A Tribute: Bravery for Avery

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"My 5 yr old daughter was just diagnosed with DIPG, a terminal brain stem tumor. There is no cure. Average prognosis is 9-12 mos. We would love a photo sessions and book for our family, including her twin sister and little brother, to hold on to as we grieve."

Those words are powerful. Sitting in my inbox, holding so much weight, Emily reached out to Love Not Lost in December. My heart broke, as it does every time I read an application that comes through, and I knew we would make this session happen no matter the cost.

At the end of February, Avery was granted her Make-A-Wish trip to Disney and it was a great opportunity to capture some incredible moments. We were able to spend the day with them at LegoLand preserving memories together. It's a day I will never forget.

I was captivated by both Bekah and Avery, twins with so much love for each other. From the first ride on the double-decker merry-go-round, to the train rides, car rides, and boat rides that followed, all three kids were soaking up the fun and fully enjoying themselves. Of course we stopped for lunch and ice cream treats in the middle of it all, and had some laughs as the kids covered their hands and faces with sticky goodness.

Later in the day, as the kids were getting tired, we stopped to watch a water ski show and rest. Some popcorn and frozen pops helped get their energy back for some more fun before dinner. After dinner, I was able to go back to the Give Kids The World resort where we played games and had fun with other families until bedtime.

I wish I could've captured the whole week, but I had to get back for our 3rd Annual Auction Celebration on March 1. When I talked to Emily this month to share some updates with her, I was devastated to learn that Avery passed away on Mother's Day. I watched their video and cried at my desk for a good while. I know that pain. The emptiness and grief as your daughter leaves your arms for the last time is unbearable. "Be brave my heart. Have courage my soul."

Having spent time with the Neill family, I have no doubt they will be loved and cared for through this time. The facebook community through their Bravery for Avery page is amazing. They are surrounded by people who love and care for them. If that's you, I want to encourage you to show up. Even if it's donating to their DPIG fundraiser, taking care of their yard, offering to run errands, bringing them a meal or sending them gift certificates for gas, groceries, or restaurants... don't disappear. They will need you throughout this ENTIRE YEAR. Send cards, offer to help with the kids, pick up the phone and tell them you're thinking of them - whatever you can do, do it. We need to show up and love them well in their grief.

Today, as we celebrate Avery and Rebekah's 6th Birthday, we hold this family close. We hope these photos can bring some peace and comfort to all who loved Avery and joy to the family as they celebrate Bekah & Avery's Birthday today.

Thank you Neill Family for inviting us and trusting us to capture these memories for you. It was an incredible honor and privilege to spend the day with you. We love you all so much.

Thank you to all of the generous donors and supporters of Love Not Lost who made this trip possible. We don't ask the families we serve to pay anything, because they have enough expenses on their plates. Your financial contributions to Love Not Lost allow us to show up and love people well without having to worry about how we are going to make it happen.

You allowed us to say "Yes!" to the Neill family when they asked for help preserving memories and support through the grief. Every gift enables us to serve more families and we are so grateful for your help in making these memories possible. Thank you!

Our 3rd Annual Auction Event

I first want to apologize for being silent on the blog this year. We moved up our 3rd Annual Auction event from May to March, so after the end-of-year giving campaign, I went straight into event planning while continuing to run Love Not Lost.

On top of that, I ended up giving myself a concussion setting up for the event, which required me to take a 3-week break from screens. Thankfully, I was still able to photograph, train photographers, and attend meetings while recovering, but it definitely put me behind in book designs, emails, blog updates, and social media updates. I am finally getting caught up on everything, but the book designs took priority. Thank you for your patience!

Our 3rd Annual Auction Celebration was a huge success thanks to our wonderful guests, VIP table sponsors, and event sponsor, Kalon Creative. Kalon Creative builds modern, user-friendly websites and apps for startups, small businesses, and growing companies. They've been a corporate supporter for years and we are so grateful for Kalon Creative's continued support to help us carry out our mission.

The King Plow Arts Center was full of people who've been around since our launch, brand new faces learning about Love Not Lost for the first time, and every stage in between. As people entered the room, one of our Love Not Lost photographer volunteers, Patrick, took photos of our guests which have just been posted to our Love Not Lost Facebook page to easily share. We believe memories are important to capture and life is worth celebrating, whether you're facing a terminal diagnosis or not, so we're really glad people took advantage of the moment to freeze time. Go check out the Facebook gallery!

The room was full of music, conversation, and good times as the cocktails were flowing and all of the unique and fun silent auction items were out on display. Things like a team-autographed Atlanta Hawks basketball, Atlanta staycation packages, flight lessons, beautiful jewelry, a wine tour and tasting getaway, concert tickets, festival tickets, and many other great Atlanta items and experiences that add more to life were getting bid on by the minute. We even had people bidding from home, and if that was you, thank you for supporting us even if you coudln't be there in person! Chris Veal, one of Atlanta's favorite graffiti artists, joined us at the event to paint a beautiful skyline piece as people were enjoying the evening, which was later auctioned during the live portion of the night.

Thanks to Collection Event Furnishings, we had a cozy section of the room where albums were on display for people to enjoy while the cocktails were being sipped and the silent auction was gaining bids. As the cocktail hour drew to a close, we moved into the event room with the most delicious dinner from Bold Events Catering & Design. From fried chicken to braised short rib to honey glazed salmon, it was the type of food that soothes the soul. Every person I talk to from the event continues to bring up how amazing the food was and I have to agree - thanks Bold Events for a memorable meal! Our favorite DJ, Brian, aka "DJ Sires" from Amp'd Entertainment, kept the party going until the very end once again. We are so grateful to all the generous vendors who help make this possible!

During the the main program, I was able to share about the journey Love Not Lost has taken over the past two years and the vision for what's to come.  One of our applicants, Pam Collins, received her album that night and spoke about her experience with Love Not Lost and what it's meant to their family. Here's just a small piece of what Pam shared, 

When Georgia, from Circle of Friends, introduced me to Love Not Lost I was excited to apply for this opportunity. You get busy in your everyday life doing things for your parent and you forget to take pictures or don’t have your camera or phone ready to catch those special moments. To have a book made for you is a dream come true. Moments were created and captured with my Dad and family members that will be forever cherished and adored by all for years to come.

After hearing Pam share about her experience, we introduced our new grief empathy tools to empower and equip you - the greater community - to show up for the people in your life who are hurting. Everyone who attended got to go home with, the very first Love Not Lost support and empathy tools:

  • The 1st "Moore Love" Empathy Card
  • Gift A Session Certificate
  • "How Can I Love You?" Care Card
 Photography for the event was graciously captured by  Molly Weir Photography.

Photography for the event was graciously captured by Molly Weir Photography.

These are coming soon on our website and we can't wait to get them into your hands too!

We are going to continue to develop resources to equip people to show up for their loved ones who are hurting as well as continue the growth of our photography program.

The week after the event, we held another photographer retreat and added five more photographer volunteers to our team! We also had our first meeting with the Northside Hospital Oncology leaders and have started partnering with their centers across the state to serve their stage 4 cancer patients. Our board of directors is also growing!

This wouldn't be possible without all of the awesome people who attended our event, those who gave generously to help us raise over $25,000, and our valued donors who have supported us throughout the year, especially those who give every month as our foundation builders.

Thank you for helping us grow to preserve memories for those facing a terminal diagnosis and supporting people in grief!

We are looking to host another photographer retreat this summer and will expand our partnerships as well. We have some more events planned throughout the year, so if you missed the event and still want to be involved, check our event page and follow us on social media @lovenotlostorg to stay in the know! If you're a fan of Love Not Lost, you can also be the first to know about things and have the inside look at what's going on by signing up for our newsletter.

Next year's event will be taking place on March 1, 2019 - so SAVE THE DATE!!! We hope you can join us for another incredible night to remember.

 

 

The Holidays Can Be Hard... Here's How You Can Help Those You Love

This time of year can be extremely hard for people who have lost loved ones. The world wants everyone to be happy and merry, yet it's important to recognize people who are hurting and bring comfort to those who need it. 

If you're facing the holidays with loved ones who are grieving, it can get awkward, but it doesn't have to! Grieving people are still people who just want to know they are loved and cared for like everyone else.

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Here are seven tips to help you show up and love the people you care about:

1. Be honest and let them know you love them. Ask if there's anything you can do (or not do) before the festivities begin to support them in their grief. Then listen and respond. Open communication is important.

2. Try to create judgement-free zones where people can be themselves, whatever that looks like in that moment. 

3. Don't put expectations on people to be a certain way, especially expectations for someone to be happy if they're hurting. If someone seems sad, acknowledge it and ask them if they want to talk about it. 

4. Give them the option to have some alone time in the midst of everything. It's easy to want to fill up schedules, add distractions, or pack in family time. That's okay, but create the opportunity for them to get away by themselves if they need it. 

5. If there are tears, embrace them, and be generous with kindness. Let people know it's okay to cry with you and don't be afraid to give hugs.

6. Treat them normal with some added grace. 

7. Do what you can to bring authentic laughter and smiles - it's such good medicine for everyone! 

If you have stories of how loved ones really showed up for you during hard times, whether it's the holidays or another time where you really needed it, we would love to hear from you. You can either fill out our contact form or leave a comment - Thank you! 

Adkins Family in Atlanta

One question we often get is "How do you choose which families you serve?" and our answer is simple, "If they are facing a terminal diagnosis, we try to serve everyone." Our definition of terminal is this: a condition or disease that is incurable and will result in an early death. Sometimes people are unsure so they don't apply, but then there are people like Aisha, who wasn't sure if her mom would qualify, but applied anyway. 

Aisha's dad has already suffered multiple strokes and her mom has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia, which typically affects people under 65 years old. Aisha is an only child and the primary caregiver for her mom:

In 2013, my mother was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, a rare form of dementia affecting approximately 10-20% of all dementia cases (according to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration). Dementia is a disease that steals the very essence of the person you once knew, slowly replacing them with a veritable shell of their former selves until it finally takes their lives. My mother has always been a strong, talented woman with a big heart and charitable soul. These characteristics remain as her memory and other aspects begin to fade away. My father and I would be so grateful if we could capture my mother's sweetness and my parents' love (they are high school sweethearts and have been married for nearly 42 years) one last time. Thank you, Ashley, for your consideration and all you do to help so many hurting families heal through the art of photography.

Madison, one of our Love Not Lost photographers, joined me for this shoot. Now that we have multiple volunteer photographers, our local sessions will have two photographers for each shoot. With two LNL photographers, we're able to help each other out, whether it's moving equipment, rolling wheelchairs in and out of photos, making people laugh, or having an extra perspective - it makes a difference and we're so glad to be able to support each other. 

When Madison and I met Aisha and her parents, Ron and Rose, they were full of smiles and joy. We first stopped at a bench nestled in some ferns and pine trees, where Ron and Rose immediately cuddled up together. In fact, they were so in love, I didn't even need to give them direction on how to pose for photos. Their connection, which you'll see in the photos, was so evident, I asked them what their secret was. Being middle school sweethearts married 42 years has its challenges I am sure, but their answer was simple, "keep laughing... and choose to love every day." 

Ron, Rose, and Aisha were up for anything. Rose was in a wheelchair, but with Ron's help, she could stand for a few moments at a time for photos. We captured some beautiful family moments with all three of them, and then some special moments between Ron and Rose. When they were dating, Ron used to bring Rose her favorite cookies and chocolate milk to win her heart, so we were sure to capture an exchange of cookies during our session. We also looked through some old photos and shared memories as they reflected on their lives together. 

They are a strong, loving family and we had so much fun during our session! We hope you enjoy the memories we preserved for this incredible family.  

If you are interested in helping other families celebrate life and preserve memories, please consider becoming a monthly donor (even $5 per month makes a difference). Your gift helps us continue to provide free portrait sessions and give each family a beautiful hand-crafted photo album to carry on their legacy. Thank you!

 

Never Give Up, Texas

Over the past few days, I have watched in shock and horror as the water levels keep rising in Houston - the city I flew into less than two months ago for this session. It's hardly recognizable when I see images on the news. The wonderful woman who hosted me in her home has stayed safe and dry thus far, but many of her clients and friends have lost everything. The two families we served 30 minutes or so outside of Houston have also escaped the flood damage, but the Houston community is hurting.

As the death count continues to rise, grief sets in, and suffering ensues, we know there is a long road to recovering and rebuilding. When we feel helpless and feel compelled to give as a way of making an impact, but think that $10 or $20 doesn't feel like much of anything to give, please know that every dollar has a purpose and truly helps. Organizations like Preemptive Love, and other organizations (and more) who are on the ground actively helping others, need our support to keep doing what they do. Speaking as someone who runs a non-profit... without your money, we would not be able to do what we do. It matters. Please help support the people of Houston - give whatever you can to the people who need your resources to continue saving lives and supporting those in need. 

This session post was scheduled to be posted earlier this month, but we pushed it back to announce Kristyn's farewell... Then Harvey happened, and all eyes have been on Texas. We've been thinking about Texas too - not only hoping for the water to subside, but for love to pour out, for courage to rise up, and for hope to take root.

The Combs Family has been weathering their own storm and have been surrounded by love as they take courage and hold onto hope. Two years ago, Alyssa called me and told me her daughter had been diagnosed with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) type 1, like my daughter had. She was calling to get advice, to hear my story, and to talk about the scary stuff from one SMA mom to another. I was still in the paper work of filing for the 501c3 status for Love Not Lost, but mentioned it to her before we hung up.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to see her application come through! Not only was I excited to meet them, but I was surprised in the best way possible that they were able to get on a drug trial that helps fight SMA. It's not a cure, but the difference it makes is something I would call miraculous. The drug is now FDA approved, which is important, not just for other SMA kids, but for the child Alyssa is carrying as well. 

Alyssa and her husband have a healthy son, a daughter with SMA, and a third child on the way who will also have SMA. Their family mantra comes from the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation - Never Give Up.

We were happy to have extended family join us for the shoot and captured some really fun memories playing and laughing together. We hope these photos of love and joy bring some encouragement to your day.

When you are overwhelmed, exhausted, and feel like you just can't take any more, we hope you remember this family. We hope you remember Texas. We hope you never give up.

Love Not Lost - Kristyn's Farewell

Kristyn, our Director of Operations, is a really gifted writer and a big dreamer. That's part of what made us fall in love with her. When she interviewed with us, she told us she was the co-founder of Gather Good, but that she also loved our cause and wanted to get involved part time. Her resume was impressive, and her personality and heart even more so. I knew there was a risk of her leaving us, but it was worth it to have her join us, even if for a short time. 

As we have had the privilege of working together, I don't regret that decision for one second. She has brought so much value to Love Not Lost and I will be forever grateful for her fingerprints she will leave behind. 

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In recent months, I could tell Gather Good was demanding more of her schedule and knew it was a matter of time before she would need to make the call. That call came last week, and as Kristyn choked up sharing her decision to step away from Love Not Lost, I also teared up.

As much as it sucks to lose great people, I am so excited to watch her chase her dream. We had a great conversation and she's offered to stay on for several more weeks to help us transition our new hire into the role of Director of Operations (now accepting applications). This is currently a part time role that we hope to transition to a full time position in the future as we gain corporate sponsors and additional donations. 

We are looking forward to meeting people who are excited about the mission of Love Not Lost and want to help us grow across the Southeast. If you know of someone who would be interested, please send them to our job posting and tell them to apply! 

In saying goodbye, Kristyn has some words to share that I will leave you with...

Back in 1999, when I was just 12 years old, I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. It was a short six months from diagnosis to death, and just as quickly as he was here, he was gone. During that time my family hardly captured moments together, a decision I greatly wish I could change. 

Upon first hearing about the mission of Love Not Lost, it immediately became very near and dear to my heart. Aside from my resolute love of grassroots nonprofits, I felt a strong connection because of my childhood. Capturing and preserving a snapshot of someone's life stands still in time. Memories fade; photographs last a lifetime. 

Like all of you, I believe in the importance of celebrating the seconds, minutes, hours, and days that make up this beautiful mess we call life. In its short time as a nonprofit, Love Not Lost has been able to support people in grief and celebrate life. To capture those finite, yet uniquely impactful moments. Ashley has been at the heart of loving people better so delicately and it makes me honored to share a role in growing this remarkable community. 

Saying goodbye is never easy. We experience goodbyes throughout our lives, but the ache of that statement, no matter the amount of practice we have, still stings like the first time around. It has been an incredibly hard decision to say goodbye to Love Not Lost.

Much like my father, I connect moments through song. In saying goodbye, I like to think of it more as an I'll be seeing you, like the sweet crooning of Billy Holiday's title track. 

As I chase my dream of storytelling Atlanta's strong civic heartbeat, I will continue to walk in stride with Love Not Lost. While my role will change, my adoration for the work we do will continue to remain unwavering. If you're interested in the Director of Operations position, I can promise you it will be a decision you won't regret saying yes to. 

I bid you all my dearest farewell. Adieu. I'll be seeing you. 

Freezing Time In Texas

Around the time of our Annual Auction Celebration, we had the honor of flying out to Texas to preserve memories for two families in Texas. The first family we photographed sent us an application about their baby that read, "I am a mother of 2 beautiful miracles. I am currently pregnant with my 4th. My 1st pregnancy ended with a miscarriage and this time I am currently trying to make it full term. Around 11 weeks, our daughter was diagnosed with Acrania-anencephaly. My heart broke to know that she will not be surviving long after birth or might not even make it alive at all. Through all the pain and heartache we are feeling, we decided to help other babies and hope we can donate her organs to help other parents not go through this pain that we are feeling. My baby will be a life saver and it makes me feel a little better that she will help others."

Our mission is to celebrate life while supporting people in grief - even celebrating life before being born. Since Yessica's due date was uncertain, we talked through some options and decided to preserve memories as a family while the baby was alive in the womb through a maternity session. We let the family know that Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep has a mission to photograph babies that never make it home from the hospital, and they would likely be able to photograph the delivery. We had a little bit of a rush to make sure we got the maternity session done before labor started, so we scheduled it as soon as we could. 

When we met in Texas, Yessica and her family were wonderful. They showed me a stuffed animal that played the baby's heart beat when you squeezed it, which we incorporated into several of the photos. We captured great moments together, played in the fountain nearby, and enjoyed the day in Tomball. If you would like to learn more about this family or support them directly for the memorial service, you can go to their GoFundMe page. We know there will be tough times ahead, but hope these photos can serve as a comfort in the days to come and bring joy in the future. 

Thank you for helping us travel to visit this family. Your donations make it possible to preserve these precious memories. We are excited to share the second family we photographed in Texas on the next blog post!