love in photographs

This is the progression. The journey in photos of our time here at the beach thus far.

That first photo was taken by Melissa right after we moved here last year.
It was July 16th… 3 months to the day since Shayne died.
I woke up griefy. Almost cancelled on them because I felt like shit, thought I looked like shit and that I deserved to be alone that day.
But I also really wanted to see them, and baby Jules. The visit was rough and tumble on my heart because I knew she was bringing her camera and I knew I just wouldn’t “deliver” and… the elephant in the room, the photos would be void of our person. I’d have to officially hold the line alone.

A photo is worth a thousand words… or more. Truly.
In this case, these three photos are worth a million emotions.

I met Melissa the photog via Google.
Me – pregnant with Brooklynn, Shayne and Audrey were living in Amarillo and I was planning for our vacation to the Florida panhandle with my family back in 2013.
I wanted to have maternity photos taken and also incorporate my family AND share the news of the name we decided for her. Killing all the birds.
I was Google searching, looking for a local photographer to travel to our beachside condo for a family session. I e-mailed a few, but the deciding reason I hired her besides her portfolio was simply: she was the only photographer who actually called me on the phone to discuss my inquiry. Her voice was so enthusiastic, she was chatty and asked all the right questions. I remember the conversation exactly, I remember leaving Audrey in the house and walking outside into the backyard, pacing around as we talked. I knew right away I was making a connection.

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Fast forward to the last time we all spent time with her and her husband, it was during our anniversary/family trip to the Emerald Coast May 2015. Shayne and I brought the girls here to visit where we were married during the week of our 6th wedding anniversary. Melissa and her hubby joined us one day for beach time and shot the very last family photos we would ever take together as a foursome. Not even a year later, he would be gone.

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To me, these aren’t “just photos.” These are tangible memories. Now more than ever I hold the value of these moments at highest regard. Take the pictures. Spend the money, the time and effort to do the photos. Document all the moments, all the milestones, all the growth spurts, all the transitions. Get it all.
They very well could be the last remaining irrefutable evidence you were here, you loved and you were happy. You were …together.
And Melissa, she has seen and captured us. Captured us whole. Broken.
And now, capturing us rebuilding.
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The time that’s passed between these photos.
The evolution. The progression. The growth.
Its almost as if I need these as proof, specifically those first photos taken only 3 months after he died. Candid. In our bathing suits, on the beach, just holding onto each other so tightly, the joy I found was through and with the girls.
This is who I was, where I was, in that moment in time.
This is what I looked like when I smiled 3 months after my husband, and their father, had died, and the important thing to remember is – something was still stirring joy within me and seeking face time, I hadn’t completely gone dark – I was still smiling.
I was in pain. I was spiraling into unknown territory. But somehow, someway, I was showing up and smiling. I did that. Here’s proof.

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The last time she had taken our photos, we were a complete unit, family of four.
So truthfully, I remember having a very rough time looking through the gallery of us as a newly-formed trio. I confessed to her it was hard looking at them. Not because anything about any of us looked wrong, but someone was blatantly missing and it was still so bewildering the reason why.
But somehow I knew. I knew, that however painful, uncomfortable and awkward I felt being a trio… it was important for me to document the moment.
I asked that our new normal be documented. In whatever shape we were in. Come as we are. Lets own this. Capture this. The moment in time we braved the wilderness and in the beginnings of forging our own path and following the road –  illuminated in blind faith and love – that we were paving.

They will look at these photos when they are older and I don’t quite know what and how they are going to feel about them, but hopefully they remember how strong we were, and are. And no matter what, we showed up. Leaned in. And carried on. And found joy. And smiled. Anyway. All hope wasn’t lost. He didn’t absorb all our joy and take it with him. He gave us so much of his heart, his softness for his girls and sweetness for me was felt all the time and still is on days when I really need it, he left it all here for us to seek and gather.

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These pictures, as much as my own words have told, show a story.
The first, 3 months after, I was tired. Still in shock. Just moved here with our two ladies, finding my footing, all alone. Deep in it. I still can’t remember a lot of the days… its as if my short term memory went on hiatus. My brain forced itself on auto-pilot in an attempt to self-preserve. I just placed one foot in front of the other. Relied on my stubbornness most days to even get up. I was hard on myself, every day. I leaned on out-of-town friends to steer me. Walk me through my days. I was alone a lot. Silent a lot. Walls were being built. Edges were sharpening. Shock was wearing off, intense hurt and heartache was settling in. But I was trying so hard to create joy in my life, our life. Despite every and any moment of depression. I was not going to let it pin me down and keep me there.
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The second, 13 months after. A little more steady. Lots of firsts, lots of band-aids had been ripped off. Went through the year anniversary and came out on the other side. Experienced the death of my brother. Felt like I was emerging from a fire, stronger than I had ever felt in my life because I had no other choice but to be. I had been through so much in such a short amount of time. But I had settled more into the us. Just the three of us. Found our groove. Confidence was building, I felt it. My every day meltdowns became less and less. I relied on the counsel of my inner circle much less and began the emergence of my new set of wings. Hugging them here, doing us, being the three of us, felt just like home.
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The third and final act.
I’m looking at my second chance. I’m admiring this person brought to me by the law of attraction. I want to fall right into him.
I desperately want to hammer every single wall I have built and let myself be the raw version with no perfectionism, all vulnerability. My impatience wants to do all that NOW, my anxiety wants to stop at every road block and find a detour.
Its hard to believe this man is my next chapter and his son has invaded my heart space that I thought had filled completely with my own girls.
They are my ultimate vulnerability and to have someone want to love them as their own, Shayne’s girls, was heavy.
I built a fortress around them over the last year.
Not just anyone would get access.
These are Shayne’s prizes, his princesses. One thing that breaks my heart the most is that I know he was created to have daughters and be surrounded by his ladies. We always said this. My hope was, that whoever was going to make room in their heart to love these girls, to love them with the kind tenderness that he innately led with every day.
And loving his son so much, who I did not bring into this world & who has had so many more years to create a relationship with his own mother and family, I honestly did not think I had done enough solo soul-searching to step rightly into that space and hold that load up.
I can’t speak for anyone else in the photo but I have to constantly check myself, pinch myself, is this real?! Because there’s no way after the devastation and waves of hopelessness that I felt a year ago, this could really be my life now.
Full. Of love. No expectations, honest, out-loud, no-holding-back, love.
I sincerely thought I would have to create fullness by myself. So I tried.
And in doing that, breaking and tending to me so much over the last year… I attracted this into my life. I didn’t ask for him to come into my life to make me feel whole again, I was making myself whole again. And he appeared.
I was doing the leg work before he came along.
And he honors that. And honors the love and memories I will always keep for Shayne. And I love him immensely for it. For taking me whole, just as I am. My love for Shayne, my pain, my anxiety, my naivety. And not rushing me to break open, but allowing me to do it all in my own time, in my own way. Making mistakes, failing, falling and imperfect. He is loving me through it. I couldn’t ask for anyone more perfectly chosen for me to do this second chance with.
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These really aren’t just photos, pretty smiles and sun flares. Photo shoots for social media. These are a time capsule of my life, my love life.
The love for my family, our time together, my relationships with each of these people and …myself. Its not as important to me the way we looked, as it is, when I look at these photos… the way I felt.
Just as the people we lock hands with in this life. What matters, when this is all said and done, is how we make each other feel. And even on days when I am not sure why I was chosen to still be here, these captured memories make me feel like my time here still matters and I am needed. These people I am surrounded by were chosen for me and are smiling and hopefully feeling loved. That’s all I need to do, is love them.

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Thank you Melissa… for creating and sharing with my family, again and writing our story with your heART.

joy+health+peace,

caroline

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