During the next three weeks, the Lake County Journal will run a three-part series on parents who have lost a baby due to miscarriage or stillbirth.
• Part one will focus on the emotional toll it takes on parents and why it is important to seek and provide help.
• Part two will focus on the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep organization and ways in which family members and friends can help.
• Part three will emphasize a healthy life after loss.
A photograph that captures an intense moment of love is of immeasurable value to those who can later cherish it over and over again.
Sometimes the photos that are made capture an act of triumph – a graduate walking a stage or a runner reaching the finish line.
Others catch brief moments when everything seems right, such as when a couple shares a kiss or when a group is caught laughing.
And then there are those photographers that recall images so powerful, they will tell the story of an entire life.
That is what the more than 7,000 volunteer photographers from the nonprofit, international organization, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep – or NILMDTS – provide every day in more than 25 countries.
NILMDTS was created in 2005 by two women – one, a professional photographer; the other, an expectant mother of a baby boy named Maddux, who died six days after his birth. The group provides a forever-lasting, physical link between parents and their deceased child through remembrance photography.
Through the organization, Cheryl Haggard, the mother of Maddux and vice president of NILMDTS, and Sandy Puc, photographer and the group’s president, help families heal their hearts and celebrate their babies.
“Our volunteers provide a lasting memory and an acknowledgement that their child was a vital part of their family,” said Jacque Lopez, executive director of NILMDTS.
One such family is the George family of Cary.
Summer and Rick George are the parents of four children, including Caden, 7, Ellie, 5, and Will, 3.
Their fourth child arrived in January 2010. But four months before his arrival, the Georges were told that their baby – a son they later named Michael – had not developed kidneys and would die.
“There’s nothing natural about burying your child,” Summer George said. “It’s the saddest thing to go through.”
And although Summer George hates to use the word luxury, she knows that she and her husband were fortunate to find out early in her pregnancy that the baby would not survive – that knowledge meant they had the luxury to plan ahead and get informed.
“We had four months of planning his birth and his death,” Summer George said.
And through the planning of both those events, the couple got word of the NILMDTS organization and made arrangements for a photographer to take pictures of Summer George while she was pregnant.
They also made arrangements to be at the hospital to capture the images of the entire family when the mother gave birth.
But at first, Rick George had his doubts.
“When I first heard the idea of taking pictures of a child who was going to die, I balked and was horrified,” he said.
He thought it an insult and an invasion to have a stranger be in the hospital room with them during that painful, private time. But he reconsidered after guidance from northern Illinois’ prenatal hospice and bereavement center, The Haven Network, and is thankful now to have made that decision.
“We have no other memories of this child,” Rick George said. “I can’t imagine not putting up pictures of all my children on our walls – Why should Michael be any different?”
The photographer who made that possible for the Georges was Grayslake resident, Kristin Cashmore.
Cashmore is a professional photographer and owner of Bella Vie Studio in Grayslake. She also is an area and parent coordinator photographer for NILMDTS.
“I give [parents] something to take home,” Cashmore said.
Since she began her volunteer work with NILMDTS in 2008, Cashmore has been a part of many grieving families’ last moments with their baby. She said that although it’s difficult to do at times, she has never doubted that this is what she wants to do.
She said that during a shoot, “Your mind struggles with the question of why. But you focus on the message of what is really important and what we need to be thankful for.”
Validating that a life happened through images in black and white, made by a caring photographer such as Cashmore, has helped the George couple and their children with the healing process.
The pictures that Cashmore took of the entire George family get moved from the walls of their living room to photo albums and back on the walls again and again. It’s all part of the ever-developing process that helps them heal their hearts.
“Grief is all over the place,” Summer George said. “It has no season. It comes and goes.”
Remaining forever, though, are the photos that honor the George’s baby.
Where to find help
• For more information on the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep organization – as well as how to find a local photographer – visit www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org.
• For more information on The Haven Network, call 815-962-1512 or visit www.thehavennetwork.org.
• For more information on Bella Vie Studio, call 847- 223-2030 or visit www.bellaviestudio.com.