A precious memory from a time of torment
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Without photos, memories can sometimes fade.
Photos were the last thing on Cheryl Harvey’s mind when her son Christian was born near the end of February.
“Our son was born with a heart defect,” Harvey said.
Cheryl and her husband, Heath, were told of the defect and were hopeful that a surgery to fix the complication shortly after little Christian arrived would allow the family to have years with their new son.
“We hoped that reconstructive surgery would have been able to be done right after he was born, that was our plan, that was our goal,” Cheryl said. “For several days after he was born that is what we were expecting.”
Unfortunately, the day before Christian’s surgery was scheduled, doctors discovered another defect in his coronary artery that was irreparable. A transplant was needed to save the little guy’s life.
“He only survived eight days,” Cheryl said softly.
Betsy Strafach got the call from Cheryl’s mother, whom Strafach had known for several years, about the Harveys just before Christian passed. Strafach is a photographer by trade and affiliated with Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Foundation, a worldwide nonprofit group of volunteer photographers who take portraits of infants under 25-weeks-old who are near death or who have died, capturing those brief moments of life so the family members may have something to remember their lost addition.
“That little guy had been alive for eight days and had a really rough time,” Strafach said. “He had already passed by the time I had gotten there.”
Strafach drove from her home in Fort Collins, where the Harveys live as well, to Children’s Hospital in Aurora. She wasn’t sure that the Harveys wanted photos of their young lifeless child, but they quickly changed their mind.
“At first, when the nursing staff had suggested portraits to be taken of him, our reaction was, ‘No.’ For us it was the shock of losing him all together,” Cheryl said. “But when we heard what this program was all about we did change our minds, and said ‘yes.'”
It comforted them knowing that Strafach, a family friend, would be behind the camera. But it’s not always like that for Strafach, who’s now been with NILMDTS for more than two years and has taken portraits of about 25 infants.
“Each situation is so different, so unique. It’s so powerful, you are there with these people in their darkest hour and their deepest grief. There is something so intimate and personal about being there with them in that moment,” Strafach said.
The program was co-founded by photographer Sandy Puc and Cheryl Haggard in 2005, shortly after Haggard lost a child of her own, a son named Maddux.
Haggard’s husband contacted Puc to take photos of their son. In the brief years since, NILMDTS has taken off and become a worldwide nonprofit with more than 5,000 voluntary photographers reaching out, free of charge, to help people hold on to a brief ” but precious ” moment in their life.
“I was one of the lucky ones who got to go with the founders to my first project,” Strafach said. “When I left I knew I could do this.”
Photographers are usually contacted by the nursing staff at the hospital after they have spoken with the families, according to Strafach. Then it’s up to how the family would like to remember their child.
“We have a portrait of (Christian) in every single room of our house so that he’s always with us,” Cheryl said. “There is nothing that would ever replace him being in our arms, but at least this way he is with us no matter where we are at in our house.”
For Strafach, it’s knowing that she’s helped preserve such an emotional moment that keeps her involved.
“I know it will help people, and that is why we do it,” Strafach said. “You leave feeling very satisfied because you know you helped these people heal in a different way ” whether they know it or not.”
On March 4, in the middle of the afternoon in a makeshift room in a corner of the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital in Denver, Cheryl and Heath Harvey had their portrait taken with their 8-day-old son, Christian.
“One of the things I tell people is that I’d much rather they regret taking the photos rather than regret not taking them,” Strafach said. “Because there is no going back.”
Cheryl doesn’t regret the photos.
“For us it was an opportunity to share him with our other kids,” Cheryl said. “Our (8-year-old daughter) Hanna was able to see him, but our 5-year-old son (Ethan) didn’t.”
Portraits of little Christian, lying still in his mother’s tired arms while Heath looks down upon his son’s lifeless body, are displayed throughout their Fort Collins home ” a reminder of their time with him.
“I think a lot of people have the same reaction that we had and say ‘no’ at first,” Cheryl said. “But it’s something that we cherish every single day because we have them.”
Without photos, memories can sometimes fade.
Contact John Gardner: 384-9114
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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