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:

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

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. 

The Schafran Family

Last night was actually the first time I had met Brandilee and & Dan, but I’ve known their oldest son, Gavin, for several years from my daughter’s school.   I’m at school quite a bit volunteering with the PTO and have gotten to know Gavin through my time there and he is such a sweet boy.  My first experience with the rest of Gavin’s family was this past May at the Special Olympics.  Gavin has Cerebral Palsey and was competing in one of the races.  I had been asked to photograph the event as a whole, but was of course drawn to events where our own Cheetah’s were competing, so I was focused on Gavin’s race.  As he started getting closer to the finish line, Gavin started having a little trouble when his two little brothers came in to give him a hand.  It was the sweetest moment, and the three of them just won my heart right then and there.  

It wasn’t until after the race that I learned that Gavin’s two-year-old little brother Finn was battling a rare form of bladder cancer.  I have followed their story since then through posts from mutual friends and through their blog.  You can read more about their journey on their blog, “Finn’s Fans”.

In the past, I had photographed a few other families dealing with childhood cancer, and it was good to feel like I could do something for them, no matter how small.  (If you remember those sessions, you may want to know that little Arya is doing great and Katelyn is about to finish up her last chemo treatment!)  So I was really excited about the opportunity to finally meet Gavin’s little brothers and his sweet parents.

Finn recently had surgery to remove his bladder and the surgery was a great success, but his fight is not over.  He will be starting chemo again soon to fight any remaining cancer cells that might still be there. I am glad we were able to fit in a session before chemo started for him again. 

It was a perfect evening for a session and it’s finally starting to feel like Autumn. We played with the leaves and the boys were particularly fond of gathering sticks. Four-year-old Everett even made a really cool fire pit with his sticks.  I think he’s probably on his way to a position in the boy scouts.  My favorite moment was when I asked the three boys to race towards me for a photo, and when we said go, Finn took off in the opposite direction.  Gavin thought it was pretty funny too.  

The courage & faith with which this family fights their battle has been very inspiring to me, and to many others who have been praying for them. Please keep praying for Finn and his family as they continue on this journey.