I offer these Inspire Me Sessions for a person or family deserving of a free photo shoot. The reasons are nothing specific, just a story that I want to share with others.
I nominated Jenn for this session because she is amazing. I met her and the family about 7 years ago when they where living in the country. Their kids where wild (which I LOVE) and we remained facebook friends from there. Her family has seen many changes, a lot of heartbreak, but she remains this eternal optimist who shares her views on how to make the world a better place. She is just that person you want to hang out with...cause she is that cool!
As a single mom now, I also realize getting family portraits is not always in the budget. But I also know just how important they can be.
Its a longer read, but please take the time.
" I met Jonathan in the summer of 2001, when I was 18 years old. It was the best summer of my life. We fell in love almost instantly. I’ll never forget that half smile and little nod he gave me when we were introduced. I was gone. Chloe was born in 2007 and Luke in 2010. Chloe was the quintessential daddy’s little girl and Luke looked up to his dad the way little boys look up to superman. If you asked Luke if his dad could fly, he’d say yes. He would play with them for hours and had this endless energy for them. Jonathan and I had our fair share of problems which eventually led to our separation in 2014. Later on, I started dating a new partner and Jonathan was seeing someone as well. For a while, we maintained a co-parenting relationship and things were pretty good. In August 2016, Jonathan’s house caught fire while he was repairing some archery arrows in the basement. The kids happened to be with him that night but he was able to get them all out of the house safely. The house and everything inside was destroyed. No less than two weeks later there was a major fire at Chloe and Luke’s school....and for the second time in their lives, they had to be rescued from a fire! They were so brave and took everything in stride, children have such an amazing ability to do that. When I look back at everything, I realize that things were just never the same after the house fire. The sad truth of the matter is that Jonathan, despite everything I loved about him, was an alcoholic. It wasn’t always out of control but certain times were worse than others. I believe the fire was a traumatic event that triggered him to drink more heavily and regularly. It became a safety issue when he would have Chloe and Luke. We began court proceedings to sort out a custody arrangement that would be safe for them. This was what we both hoped to avoid and it was very painful and stressful to go through. Eventually we came to a temporary agreement and it worked pretty well for about 5 months. Things became unsafe again for the kids at Jonathan’s and I made a decision that almost broke me; I could not send them back to their dad’s until he received treatment for addiction. I’ve always tried to keep open communication with the kids about their dad’s struggles and give them opportunities to ask questions or talk to me about it (even though at 10 and 7 years old – it was a difficult concept to wrap their heads around). Their guidance counsellor at school became a big part of their lives and I could not be more thankful for her during the last two years. She met with them weekly and became a very dear friend, especially to Chloe. We were waiting for another court date to reassess our arrangement and make changes that would keep the kids safe, but allow them to see their dad regularly again. In the meantime, we had arranged some time for him to spend with the kids and were trying to set up another time to get together...then I received the phone call at work from an RCMP officer that changed our lives forever. I was away from my phone at the time so when I glanced down at my phone and saw two missed calls and a text message from the officer asking me to call him back ASAP, I immediately knew things were serious. At first, I thought Jonathan was attempting to force me to let the kids go back to his house...but as I dialed the number, it occurred to me that something might be very wrong. My mind went to the kids and every horrible scenario ran through my mind in a matter of seconds. All I wanted to know was that they were okay. As soon as I got him on the line, I asked: “Are my kids okay? Just tell me my kids are okay”. He replied that everything was okay with the kids but asked if Jonathan was my ex husband. I said yes. He replied “I’m very sorry but he’s passed away”.
My world fell apart. I fell into my friend Joanne’s arms and cried until I couldn’t breathe. I realized I was going to have to tell my children that their Dad was gone. It was something I’d had nightmares about and was always terrified of, and now it was real. I remember saying to me Dad as he drove me home that day, “it’s just me now. I’m their only parent. It’s all on me.” That realization was devastating. It was never supposed to be this way. I flashed back to the girl I was when I met him and thought, “how the hell did we get here? How are those blue eyes gone? How is that half smile he used to give me, gone?” I remember him asking to hold my hand for the first time and how his hands were so big and made mine feel so small. “How were those hands gone?” I remember being a child and always being terrified my Dad would suddenly die. I lived 4 hours away from him and didn’t see him very often. I was always so scared to lose him. Now that’s exactly what my own children were going to have to go through. I felt paralyzed. I just wanted time to stop. I remember watching them walk home from the bus that day and wanting to freeze time before their world came crashing down on them. My Dad had been at the house comforting me and offered to stay with me and help me tell the kids. We let them get settled and have a snack (they had a chocolate muffin from Costco) and then we sat down in the living room. I held them close to me as my dad said the words I could not make myself say. This was the worst moment of my life. My heart has never been in so much pain seeing their reaction. I just held them and rocked them and cried with them. I don’t remember much after that. There was lots of family support. I am so grateful for my sister Kyla (who immediately dropped everything and drove home from Kenora where she was in a placement for school), my Dad, my stepmom Donna, and my boyfriend, Jason for all their support in those first few weeks. I don’t know what we would’ve done without them. Their guidance counsellor even came to see them at our house to talk with them and see how they were doing. My cousin, Jen bought us groceries - such a simple and beautiful thing to do for those who are grieving. Simple things feel impossible or you don’t even think of them at all. So many people around us showed us such love and concern and I’ll always remember that. Those people who helped us grieve are some of many in the kid’s never-ending support system. They love going to see Jonathan’s brother, Uncle Josh and his dad, Grandpa. Although they live several hours away, we make sure the kids are able to spend quality time with Jonathan’s side of the family. Uncle Josh looks and sounds very much like Jonathan – I think the kids find comfort in their similarities. They were 10 and 7 when he died. I’ll never get over how unfair it all is. I’ll never not be sad about all the things he has missed and is going to miss. Every milestone is bittersweet. At first, Chloe would get upset if someone mentioned him without warning (which Luke would do often). Luke would love to ask questions about his dad and loved even more if you told him he looked like his dad or did something just like his dad would. Chloe doesn’t get upset anymore when we talk about him and I’m glad for that. We talk about him daily in some way. It’s been a year and almost 4 months since it happened. I am so proud of my children. They have gone through something I could never imagine going through and are still the wonderful, joyful and happy children they’ve always been. Jonathan would be so proud of them and I tell them that often. I see him in them every day. Luke has his mannerisms, his chin dimple and that half smile. His hands look exactly like Jonathan’s hands and when I’m holding them, I can’t help but feel this ache in my heart. He has Jonathan’s natural athletic ability to play pretty much any sport. Watching him play baseball is like watching a smaller version of Jonathan. Chloe has his love of nature and fearlessness when it comes to the typically “gross” animals. She has his sense of childlike wonder when looking up at the sky and pointing out things that might be a UFO (for sure this time!). Even though my heart breaks over and over again when I see it, I love seeing those flashes of him in them. I wish our story was a happier one. But this is real life, and there’s not always a happy ending. We’re okay. We’re carrying on and doing the best we can together. With the help of our families, I will make sure Chloe and Luke grow up knowing they’re loved, safe and take care of. "
Parenting is hard. Losing a partner (whether you are together or not) is something I cannot imagine. Jenn has taken on the role of both with such grace and dignity. Her kids are still wild and hilarious and it was an honor to capture them as they are now.