Shannon MacFarlane Photography: Blog http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog en-us (C) Shannon MacFarlane Photography shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Fri, 28 Apr 2017 02:12:00 GMT Fri, 28 Apr 2017 02:12:00 GMT http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/img/s2/v73/u361919934-o712754195-50.jpg Shannon MacFarlane Photography: Blog http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog 120 80 Everything Beautiful Has an Ugly Side | Medical, Grief, and Bereavement Photography http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/4/everything-beautiful-has-an-ugly-side Ugly isn't a word I like to use, especially as a photographer. Beauty exists in all things, and I'm coming to believe it's only because of these awkward, painful, or ugly moments that we can come to appreciate and see the loveliness that comes from them.

The magnolia trees are in full bloom. Gorgeous.

And look! There's an ugly part.

The brown, wilted bit around the flower has served its purpose. It protected the bud as it grew. When the bud grew large enough and opened, the humble protectors fell aside.

Many people would call them ugly. They would probably want to trim them or otherwise keep them out of view in a photograph.

These essential parts of the flower are ventilators. They are the rages in locked cars where no one else can hear the screaming. They are weekly visits for treatment. They are the heaving sobs that give no tears because there are no more tears to give.

The brown, wilted bit is grief. It's adversity. It's the thousand pieces of really crummy things.

It's a little space we keep for ourselves because we need it to allow the flower to bloom. Sometimes it's a really big space. Sometimes we can see only the wilted protection, even though others admire the gorgeous flower. It's tricky that way.

Every flower on the magnolia tree does this. Each flower is a slightly different size. They bloom at slightly different times. Some may be more pink than others. Each passes through this ugly bit to reveal its loveliness.

You are doing this, too.

The pieces of your day that seem tedious hold lovely bits. In those moments you feel full of anger and despair, there is something beautiful. It's my work to see that and show it to you, just like this magnolia.

The more you see it with a little help, the more you can begin to see it yourself. As much as I say medical, bereavement, and grief photography is about preserving family history, it's also about supporting families who are hurting today. It's painful to see these moments reflected back to you from someone else's perspective. It's also a way to recognize how much loveliness exists in unexpected places.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Tacoma beauty bereavement photographer bereavement photography family grief photographer grief photography magnolia medical photography http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/4/everything-beautiful-has-an-ugly-side Fri, 28 Apr 2017 02:12:10 GMT
Here Comes the Crash Cart http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/4/here-comes-the-crash-cart Here Comes the Crash CartHere Comes the Crash Cart

I see, hear, smell, and feel a lot of things that I'd never wish to be a part of any family.

I can't tell you what it's like to see the crash cart come in for a 19-month-old boy who has lived in the hospital his entire life. CPR is a brutal activity, and it seems all the more savage when a man straddles a 21-pound boy on his hospital bed and performs chest compressions with every fiber of his being. What is it like to watch your child die and be powerless to help? How does your brain even process that? How do you breathe?

I don't know.

And I don't know how I am able to anchor these parents as they bob about in this sea where the currents are constantly changing and yet there is often no land in sight. I can't explain any of it as it's happening and I need some distance to be able to process it days later. It amazes me that in these moments I can do what I am there to do, and that's document life and love. Sometimes that's the end of life. Sometimes it's the very last breath.

life support medical equipmentLife Support

What looks like the end to outsiders is a beginning. It's a new normal of living without a child. It is a string of missed milestones - simple stuff like learning to hop on one foot as well as graduating, getting married, and having a family. I'll return to them for his services, graveside and memorial. I'll return to them to tell this story all over again in albums. We will cry, hug, cry, be silent, hug, and stare into space together, because sometimes that's all that can be done.

I watched her lift her precious son to her lap. She sang to him. She told him how brave and kind and strong and loving and smart he was. She told him how happy she was the day he arrived. She whispered these secrets of love as she gently touched every part of his body. 

I've held her hand more times than I can count. I've journeyed with this family for 17 months. Tomorrow we come together again to celebrate his life through stories, hugs, and songs.

Through these families and my own acquaintance with mortality I learn how to live. I learn how wholehearted connection and intentional living make a difference. That's what I stand for and that's why I'm here. I truly believe that when we make these connections regularly and muster the fortitude to live our intentions, we expand our own selves by becoming inseparable pieces of others. We leave marks and patterns. What do you want your mark to be?

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Tacoma bereaved parent bereavement photographer child loss child loss photographer family funeral photographer grief medical photographer pediatric cancer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/4/here-comes-the-crash-cart Wed, 12 Apr 2017 00:03:18 GMT
Heart of a Hero http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/3/heart-of-a-hero

One of the most compelling aspects of working in grief and bereavement is the opportunity to witness the amazing transformations people undergo in their journeys. They become advocates, champions, educators . . . the most difficult experiences of their lives lead them to do things they never would have considered before. While the pain that inspires this change is something I wouldn't wish on anyone, it creates lives of stunning beauty and clarity.

At a memorial celebration for a four-year-old girl, Ellie, I had the honor of seeing the man behind Heart of a Hero in action.  Heart of a Hero is a nonprofit organization that inspires, motivates, and empowers children who need it most. Ricky Mena, who dresses as Spider-Man and visits children in hospitals, told the story of the dream he had of his deceased grandmother showing him visiting children in hospitals as Spider-Man.

So he made that happen. He has visited more than 8,300 children since October 2014.

Heart of a Hero audienceHeart of a Hero audience

 

He was raw and unscripted.  He spoke from his heart.  It was plain to see that this wasn't work for him - it was a calling and an honor.  

He talked about one of the most frequent questions he receives about his work: How can any good come from the suffering or death of a child? How is that possible?

It comes back to this: we are all here to teach one another and learn from one another. Some of those ways are painful, some are joyful. The things we learn from children who live in hospitals, have had umpteen surgeries, and undergo chemotherapy are important because they show us how to live. They silently challenge us to reevaluate what is important and why. They push us to make changes to honor those most important parts of life and decline or minimize the competition for our time.  

What could be more important than connecting with someone else? Giving and receiving love? Finding joy in small things?

Yes, we need to pay bills and meet our other adult responsibilities. There is more to life than work. There is more than collecting possessions and buying a bigger house to hold them.  There is more than having scads of followers on social media.

There is the opportunity to really be with someone. There is the opportunity to love, to show compassion and empathy, to offer support. We are here to connect. We are built for it, in fact. How are you embracing that?

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Heart of a Hero Ricky Mena Spider-Man children compassion empathy family grief hospital inspire kids love memorial nonprofit pediatric cancer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/3/heart-of-a-hero Thu, 30 Mar 2017 02:57:42 GMT
Getting Ready for Goodbye http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/getting-ready-for-goodbye

He called a little after 10:00 a.m. to tell me they had made a decision.

"We'd like you to be with us tomorrow."  He sounded like he was disappearing.  If I had asked, and if he had been able to articulate, I'm sure he would have confirmed that he was shrinking, dissolving, or in some other way ceasing to exist.

After weeks of life support, he and his wife were preparing for their last moments with their nine-year-old son.  

How do you do that?  

How do you paint your memory with all the last times?  How do you reconcile the first times you won't witness?  How do you wake up, get dressed, eat . . . knowing in a few short hours you'll feel the life leave his body as you hold his hand?

I don't know.  There is no sleeping.  There is no eating.  There is nothing other than breathing until that very last moment.

Deafening silence.  Then comes the weeping.  The mumbled prayers.  Anguished gasps between sobs.

The room is dark.  The air feels heavy and soupy.

I hover the perimeter of the room, documenting this indelible mark through vision blurred with my own tears.  My face is hot and flushed.  My fingertips are icy. 

We've talked about this for a few weeks now and I know what they want me to freeze in time.   His features are appropriately childish, and with his eyes closed I can no longer see the wisdom he painfully acquired in seven short months.  He is perfect.  He is loved.

These are pictures I do not share and the details I change slightly to grant the family as much privacy as possible. I can tell you only my experience.

I feel hollow.  Being with parents during this time is one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Practice does not make it easier.  In each child I see my son.  I see the children of my friends.  

After I left the family, I took a few minutes for myself in the family lounge. I can't show you how this moment acts on them. I can show you how it acts on me.

I also feel warm and full.  This couple, a little younger than I, have entrusted me with a piece of their family's spiritual care.  Since I met them in September I have preserved joy, devastation, and all feelings between.  They have leaned on me to reflect their lives and love back to them.  Today's reflection is one they probably won't want to see for months.

It will wait for them.  They will see the story when they are ready.

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Death Tacoma cancer photographer Tacoma child loss photographer Tacoma grief photographer boy child child loss grief life support photography http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/getting-ready-for-goodbye Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:03:18 GMT
Bereavement Gowns for Infants | Sleeping Angel Bereavement Gowns | Tacoma Infant Loss http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/bereavement-gowns-for-infants

If you are a newly bereaved parent or grandparent, this post may be a trigger for your grief.  Please be gentle with yourself.

Katie is the woman behind Sleeping Angels Bereavement Gowns.  She transforms wedding gowns into gowns and wraps for infants.  Grab tissues.  These are beautiful.

Katie preserves the details of each wedding dress and finds the best ways to showcase those in the gowns she creates. The results are stunning.

Like most people who dedicate a part of their lives to grief and bereavement, Katie has personal experience.  This work means something to her, and she deeply understands the turmoil of dressing your baby for the first and last time.  She makes these gowns so parents have something beautiful for their children when they say the last goodbye in person.

Gowns with beading and lace make beautiful pieces for girls.

So I'm already tearing up, here.

Not so long ago, Katie volunteered with a national nonprofit organization that provided infant bereavement gowns.  In approximately 18 months she sewed 937 pieces - gowns, wraps, and bonnets.  That's an average of 52 pieces each month.  She was also in college full-time and she made the difficult choice to step back from the organization and concentrate on school.

When a friend of hers from the organization passed away, she returned to sewing.  "It's like therapy," she told me.  She said that when she sews, she has no aches or pains.  She is completely in the moment.

Katie graduated from college with two degrees (business and accounting) and is once again making beautiful pieces that parents will remember forever.  She delivers to Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma, WA, and is willing to ship gowns anywhere for people who are able to pay for shipping.

This work is now a freelance labor of love.  Katie collects wedding gowns, deconstructs them, and finds the most elegant ways to fit them for babies from under one pound in size to several months of age.  Her daughter often helps with deconstruction and packaging.

These three gowns are from one dress.

When I met Katie, she had a delivery of 20 gowns for the NICU at Mary Bridge.  I had the honor of helping to pack these pieces.

Every gown is lovingly packaged in a box with tissue paper. Katie made all of these pieces in one week. She had heard from a nurse that the hospital had no gowns and so she worked to provide a bit of inventory.

This is one of the gowns I had the honor of packaging. As a boy mom, the bow tie on this one puts a lump in my throat.

In addition to the time it takes to make each piece (her most elaborate gown was 15 hours of work), she pays for the boxes and the tissue paper.  She relies on donations of wedding dresses.  It's difficult to pull all of this together because Katie does not have nonprofit status for her work and intends to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

Boy gowns typically include a bow tie. The wedding gown from which this gown was cut had the same empire waist detail. These gowns came from the same wedding dress. The gown on the left is a micro preemie size and the gown on the right is a medium infant size. Two boy gowns and two unisex gowns Micro preemie gowns for baby girls

Here's what you can do.

If you are a sewer, Katie will share her patterns with you and you can create your own gowns.  If you want to learn, she'll teach you.

If you can use scissors, Katie will thank you for your help in cutting the wedding dresses into pieces.

If you can't sew or use scissors and do have a few dollars to spare, Katie will thank you for a donation of boxes or tissue paper.

If you have a wedding dress that would like to have the ultimate honor of being the forever clothing many babies will wear, Katie will thank you.  It doesn't matter how old it is or whether it is in good repair.  She'll even send you pictures of the gowns she makes from your dress so you can have a sob fest (like I would).

If you have white sheets you can give, Katie will thank you.  She uses these to line the dresses.

You can follow Katie and contact her through her Facebook page.

Every piece she makes brings peace.

Infant WrapsBabies who are too small for a gown receive a wrap.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Tacoma bereavement gown burial gown pregnancy and infant loss sleeping angel http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/bereavement-gowns-for-infants Mon, 20 Feb 2017 01:54:35 GMT
Who Will Tell Your Story? | Tacoma Legacy Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/who-will-tell-your-story-tacoma-legacy-photographer

Intimacy with mortality stirs up a lot of emotions, doubts, and deep, dark thoughts.  We ask ourselves questions in these moments.

Did I love enough?  Does my family know how much I love them?

Did I do enough?  How was I able to make a positive difference in this world?

How will I be remembered?  How different is that from what I hoped?

When I first came to this work of being a companion to families navigating serious illness, end of life, and death,  my focus was on the relationships and how they change and bloom during adversity.  I hadn't given much thought to coming back around and seeing what I could do to create a life I would be content with releasing.

As I now say, being with these families teaches me how to live.  I absolutely mean that.  What I'm now thinking about is the power of these family stories and how they begin far before I meet families.  With this in mind I created an experience called "I Want You to Know," which is a legacy interview that culminates in a photo book of the narrator telling stories and sharing lessons - the things she wants her family to know.

You can start simply with a fill-in-the-blank life story.  Really!  It's a 12-page, free document from Legacy Project that includes basic information.  If you are overwhelmed with where to begin, this is the place.  Try it for yourself - what does your story look like?

We have tools to tell stories and we certainly have stories to tell.  To start, we have to share those stories.  We need to talk or write.  We need to take pictures, paint, or quilt.  We must act to preserve these stories, and we need to also be mindful of where our stories go.  Who will tell the stories next?  How can we pass them on so that they endure for generations?  What are the most important things you want to communicate to your partner, your children, your grandchildren, and . . . we could go on for generations.

What do you want to say?  Who will tell your story?

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Legacy Project Tacoma family historian elder interview end of life family history family interview legacy photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/who-will-tell-your-story-tacoma-legacy-photographer Fri, 10 Feb 2017 23:28:41 GMT
Keep Doing This, No Matter What | Tacoma Alzheimer's Funeral Grief Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/keep-doing-this

In the past three weeks I've delivered six albums and photo books (albums are photographs only and books include stories or short descriptions). I deliver photographs in person for several reasons.

  1. I am responsible for the care and custody of irreplaceable photographs. Putting them in the mail or dropping them off somewhere would not jive with my sense of accountability.
  2. Seeing the story unfold for the fist time is a celebration and I want to be present for the party.  The content deserves that kind of respect.
  3. I want to create an experience for families they will not forget, and that means taking care of everything.
  4. Someone needs to be on hand to distribute tissues, and I'm really good at that when I'm not crying.

When I began delivering albums in person, I had recently imposed a self-care rule about accepting only one shoot each day.  Being with one family in the morning and a different family in the afternoon was emotionally exhausting.  I had no rule about planning sessions or deliveries.   Now I see that's also wise to limit this type of interaction.

Viewing photographs for the first time is an emotional experience.  I see tears almost every time, hence my growing expertise with tissues.  Families who celebrated happy anniversaries are overcome with joy, accomplishment, and a strong connection with each other.  Families living with treatment or long-term care see what has become routine in a new and beautiful way.  They think about how far they have come and how far they have to go.  Families establishing a new normal after death typically have the strongest reactions to their photos.  In these sessions there are few words.  Lots of hand squeezes, sniffles, quivering smiles, tears, and occasionally laughter.

About half of the families for whom I document funerals and memorials are families I've journeyed with during hospice or treatment.  I know them in ways their friends do not because I have seen some very bare, vulnerable stuff.  Gosh, I have moments when I realize the intimacy of the moments I witness and am grateful for the opportunity - these families open their hearts and lives to me.

When I visit for a delivery, I bring a basket of goodies to eat and drink along with flowers or another hospitality gift.  I am sitting down with friends.

My most recent delivery was one with lots of quivering smiles and sniffles.  The photographs told a story of a glorious and heart-felt celebration of life in the middle of the holiday season.  This celebration came at the end of  13 years of Alzheimer's and was warmly welcomed.  I had visited this man a few times with his family and quickly learned where to stand and how to shoot to help him feel safe.  He would take off his shoe and throw it at me when I was too close or too visible.  I met them while photographing the Walk to Remember in Tacoma in 2016.

As I prepared to leave their home, this man's daughter-in-law gave me a bear hug as only a fiercely protective mama can do.  Her husband, the man's son, extended his hand and pulled me into a hug.  "Keep doing this.  Please.  No matter what."  He murmured into the top of my head.

He didn't want pictures.  His wife talked him into it.  The three visits I made when his father was interactive produced photographs he was absolutely bewildered by.  He saw things in his dad's face he hadn't noticed before.  He saw his dad in his face in ways he hadn't noticed before.

If this man can warm up to the idea of visual stories in the last season of life, anyone can.  The albums he has will make a difference to him.  His only regret is that he waited so long to start.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Alzheimer's Seattle funeral photographer Seattle grief photographer Tacoma funeral photographer Tacoma grief photographer death family grief loss photo album portrait http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/2/keep-doing-this Fri, 03 Feb 2017 16:00:00 GMT
A Sea of Pictures http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/a-sea-of-pictures

We live in a sea of pictures.  In the course of an average day, a social media user sees a steady stream of snapshots of vacations, the irritating guy on the bus, cute expressions babies and toddlers make, dinner, the sofa the dog destroyed, and lots of selfies.  Social media and mobile devices have given us the ability to rapidly document and share every  nuance of our lives with friends and family, and I admit I enjoy seeing images from people who are important to me.

 

How much is too much, though?  At what point do we transition from images that connect to images that overwhelm?

 

InfoTrends forecasts that people will take 1.3 trillion digital photographs in 2017, and 87% of those will be captured with mobile devices (that's 79% for phones and 8% for tablets).  In 2010 the total number of images was 0.35 trillion.  Oh, and these numbers exclude professional photographers, by the way.

 

Photo technology has become so ubiquitous and simple that we've lost what is most precious about photography - connection.  Digital files have become less valuable and more disposable because they lack connection.  The Professional Photographers of America (PPA) reported that 67% of people stored their photographs only digitally.  About 70% of people no longer create or maintain photo albums and more than half haven't printed a single photo in the past year.

 

When was the last time you printed photos or created an album to share?  Of the last 100 pictures you've taken, how many of them are meaningful to you?  How are your capturing the stories that go with those photographs?

 

We are in danger of losing this generation.  We are losing our connections with our past and leaving behind very little that is archival.  Digital storage is not archival - technology changes so rapidly that storage methods become outdated after a few decades and the devices that once read and stored those files are no longer available.  Museums keep things in hard copy for good reason.

 

One of my favorite parts of visiting my grandmother is looking through her photographs.  She displays many in her home and keeps even more in albums.  It seems she remembers every little story associated with those photographs, and she is a tremendous resource for our family's history.  I don't remember all the stories she tells, and I certainly don't tell them like she does.

 

I am on a mission to build bridges to history so families can cross to the other side together, any time they choose.  These stories are important, and they are almost gone.

 

 

 

I Want You to Know is a new service I offer that is a session to collect family stories and wisdom that results in a beautiful book of these stories and pictures of the narrator telling them.  Every book is archival and guaranteed against fading and discoloring for 100 years in active use (200 years if kept in dark storage).  These are engaging, emotional sessions where I or a family member interviews the narrator, much like NPR's StoryCorps with photographs.

 

What do you want to leave behind?  What do you want your family to know?  What lessons and stories do you want to pass to your children and grandchildren?  What do you want to document for the love of your life?  What do you want to ask your parent?

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) I want you to know StoryCorps Tacoma family photographer album archival digital photography family historian family history interview legacy phone photography portrait http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/a-sea-of-pictures Tue, 31 Jan 2017 16:58:11 GMT
Her Last Ride | A Young Girl's Journey with Cancer | Tacoma Compassion Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/her-last-ride

The last time I saw her, she was pedaling away from me on her way to her best friend's house.  I watched her thin legs and frail knees and ankles propel her forward on her bicycle.  The wind she created with her speed would have blown back her hair had it been long enough.  She looked like she felt free.

Two years earlier, she had hair down to her waist.  She shaved it to prepare for her first surgery.  After six rounds of chemotherapy, she had another surgery.  Then eight rounds of chemotherapy.  Then another surgery.  More treatment.

The last time I saw her, her hair was maybe two inches long.  It wanted to make waves over her head and didn't quite have enough length.  Instead it wiggled and stood awkwardly at attention.  She was so happy to have it, and it was beautiful.

She was overjoyed to be home from the hospital.  Six months prior, she and her family traveled to a cancer treatment facility 1,300 miles away for a three-month experimental treatment.  It looked promising.

It wasn't.  

The cancer returned.  For nearly three years she had lived the life of a cancer patient with its grueling schedule of injected poisons and evaluations.  She found beauty and joy every day.

Her parents told me repeatedly that her refusal to live anything other than a full life was one of the most difficult aspects of her journey.  They were heartbroken to know their daughter was living with immense pain - headaches, joint pain, jumbled thoughts, digestive distress.  They were elated to see her embrace as much of the carefree life of a 10-year-old as was possible and simultaneously crushed to know that kind of freedom in childhood would not be hers.

She made it herself.  She took it.  She owned it.

The last time I saw her was her last day.  She visited with her best friend for a few hours.  She rode her bike home and enjoyed dinner with her family.  She played her favorite board game, Monopoly, with her sisters and parents, while her cat sat on her lap.

She went to bed.  Her parents kissed her goodnight.  

 

More than 300 people attended her funeral.  It was a moving service with stories from her teachers, friends, and family.  They hugged and wiped away tears.  They stared at their shoes.  They talked about how much she would have enjoyed riding her bike on that day, which was unseasonally dry and warm.  They looked at the pictures of her on display and replayed the moments in their lives they were fortunate enough to share with her.

I saw all these things, and photographed all these moments.  I captured the confusing emotions people struggled to find ways to express.  I made art of their love.

This family invited me to be a part of their journey shortly after her diagnosis.  I was a part of their "after."  I attended family events and celebrations.  I was there for school plays.  I came to doctor's appointments and visited during treatment.  I saw her last bike ride. I photographed that, not knowing it was her last day.  

It's been two months since her death.  Her mother called me this week and asked me to visit.  She and her husband were ready to look through her final photographs - from her last day, funeral, and cremation.

I wish I could find a way to describe how it feels to sit with parents in this way.  I wish I could find a way to describe how much it means to be to be invited.  I wish I could find a way to relieve the smallest bit of suffering.  I wish I had a number to count the tears that fall.  

I wish this place didn't exist, and yet I can't imagine myself anywhere else.  I know from the backbreaking hugs I received that I am in the right place.  I know from the clammy pressure on my hand that my view of their lives means something to them.

I wish I didn't know, and yet I am grateful I do.

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) 10-year-old Tacoma compassion photographer Tacoma funeral photographer Tacoma grief photographer bereavement bicycle bike brain cancer chemotherapy death funeral girl hospital parents pediatric treatment http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/her-last-ride Sun, 22 Jan 2017 18:49:37 GMT
Lines of a Life Well Lived | Tacoma Compassion Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/lines-of-a-life-well-lived

Last year I donated more than two feet of hair to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths.  This is a sacrifice for me (and my husband) every time because there is so much about short hair that just doesn't feel right.  My hair can look quite a bit different in five months of growing and trimming, and this weekend it was time to update my headshots so people recognize me.

I am a deeply compassionate and empathetic person.  Truly seeing people is one of the things that comes naturally to me and I believe it saturates my photography.  

I am also known for my enormous laugh and wry sense of humor.  It's hard to represent all of these things in a single photograph.  

For a long time I've carried the expectation that in order to serve families living with grief I needed to be . . . someone a little different from myself.  That part of me who is joyful was getting stuffed away by the part of me who is nurturing and compassionate.  The big-hearted, loud version was told to shush by the big-hearted, quiet version.  

Today, they shake hands.  They will be working together from now on.

This won't change my behavior.  My work is to serve families as they need me.  I match the energy and the vitality they need to experience in someone, and I am really good at doing that.

This does change the way I see myself, and in this view I feel like I can breathe.  I feel like I can be authentically me without apology.  I am goofy.  I'm also pretty polished about it.  I know that in order to be the most connected I can be with my client families, I need to feel that way about myself.

So here I am.

In color, because that's how you'll see me in person.  With zero retouching, because that's how you'll see me in person.

In fact, I can see I have a little something stuck on one of my teeth right at the gum line.  

I'm gaining more wrinkles by the moment.  These are lines of a life well lived.  I think it's fantastic that my smile lines from my eyes and mouth overlap at my cheeks because my smiles are so big and so frequent.  I am grateful for my grey hair, which is one more sign that I have the privilege of aging and with people I love.

This is a photograph of someone who lives, laughs, loves, cries, and struggles.  This is someone who sees beauty in life, until the very last breath.

This is someone who sees you and your family in the best ways.  This is someone with whom you can celebrate life and love.

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Tacoma bereavement photographer Tacoma funeral photographer Tacoma grief photographer aging headshot life live love photographer portrait smile wrinkles http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/lines-of-a-life-well-lived Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:29:15 GMT
Death Comes to Us All | Tacoma Bereavement Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/death-comes-to-us-all-tacoma-bereavement-photographer

 

This week the subject of work came up while I chatted with a friend.  We traded a few stories about the things we loved about what we do and then she became uncharacteristically quiet.

"Your job must be really hard," she whispered.  "Why?  How can you do this?"

These questions happen in nearly every conversation about what I do.  Death is culturally taboo for most Americans.  It feels weird and perhaps naughty to talk about it.

It's difficult to explain without many long stories, so I'll give you the abridged version.  Adversity calls me.  Mortality practically has a finger in each of my nostrils and leads me around.  I am compelled to do this.  It's hard.  Some days I feel like I just can't . . . it's too much.  

Then I show up and see the people who are living with this new reality.  It doesn't matter if it's illness, death, or a significant change in capability . . . it requires the creation of a new normal.  For these families, life is forever changed.

Whatever I experience as the companion during these times I can manage.  I know that because I need to do this for these families.  This intimacy with mortality, whether it's sudden or gradual, is a state that leads to the need to reflect and connect.  Through photography I can give these families a little of both.

Death comes for each of us.  It comes to us all.  In avoiding the topic or seeking endless euphemisms we cheat ourselves the opportunity to really get to know mortality.  It doesn't make sense to deny it.  How much better would the end of life be for someone who was not afraid?  If we could learn to make peace with that sooner in our lives, I believe it would change not only how we prepare for the deaths of our loved ones and ourselves, but how we live.

Documenting someone's last breaths is an incredible honor (and a tremendous amount of pressure).  Observing the customs and tradition of many cultures in caring for their sick, dying, and dead and in celebrating and mourning their losses is eye-opening.  I've experienced so many amazing things of which I was previously ignorant.

With mortality a part of my daily life, I connect more closely with how I want to live my life.  Being with death strengthens my resolve to live.  When my body is no longer able to support my adventures here, I will go.  Until then, I am living.  I know death will come, and when it does I expect it will be much like old friends reuniting.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Olympia funeral photographer Seattle bereavement photographer Seattle funeral photographer Seattle grief photographer Tacoma Tacoma bereavement photographer Tacoma funeral photographer Tacoma memorial photographer bereavement ceremony death funeral grief illness life memorial wake http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/death-comes-to-us-all-tacoma-bereavement-photographer Thu, 12 Jan 2017 03:25:20 GMT
2016 Image of the Year http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/2016-image-of-the-year

In 2016 I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share my work through interviews.  Iconic images came up in nearly every conversation.

"What was your favorite moment this year?"  

"Is there a picture that has stuck with you long after you took it?"

To honor 2016 I thought I'd share my 2016 Image of the Year, and I'll also publish a small report of the number and types of shoots I did this year.  People are so curious about what grief photography looks like, and because I do not share many images online I have limited opportunities to covey what it's really like.

For me, grief is like this.

It feels like too much.

This boy is three years old.  You can see he's in the hospital.  At this moment, he's been in the hospital for a few days.  He doesn't yet have a diagnosis.  He is in excruciating and sporadic pain that morphine doesn't help.

He was hardly able to rest because there was no position that was comfortable.  His mother was with him during his entire stay, which was ten days long.  She snuggled with him in his bed, read books with him, sang songs, and played with cars.  She explained each of the procedures he would have for diagnosis and evaluation.  All of them hurt and added to his pain.

This is a boy who had had enough.  In this moment I saw that. 

I saw how his fingernails were holding on to dirt that he played in just a few days prior.  I saw him writhe in bed, even while sleeping, because the pain was too great.  I saw a little boy who was confined to a bed and wired for evaluation who ordinarily would be outside running and jumping.

This is my son.  This summer he was in the hospital.  This image breaks me a little each time I see it.

That is what photography is meant to do.  This picture I took on my humble iPhone camera tells a story in a way words cannot.  It connects me with how I felt over those days in July.  It renews my gratitude for his health.  It evokes emotions I can hardly describe.

This is why I do this work.  I have lived these pictures.  While I cannot understand every circumstance I experience through the eyes of my client families, I can have heart for them because I can relate to the grief, anxiety, uncertainty, pain, anger, sorrow, and helplessness.

I see you.  I want to help you see yourself and your family.

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) 2016 Tacoma photographer child family grief grief photography hospital hospital photography image of the year medical photography pediatric sick son http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2017/1/2016-image-of-the-year Mon, 02 Jan 2017 02:16:46 GMT
A Piece of Forever | Tacoma Infant Loss Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/12/a-piece-of-forever

 

The room was dark when I walked by.  Nurses were bustling in and out, and although it was a quiet scene it was chaotic.  I made my way to the end of the hall to take solace in the view of the park while I waited.  I was there to photograph the last moment's of a newborn's life.

The floor-to-ceiling windows gifted an expansive look at the old growth trees in one of the city's oldest parks.  I could see children playing at the playground.  Adults walked with their dogs.  Several people in scrubs were walking quickly along the trails to catch a quick bit of exercise and fresh air before returning to the hospital.

Behind me the quiet chaos continued.  A nurse approached me to let me know they were taking care of a few more things and she'd come for me when the family was ready.  

This newborn boy, who arrived in the world the day before, was releasing the fragile grip he had on life.  The chaos in his room was primarily for his mother, who was recovering from his C-section and overcome by the physical, mental, and emotional anguish of this reality.  The nurses were doing everything they could to take care of her so she could be cognizant and comfortable during her son's final moments.

While all of this was happening, I stared out the window.  I felt very small.  Here I was, standing alone in the hallway listening to hurried footsteps that carried bodies and brains that saved lives.  I was surrounded by people who every day change lives with the care they provide.  They were working so hard to make this last day the best day they could.

All I had was cameras.

I couldn't save their son and yet they asked to see me.  I couldn't relieve her pain, and yet she wanted me to come.

It was the first time I felt so insignificant as a photographer and a person.  I felt like an intruder.

The nurse returned for me, shared a few words about baby's condition, and asked if I needed anything.  The family was ready.

"I'm ready."  

Before I knew it I was standing in that very dark room.  The chaos had ended.  Dad held his son and Mom sat next to him in her wheelchair.  A family member stood against the wall opposite Mom and Dad.  They asked the nurses to leave so they could be alone with their son.  Alone with their son and a photographer they had never met.

Thank goodness for training and habit.  I introduced myself and asked my usual questions of "what do you most want to see?" and "what do you not want to see?" without thinking about it.  From different angles and distances I documented this precious boy's hands and fingers, feet and toes, hair, eyes, and everything else that wasn't obscured by monitors or other equipment.  Dad held his hand.  Mom stroked his foot.

I returned to the window to center myself when I left the room.  I couldn't save their son and that was crushing.  How wonderful it would be to tell someone that I had been able to perform some life-saving feat.  What I could do was save a piece of him.  

With pictures I could give these parents a small piece of forever.  I could show them everything in the moments I was with them - the moments that were both glacial in pace and passing by in a blink.

With photographs, these parents can save their son.  They can save this part of him.  They can keep their memories of him and the time they had together strong.  If there is only one way he can be with them as they move through the rest of their lives, I am moved to tears to be a part of that.  I can give them this gift.

It's not life.  It is a piece of forever.  I hope that helps.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) NICU Tacoma NICU photographer Tacoma infant loss baby loss photographer death family grief hospital infant loss photographer portrait http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/12/a-piece-of-forever Mon, 26 Dec 2016 17:15:11 GMT
Holiday Remembrance | Tacoma Grief Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/12/holiday-remembrance

 

Saturday, December 10, Mountain View Funeral Home, Memorial Park, and Crematory hosted a beautiful and moving remembrance gathering complete with music, ceremony, and empathy.  These events can be so difficult to attend.  People who are new to grief are apprehensive about emoting in front of others they don't know, and they aren't confident they can make it through the event without being knocked over by grief.

I talked with a man after the ceremony.  This is his first holiday season without his wife.  She was 69.

He told me that everything "was just too hard."  It is.  He's creating a different life for himself after sharing his for more than forty years.  He'll need to figure out what, if any, traditions he wants to continue and where he wants to start over.

He told me that I reminded him of his wife.  We looked similar.  That was an enormous and generous compliment from a man who dearly loves his wife.  He sat beside me and proceeded to share a few pictures he had on his phone.  The first was of a gorgeous, vital woman beaming into the camera.  The image had incredible energy, and I commented that she had a great zest for life.  He nodded.

"But this is what she was really like," he murmured as his thumb scrolled through his photo library.  He enlarged a picture of the same breathtaking woman, her head tossed back in hearty laughter and one hand keeping a pink Santa hat on her head.  I cannot understand his pain, and yet I can begin to imagine how much of a void he feels.  This is a woman with a big heart, a big laugh, and a big personality.

Ceremonies have the potential to bring comfort to the bereaved.  "This may be the first time in a long time you've heard your loved one's name spoken out loud," the general manager at Mountain View said.  These ceremonies are safe places where people come together with the understanding they are all in different places and yet all bound together by a shared experience.  

This year each participant received a glass icicle ornament.  Grief can take the color out of our worlds and turn everything monochrome.  While we will always carry grief, it changes over time.  Someday, we will see color again.  Each icicle had color.  I'm going to focus on the color, and I hope my new friend will be able to appreciate the color when the time is right for him.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Lakewood remembrance gathering Mountain View Tacoma remembrance gathering candle lighting ceremony death family grief loss loved one http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/12/holiday-remembrance Sun, 11 Dec 2016 17:33:39 GMT
Dear Young NICU Dad | Tacoma NICU Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/dear-young-nicu-dad

In my role as a NICU photographer I photograph many moments I want to share.  I hear many stories I want to share.  Alas, they are not my moments and not my stories.  I am also bound by contract with the hospital not to share pictures or identifying information.  Sometimes, though, there is a moment or a family that really hits me.  While I cannot share images the way other photographers do, I can tell you about my experience.

This is for the young NICU father I met last week.

I have this picture of you gently caressing your tiny daughter's foot through her incubator.  Every bit of your right arm and hand that is visible in this picture is covered with ink.  It's a beautiful juxtaposition of toughness and gentleness.

I have other pictures of you holding your daughter, just barely five pounds.  She looks especially small in your arms.  Your face is so soft and tender.  It looks as though your heart lives outside your body in this tiny person.

I know from spending time with you that you are tender and compassionate.  I saw that when you were with your daughter and her mother.  I saw you surrender to both of them in this experience.  I saw you allow yourself to be vulnerable.  With a stranger (me) in the room.

I also noticed that you look like a total badass.

You have the appearance of the kind of person popular entertainment suggests is not worth of trust.  I don't know anything about you beyond what I saw in the NICU during the short time we were together.  From that I can say that I've seen the best in humanity.  You were completely connected to your daughter.  You were kind to and supportive of her mother.  With me you were gracious and grateful.

Thank you for having the courage to show your true colors.  Your little girl is fortunate to have you in her life.  I know you will be behind her in every challenge she faces.

 

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) NICU Tacoma dad father hospital photographer tattoo http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/dear-young-nicu-dad Tue, 29 Nov 2016 00:18:42 GMT
A Stable Instead of a Stone | Tacoma Child Loss Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/a-stable-instead-of-a-stone

The expenses of final arrangements for a loved one are often overwhelming, and this is almost always the case for parents who bury a child.  Children's graves are the ones I most often visit to photograph for parents, and often these resting places are unmarked in conventional ways.

We think of a burial as something that involves a headstone or marker that recognizes and honors the person's lifetime, often with some personalization such as a quote or a picture.  These stones range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.  After paying basic burial costs (and especially when death punctuates a long illness), stones become financially out-of-reach.

This is heartbreaking.  It's heartbreaking for anyone who grieves.  In the community of bereaved parents, there is a colorful, vibrant, and unique solution.

Resourceful parents without the financial means to provide a stone make grief homes for their children in other ways.  This young girl's family embraced her love of horses and created a stable for her.  A pink stable.  The stable has a modest fence, a beautiful and bountiful garden in the back, and Anna (from Frozen) lovingly tends to the four horses.

She has no stone.  While I look at her place and wish she had a beautiful granite marker that will help to tell her story for generations, I understand and admire her family's alternative.  This is beautiful, and this says so much more about who she is than any stone could.

Many nonprofits exist to help parents in this circumstance and offer financial assistance for final arrangements.  Little Love Foundation, which assists parents who have suffered the loss of a baby, put together a fantastic online reference of resources.  Help is available.  And sometimes the alternative can be more comforting in the short-term.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) bereaved parents burial expense child loss death financial assistance funeral grave grief horses no marker http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/a-stable-instead-of-a-stone Wed, 16 Nov 2016 01:48:26 GMT
Grieving through the Holidays http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/grieving-through-the-holidays

There isn't an easy time of year to be hit with a wave of grief and outside of triggering events like birthdays and anniversaries it's impossible to predict when the next wave will hit.  The holiday season is a challenge for most of the families I meet.  It's full of good cheer, good will, and love for family and friends . . . and when someone you love isn't there to share that with you it can feel exactly the opposite.

I asked Sairey Luternman, a Certified Thanatologist with a grief counseling practice in Massachusetts, a few questions about how to grieve through the holidays. She is a thoughtful and compassionate professional who encourages people living with grief to honor themselves during this new way of being.  I share her wisdom with you in the hopes it can bring you or someone you love a smidgen more comfort this holiday season.

 


How do we include meaningful traditions in our family's celebrations when a key person is no longer here?  Do we start new traditions?  Do we keep the old ones and struggle through them?

After a loss, holidays can take on a looming and threatening nature for a family trying to navigate traditions, memories, and feelings.  One of the biggest gifts a grieving person can give themselves is to anticipate a holiday and try to plan for it, well in advance of the actual holiday.  What might feel good?  What needs to be tossed?  Work with your loved ones to develop a plan and ideas for how the holiday time might be best and most comfortably spent.  Then, don't feel like those ideas and plans are a lock step formulation.  Be willing to switch gears int he middle if something that initially felt comfortable and wonderful isn't working.  Surround yourself with family members and friends willing to support and be flexible with you at this time.  Some folk are able to work with the old traditions and simply call out and remember and perhaps symbolically include their dead loved one, while other may decide to radically depart from the old ways and take a cruise, go on a hike, or observe a holiday in a way that is entirely different than what they may have done previously.  Some find a more comfortable middle ground.

In my experience, this can be about trial and error, and after a few holidays have been approached and celebrated, what may or may not work for a family will begin to emerge.  Be thoughtful, refine, adapt, and change as much as you need to, and be kind to yourself.

When does it get easier?

Loss is particular and individual - there is no algorithm for this.  Loss is hard and it must be continuously acknowledged.  A person who has had a loss is deserving of big doses of love and support.  Having good support in place and learning what that support looks like for yourself and your loved ones can help make traveling the road a little easier.  There can be an enormous amount of comfort in being with individuals who have also suffered a similar loss, as in a bereavement or loss group, or if that isn't comfortable, one-on-one support may help someone who is really struggling.  Seek help and support and be as kind to yourself as you would to someone else who has suffered a loss.

How do I politely decline invitations when I just want to be left alone?

There is a thread of educating others that seems to run through the experience of enduring the loss of a loved one.  It is a role one can choose to take on, or not.  I believe a polite and simple, "I appreciate the invite, but I am not up to it right now," should suffice.  If you feel uncomfortable being that succinct, you could say, "When I feel more up to it, I will be sure to let you know," as it will generally stop the invitee from insisting.  There is a lot of clumsiness in what is offered to us in the wake of loss, and a lot of good, too.  Listening carefully to your own internal signals and defending the space to grieve and exist the way you need to is your right and a profound need that must be honored.  It is okay to defend that space for yourself.  If you are not leaving the house for long periods of time or the person making an inquiry or request of you is someone quite close and that you particularly trust, you may ask them, "Why the insistence?"  Remember that sometimes our loved ones can feel apprehensive and want to help, but they may also see something distressing in your behavior that is worth listening to - for instance, prolonged withdrawal from family and friends may mean you do need more support, perhaps from a professional. 

I feel horrible for wanting to forget about this loss until the holidays are over so I can enjoy the holidays.  Does that make me a terrible person?

Taking time to reevaluate and explore how holidays are spent (and enjoyed) in the wake of loss is an important self-care activity.  There is a lot of judgment about how we choose to grieve and do things sometimes when we have had a loved one die.  If it is more comfortable to proceed with the holiday "the old way" then it should be so - and not having different traditions, memorializing our loved one, and calling them out during this time are absolutely acceptable.  What matters in the new normal is that the holiday feels as you and your loved ones desire and need it to be.


 

I especially like how Sairey mentioned the clumsiness of grief.  It is awkward.  It is both delicate and tough, and that seems to be so much of the clumsiness of it.  In being honest with ourselves about how we feel and how we'd like to spend our time, we can politely and firmly help to set the expectations of others.  As Sairey said, defend the space you need to grieve.

Sairey works with clients in and around Lexington, MA, and works with clients via the phone/Skype all over the country. She provides excellent resources online through her site and social media accounts.  Her addresses are below if you like to follow her.

May the holidays bring you moments of peace between the waves of grief this year.

 

www.lutermangriefsupport.com

https://facebook.com/saireylutermangriefsupport/

https://linkedin.com/in/saireyluterman

 

 

 

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Christmas Hanukkah New Year's Sairey Luterman Thanksgiving advice bereavement family friends grief holidays invitations parties suggestion thanatologist wisdom http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/grieving-through-the-holidays Tue, 08 Nov 2016 19:50:00 GMT
An Unlikely Playmate | Tacoma Funeral Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/an-unlikely-playmate-tacoma-funeral-photographer

When I visit graves and niches to photograph them at the request of families, I often bring my assistant.  He's spent more hours in cemeteries and memorial parks than most adults, and yet he's three years old.

My son came with me today as I documented a new marker for a young woman.  She has a place that reminded me of a backyard, under the cover of a large tree with a small bench for long chats.  An angel stands nearby with a bowl of flowers.  

 

In this particular memorial park, the children's area is nearby.  I visit the little ones when my schedule is flexible.  I think they call me to them.  I find myself with the children in every cemetery I visit, even if it's my first time and I have little idea of the layout.

My son and I walked through to talk to the children. Earlier in the week I photographed an infant's funeral and visited the little boy in his new place.  I visited with the other children I've come to know and introduced myself to others.  I tell my son what I know about these children in ways that make sense to him.  He gives me lots of hugs.

We walked by a little boy's space who had a car engraved on his marker.  A kindred spirit for my son!  I pointed his out to him and told him this was another little boy who really liked cars.  My son squatted down and admired the granite.

"Mommy, may I play with him?"  he asked.

I didn't know what to say.  I didn't know exactly what he meant, so I asked him to explain.

"I have cars in your truck, Mommy.  I can share and we can play."

And so we walked together back to my truck.  He stuffed his pockets with vehicles and carried a few more in his hands.  On the way back to the boy's marker, he shouted, "I'm coming!  I have cars!"

He laid in the grass and played with his new friend while I wandered the grounds, meeting new people and imagining stories.  I'm sure he had stories of his own to tell.  He chatted nearly the entire time of his visit.  I'm not sure what he saw or felt.

When it was time to go, he packed up his cars and said goodbye to his friend.  I believe we'll be back to visit and play again.

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Tacoma funeral photographer boy cars death grave grief play toddler http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/11/an-unlikely-playmate-tacoma-funeral-photographer Thu, 03 Nov 2016 23:39:58 GMT
The Heartbreak of Hello and Goodbye | Tacoma Infant Loss Photographer http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/10/the-heartbreak-of-hello-and-goodbye-tacoma-infant-loss-photographer The days babies come are supposed to be the happiest days.  For some families, they are also the most crushing.

There are families who say hello and goodbye in the same day, and sometimes in the same breath.  The grief is heavy.  It feels too heavy to carry.  These are families that should be soaking in those beautiful sleepy newborn days, learning how to interpret cries, feeding at all hours, and changing lots of diapers.

These are not families that should be visiting their children's graves.

Every time I photograph a child's funeral I feel like raw meat.  Just beaten.  I cannot wrap my brain around how devastating this loss is for parents, grandparents, and siblings.  The sight of a coffin that is so small . . . it's heartbreaking.

The person who designed this balloon meant for it to be seen in a hospital or at home.  Instead it's marking the new resting place of a little boy who is very much loved.

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Tacoma grief photographer baby balloon death funeral grandparent grave grief infant loss parent http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/10/the-heartbreak-of-hello-and-goodbye-tacoma-infant-loss-photographer Fri, 21 Oct 2016 21:33:13 GMT
Mountain View Funeral Home and Memorial Park | Lakewood, WA http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/10/mountain-view-funeral-home-and-memorial-park-lakewood-wa Mountain View Funeral Home, Memorial Park and Crematory has been a fixture in Pierce County (Washington State) since 1915.  It was the second facility in the United States to combine a funeral home and cemetery in 1942.  Mountain View has a total of 160 acres available and has developed 110 of those as of 2016; more than 100,000 people rest at Mountain View.  The staff assist about 1,400 families each year with services - that's about 27 families each week.  Out-of-area mourners can attend services via webcast.  In addition to final arrangements, Mountain View compassionately provides grief support to families at no cost for as long as they like.  It's an amazing place.

It's also a beautiful, tranquil place.  The grounds include 181 varieties of trees, 575 rhododendrons, and a gorgeous rose garden.  Mountain View maintains 53 distinct gardens for burial, five veterans' sections, over 5,000 above-ground casket spaces (mausoleum), and more than 10,000 niches for cremated remains.

All of these things establish Mountain View as a leader in the industry.  It's the people, though, that make the difference.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Clarke Thomson, General Manager.  Two things struck me about our conversation.  First,  Mr. Thomson values community and remarked about the strength of community at Mountain View.  Second, he puts families first and leads the organization with compassion.

During many graveside visits with family I've seen the kindness of neighbors.  People who may have never met otherwise become connected when their loved ones rest side by side.  Like cities, cemeteries contain small groups of neighborhoods and neighbors come to know each other over time.  They leave flowers for their resting neighbors when they bring flowers for their own loved ones.  They talk with each other.  They walk through the grounds together.  They feel seen, heard, and understood in a way they may not feel with family and friends.  

As Mr. Thomson showed me the newest mausoleum structure, which also contains niches for cremated remains, he told me the story of two neighbors in the space.  Very few residents are in niches just yet, with most being separated by rows of niches.  Two soldiers found themselves together - both were young and left behind young families.  The mothers of these servicemen have become support for one another.  They do not necessarily visit at the same time, yet each understands the other in a way friends and family cannot.  How beautiful and relieving it must be to know that someone you've just met gets you.  That's community.

He showed me the monument for first responders in Pierce County.  The monument was established to honor the Lakewood Four and includes the names of other responders who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Mr. Thomson said many responders visit this memorial each week to have a quiet place to pay their respects.

I've met a lot of people in the funeral profession and it saddens me to say that many of them seem disinterested or disconnected from the families they serve.  It's a job.  For Mr. Thomson, it's a calling, and he demonstrates his care through his actions.  When he showed me the Memorial Design Center in the main building, he explained it initially held caskets.  The room was full of beautiful monuments and markers.  Caskets are a big-ticket item, and because they are on display for an hour, perhaps, it didn't make sense to him to dedicate all that space to something the families would see just once.  He wanted to use the space to meet with families to create lasting memorials for generations to enjoy.  So he did.  Benches, traditional markers, and unique monuments like salmon and tractors are all options.  Families can see those up close and decide what interface, for lack of a better term, they want to have with their loved ones during their visits.    He wants families to focus on what will be most important to them in the long run and provides the space to do that.  

It's not just business and it is important to have a holistic approach to caring for these families.  This is why Mountain View provides abundant resources for grief.  Staff walk families through the process, explaining the required forms and documents and why they matter.  "It's our duty to be a pillar for families," Mr. Thompson explained.

Mountain View recognizes the first 30 days are the hardest and provides complementary benches for that time period.  It's a safe place to come and talk, cry, shout, or be silent.

In the Memorial Design Center is also a photo mural with a quote.

I mean, they say you die twice.  One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.

- Banksy

We talked about this fear of being forgotten.  It's something most of us don't anticipate and yet it becomes a tremendous concern after death.  it is crushing when days or weeks after the service and final arrangements the people in a mourner's life go back to normal. Life for the mourner is forever changed.  Forever more complicated and painful.  The thought that people forget the person who is gone . . . that people stop sharing stories and pictures, they stop saying the name . . . that's heartbreaking.  It is another kind of loss and one for which we are not prepared.

Mr. Thomson shared a story about a service he helped to plan for a former professional baseball player and life-long lover of the sport.  He listened to the family's description of this man and realized how big a role baseball played in his life.  With the family's support, the service abruptly changed course about two-thirds of the way through as the organist played "charge."  I can only imagine the expressions of the mourners and really wish I had been there to photograph that service.  The officiant remarked that it was only appropriate to take a seventh inning stretch.  They stood, stretched, and sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" together.  He really listened to understand, and because of that he was able to help deliver an unforgettable celebration of this man's life.

A new area of service for Mountain View is hosting family reunions.  Mr. Thomson talked about how reunions frequently involve a trip to the cemetery to visit loved ones and connect with ancestors.  Families share stories as they come together, and they have the opportunity to visit resting places that may be far from home.  Families with history at Mountain View may choose one of the reception areas to host part or all of their family reunions, simplifying the planning and deeply connecting with the history and shared experiences that bring families together.  How many other funeral homes or cemeteries do that?

I have been honored to witness families at Mountain View, at graveside and for receptions.  Seeing pieces of their experiences from the other side moves me to appreciate the care they receive so much more.

 

http://www.mountainviewtacoma.com

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https://www.youtube.com/user/MVMemorialPark

 

 

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shannon.macfarlane.photography@gmail.com (Shannon MacFarlane Photography) Clarke Thomson Lakewood, WA Mountain View burial cemetery community compassion death empathy final arrangements funeral home grief mausoleum memorial park service http://www.shannonmacfarlanephotography.com/blog/2016/10/mountain-view-funeral-home-and-memorial-park-lakewood-wa Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:30:00 GMT