Friday, June 17, 2011

Your Photographic Talent is an Awesome Way to "Pay It Forward"

People ask me all the time how I got involved as a photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. It's a bit of a long story, so I'll try and summarize . . .

I had gotten involved with photographing a National Guard unit through a colleague of mine and as a result, got to know some of the girls after their husbands deployed through the various projects we worked on together.

One of the couples got pregnant shortly after they unit returned from duty (actually, I'm guessing more than one ;-P). It was someone we'd gotten to know well; they already had one little girl and were pretty excited that #2 was a boy.

One afternoon, I received a call from my colleague as she was "on her way to the hospital to photograph a NILMDTS session." I cringed, because I knew I'd NEVER be able to do anything like that. Just the thought of it made me nervous.

She continued to tell me that the baby belonged to the couple we knew. My heart sank. I knew how long they'd waited for him. There was no medical problem; a 35 week healthy fetus that got tangled in the cord.

I saw her images. They made me really sad and I wondered how anyone does this kind of work. When I talked with mom, she told me how much those few photographs meant to her . . . they would be the only photographs they'd ever have of that little boy.

My youngest was a preemie; actually, so was I. My son was in and out of the hospital for the first few weeks of life until things stabilized. They told me that my son would probably take a while before he caught up (he's 6'4" now). My mom was told I'd probably have brain damage (explains a bunch, doesn't it?) This couple would never know those things. Their daughter and future children would ask questions about what he looked like . . .

So, I signed up. I went to the NILMDTS website and became a volunteer. A few weeks later, the phone rang and it was a mom calling from the hospital. She would give birth to a 20 week baby that evening which had a brain condition and wouldn't live.

I was petrified. I called another colleague (who'd never done this either, but was also considering volunteering) and she offered to come along. My ex-wife is a neo-natal nurse, so I called her to find out what to expect.

My heart was racing as I walked through the hospital parking lot. Once inside, the smell of the hospital almost knocked me over. I began to think of all the reasons I couldn't do this, but it was already too late.

When I walked through the door into the labor and delivery area, the doctor was still in the room. She's a longtime client. Pulling me aside, she asked softly how long I'd been doing this . . . I whispered "this is my first time."

As the doctor left the room she said out loud how nice it was to see me again. She then turned to the couple and said "David is a very talented photographer. You're in good hands."

I exhaled, opened my camera bag and went to work. My colleague joined me at the hospital shortly afterward. The couple was sweet. The family was very nice and grateful for our presence. The resulting images were much easier to photograph than I initially expected.

In the past 5 years I can't count the number of sessions I've photographed. Some really stand out for one reason or another, while others blend together. This past Christmas day, I photographed 3. Yeah, bad things happen on holidays, too.

In my heart, I like to believe that all of the sessions made a difference to the families and the healing process.

Do YOU have what it takes to make that difference? You may not think so, but I'm willing to bet that you're wrong.

- David Grupa

1 comment:

  1. So heart wrenching. I'm crying just thinking about it. It is wonderful that you do this.