away from family and friends to help them get through this tough time.

Hattie was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at the age of 9 months. She had known hospital life for half of her life so far at the time of our session.  Hattie loves superheroes and her favorite Disney princess is Belle. She also loves elephants, just like me. She watches the movies Moana, Secret Life of Pets, and Coco over and over.

Our Time Together:

I met Hattie on a rainy day in December and she stole my heart. We had hoped for nice enough weather for an outdoor session, but did not get so lucky. Very soon after our session, Hattie was able to move back home to Knoxville because she had completed her treatment in Nashville. This was great news, but also meant that we weren’t’ able to wait for more pleasant weather.

The Factory of Franklin was kind enough to waive their normal photography permit fee, so we chose to do the session inside of the Factory. Hattie was not feeling well at all just before our session, and had been sick as a side effect of her treatment. But this little trooper pulled through and did an amazing job for her photos. She was just the sweetest little thing. Her mom had said to me before that Hattie makes a lot of funny faces, and she was not wrong!! We captured some of the most adorable expressions on her.

Hattie had the cutest doll with her at the session that was handmade by volunteers at a non-profit called Feel Better Friends. The doll was made to look just like Hattie, and they even had matching hats. There is a link on their website to donate if you’d like to help more kids receive these cool dolls.

I have followed Hattie’s story since we met, and am happy to report that she’s at home with her family in Knoxville dand doing great. Please pray for her continued remission.

Where to Read More About Hattie:

Hattie’s Gold Hope Session Blog

Hattie’s Website

Earlier this week, I blogged about my first official Gold Hope Session with sweet Kelly. Read about her session here.

I still have a few Fall Portrait sessions left. What are you waiting for? Book yours today.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Kelly’s Gold Hope Project

September is childhood cancer awareness month.  As many of you know, I am a volunteer photographer with an organization called The Gold Hope Project.

The mission of The Gold Hope Project is to gift families battling pediatric cancer with a free portrait session. Photos from the sessions are then used to raise awareness & funds for pediatric oncology research and treatment.

Through my work with the Gold Hope Project, I have had the honor of meeting some truly amazing little fighters, and their families. The short amount of time that I have spent with them has changed me for the better. I want to share a little about them with you.

If your child is currently fighting childhood cancer, or is a survivor under the age of 18, click here to apply for a free Gold Hope Session.

When I first shoot a session for the project, I have to wait until the images are featured on the Gold Hope Project website before I can share them myself. This can often take a while because there are so many sessions with families all over the country. As a result of this wait, I have not blogged these sessions yet. I thought that September would be a great time to go back and introduce you to all the amazing little ones I’ve met in the past year.

Kelly’s Story:

My very first official Gold Hope session was this past October with this amazing little girl, Kelly.  Kelly was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma a couple months before her first birthday.  She has stage 4 advanced Neuroblastoma. This is a very aggressive cancer with a very aggressive treatment plan. This poor sweet girl has been through a lot in her short lifetime, enduring many hospital stays and tough treatments. In the words of her mama, she is the bravest and strongest little girl, and always tries to do everything with a smile on her face.

It’s been about 10 months since I met with Kelly and her family, but I have continued to follow along with her story on her Facebook page. On September 9th, she will be admitted in the hospital for hopefully the very last time, for a very hard last round of treatments. Please continue to keep her in your prayers.

Our Time Together:

Kelly’s session is probably one of my favorites of all time. She was just absolutely so much fun to be around. Her smile was infectious, and her joy comes through in the photos, and when I look at them, I can’t help but smile.

The light and the weather were magical that day, and everything just came together perfectly. One of the things I love about toddlers is that they are so fascinated by the world around them, and find wonder in the things the rest of us take for granted. Kelly was even more so enamored by the beauty around her, having spent a good portion of her life in hospital rooms. She had so much fun exploring the park, and it was a gift to imagine what the world looked like through her eyes.

We played hide and seek, and she giggled so hard when her daddy would jump from behind a tree. Kelly loved the bubble machine that I sometimes pull out at sessions. She showed me one of her favorite Eric Carle books (Brown Bear, Brown Bear) and we listened to her favorite song from the Moana movie.

Kelly had to have surgery not long after our session, so I was so very thankful that she was able to enjoy our time together.

I hope that her family was able to find a few moments of joy, leaving behind the burdens and stresses of fighting cancer. I’m so glad they were able to take a break from all the worries and just enjoy their beautiful little girl.  I hope that when they look at the photos, that it brings them back to those happy memories and gives them hope of more beautiful moments in the future. 

Where to Read More About Kelly:

Kelly’s Gold Hope Session Blog

Kelly’s Facebook Page

Some Facts about Go Gold for Childhood Cancer:

  • In 1997, a group of parents picked gold as the official color for the childhood cancer awareness ribbon. The color gold symbolizes how precious children are and the resiliency of childhood cancer heroes. Unlike other awareness ribbons which symbolize one specific disease, the childhood cancer ribbon stands for dozens of diseases. You can learn more about the different types of childhood cancer, including brain tumors, leukemia and other solid tumors like neuroblastoma here. 
  • The color gold symbolizes how precious children are and the resiliency of childhood cancer heroes. Unlike other awareness ribbons which symbolize one specific disease, the childhood cancer ribbon stands for dozens of diseases.

I still have a few Fall Portrait sessions left. What are you waiting for? Book yours today.

Breathtakingly Beautiful – with BrandiLee #finnsfanforever

Finn Schafran and his mom Brandilee and his battle with Cancer. #Finnfanforever

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” – L.R.Knost

My new photo project: 

I did a personal project about three years ago that I called “This is Motherhood”   In that project, I asked mothers to allow me to take a simple portrait of them, and then I asked them to tell me about motherhood.  I gave them a few prompts or thought starters, but mainly was just looking for some insight or experience they had with motherhood that might mean something to other mothers. I was blown away with what women were willing to share with me.  Their stories ranged from funny to heartbreaking, and all of them were honest and inspiring. 

For some months now, I’ve felt the desire to do another photo project, but I couldn’t get my mind around what exactly it would be. 

I knew that like the first project, I wanted it to be about strong, beautiful women (though not necessarily just mothers.) In my line of work, I see a lot about how women are down on themselves, never feeling “enough”.  I have a desire to somehow show them through my lens, that they are enough. Just the way they are. 

I also knew I wanted it to be different from the first project in that I didn’t want it to be just a single portrait, but a more of a story telling photo essay for each woman.  I wanted it to be set in her own environment doing her own thing. I wanted to show women doing hard things, amazing things, but also ordinary things.  I wanted to photograph women living life. Embracing it even. 

But I wanted some kind of quote or theme to tie them altogether and I’ve struggled with finding what that would be.  For a while, I had settled on “She believed she could, so she did.”  I liked that it implies some action…as I wanted to include some activity in the stories, and not just some portrait.  But something was bothering me about that quote, and I finally figured out what it was….lots of times, she doesn’t believe that she could.  But she does anyway.  Because she has to.  Many times, women don’t know their own strength.  I want my project to show them their strength through the photos, so that quote just didn’t feel right.

Then, as I was browsing the internet, I came across the quote above, and it just felt like exactly what I was looking for.  I want to photograph women doing heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful and ordinary things.  I believe there is beauty in every moment…the hard, the wonderful and also the mundane. I want to photograph that beauty.  

Breathtakingly Beautiful with BrandiLee

Ok so I didn’t take these photos for my project, but taking them helped me to decide on exactly what it was I wanted my project to be. 

I first met BrandiLee last October, when I photographed a family portrait session for them. Last week, a friend of Brandi’s contacted me. She told me that Brandi had been selected by The Mom’s We Love Club as their featured mom for August. The Moms We Love Club is an Instagram account dedicated to loving on struggling moms through spreading awareness, prayer and fundraising.  For the feature, they needed lifestyle images of BrandiLee at home.  I was happy to have the honor of shooting for such a great cause, so we picked a time and I showed up to photograph real life. Brandilee will be featured at The Moms We Love club starting August 9, so please follow the page, and share the posts when you see them. 

As far as strong women go, I’m not sure I know any stronger than BrandiLee, though I’m positive she didn’t plan for life to be that way and that she often feels that she is not strong enough to deal with what life has dealt her. I cannot even begin to do her story justice, but please, please go read about this precious family on their GoFundme page, and if you are lead, consider making a donation.

The quote struck me so when I read it, because honestly, editing these photos took my breath away.

What struck me the most was the joy.

And first let me say that I know it’s not all joy. I don’t want to minimize in any way the horrible heartbreak this family deals with on a daily basis. I cannot even imagine.  I know there must be anger, and tears and so much pain.

But also, there were giggles, and hugs and helping mama make tortilla sandwiches, and licking the butter off the knife.  And funny snap chat videos, and being excited when Daddy gets home. And asking for more watermelon.  And snuggling with brother on the couch. And bedtime kisses.