Around 2:30PM I received a message on Facebook from a friend, Jessie, I used to teach with. She has a son, Ryder, who was born at the end of 2013 with some heart problems. I have been following Ryder's story through Jessie's posts on Facebook. He has made it through three incredibly risky heart surgeries and has been waiting on a heart transplant list. Recently, his condition has declined, and he is no longer a good candidate for a heart transplant. With tremendously heavy hearts, they knew they needed to take him off of life support today. Jessie's message was asking me if I could come to the hospital "soon, today" to take some pictures of baby Ryder.
I dropped everything. I got dressed and had the urge to put some makeup on. As I pulled out my makeup bag, I had the thought, What am I doing?! I have a friend who is about to lose a baby and I am wasting time to put on make up? I threw the bag aside and ran downstairs to grab the essentials that I knew I needed, camera bag... check, memory card... check, shoes.... check, keys... check. And out the door I ran. Thankfully, Taylor, my husband, was home and willing to take charge of the kids at the drop of a hat.
I found Primary Children's Medical Center in the GPS and started the 50 minute drive. It wasn't until about twenty minutes later that my nerves calmed and it started to hit me what this day meant for Jessie. I thought about what I was about to do. I looked at my camera bag, sitting in the passenger seat next to me. I started to pray. Not close-my-eyes-pray, of course, because I was driving, but pray in my heart, Please, Heavenly Father, please help me be able to use these tools (my camera, my lenses, etc.) I have been blessed with and these skills I have learned in photography to help me do baby Ryder justice. Please help me be able to remember what I have practiced to save a memory for his family. Please help me to stay out of the way and know where to stand. Please help me capture emotion. Please help me to get there swiftly and safely. If photography is a gift I have been given, please help me to use it for good.
My mind flashed to a few years ago when I first began taking photography more seriously. I remember watching this video and how hard it struck me:
The part where the words say, "You will make the world a better place" brought me to tears. I wanted to CREATE and develop my photography skills to do that exact thing. I also liked the phrase, "start small."
After watching it right now, I feel like what I did today is such a small act, but it was an act of service meant to lift one family. I still have a lot of room left to grow in photography, but I hope, in a minuscule way, it is helping make the world a better place. The last phrase also stands out to me, "The more you learn to trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create."(President Dieter F. Uchtdorf) That phrase rings in my head because I did feel the Spirit today. More strongly than I have felt it in a long time. It was so real. So literal. That is why I feel like I need to write this down. I am so human. So quick to forget. I want to remember.
I listen to the voice on the GPS tell me to exit. I am now on another freeway in Salt Lake City. I should pay attention more when the Mister is driving. I was relying on my GPS 100%. The road I was on at the moment was unknown to me. I started thinking about Ryder's mom, who has made this drive to PCMC so many times. She is balancing a life with three OTHER children, a husband, a job as an elementary school teacher, and all of the other responsibilities a woman/mother has. This road is too familiar for her. This is the road she takes, the price she pays, to see her baby boy for so much of his life. I will say the most obvious statement of the century that keeps running through my mind, "It's not fair!"
I take an another exit and am now on a old city road. There are large trees to each side that almost completely shade the road. My mind goes back to what I have been asked to do today, photograph the last moments in Ryder's life. What is the best way to do this? What will the lighting be like? It is not my first time taking pictures in a hospital. I have taken them in the days following the deliveries of my children using the window light. I have also taken pictures for friends after their deliveries, even one during her delivery. There was another time I took pictures of my niece when she was in PCMC. I tried to reflect on those times - what camera settings worked, what didn't - all in hopes to not mess this one up.
Including the births of my own children, I have witnessed four spirits being born into this world. Never have I witnessed a spirit leaving. A birth is so miraculous. I love the feeling of the world being blocked out, and all that matters is what is happening in that room. It is the most basic of human nature, to multiply and replenish the earth. A mother delivers a child. For me, there is always fear and anxiety leading up to the delivery, but once it is finished, there is so much relief, joy, and happiness. I wondered what it would be like to be there for the end of a life, instead of a beginning. I believe the veil between heaven and earth is thin in these moments. I began to feel anxious for the moment shortly ahead of me.
I was easily able to find a parking spot fairly close to the entrance, although the gigantic parking garage was crowded. Thank goodness. As I ran inside, I realized that, in my rush, I had forgotten my purse and wallet at home. I remembered when my niece was in the hospital and how they had required ID to get in. My stomach sank, but thankfully they still had me on record in the computer system. I hurried up to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, CICU.
When I arrived in the room, at about 3:30, Ryder was on life support on a bed in the middle of a crowded room. It was a good kind of crowded. He was crowded by his family: mother, father, sister, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. His chubby, 8-month-old body was warm-pink-colored and relaxed.
I was able to approach him and touch his soft, dimpled hand. I felt love inside for a baby I have never met.
I recognized his distinct, long eyelashes from the pictures his mom had posted on Facebook. I also saw that long scar down his chest in pictures. It always made me cringe to see such a young, beautiful body with a scar like that. This is part of what makes him a "Heart Warrior."
His oldest sister, who was eight, excitedly came up to me and asked if I wanted to sign the balloon they were going to send to heaven. I signed, then took whatever pictures I could of that sister giving him happy loves. I wondered if she knew what was going to happen today.
Someone fetched the other children, who had been playing in one of the play rooms of PCMC (such an incredible hospital for patients AND their siblings). There was a sister who was 6 and a brother who was 4. I can never believe how resilient little children are to these types of things. The middle sister climbed up on a stool next to Ryder and playfully held his hand. She spoke in baby-talk, "Aren't you the cutest thing? Yes, you are. Yes, you are. I love you!" She then raised his hand and said, "Yay!" A couple of adults jumped in and politely whispered for her to "shhhhh."
Ryder's brother wanted to help arrange the his stuffed animals nicely under his hand.
We took a few pictures of the family all together:
We walked up to another floor and the children sent off their balloons to tell heaven that Ryder was coming.
The oldest sister couldn't understand why she couldn't stay. She kept wanting to give him more cuddles.
Through tears, she asked her Grandma, "What if I don't want Jesus to take him back?"
I had to step out of the room at that point. I lost it. I thought about my kids at home and how much Gavin loves his little brother, Mason. I thought about if he had to say goodbye for a final time.
Grandma was finally able to convince the other children to go home with her.
The nurses helped put a shirt on Ryder.
Just the adults were left, and the Priesthood holders in the family gave Ryder a blessing.
Now it was time for final goodbyes. They rearranged the room so that Jessie and Sam could sit on the couch and hold Ryder for the last time. I took a few pictures and then stepped out for a while.
When Ryder's parents were ready, the nurses removed his breathing tube. Everyone took a look at his beautifully stunning, bandaid and tube-free face. Sam and Jessie whispered I love you's. I could hear them saying phrases like, "Such a perfect a boy," and "No more pain."
This wasn't the first time I have teared up behind my camera's view finder. It has happened to me at almost all of the weddings I have shot. But this was different. It was very hard to keep my composure. Tears rained down. My heart was breaking for them. It was so sad, but in a weird way, it was kind of like a birth. The Spirit was so strong. The world outside of these walls didn't matter. Everything seemed to have stopped. It happened quite naturally. It is a part of our mortal existence. There was a feeling of relief. Ryder was free from the bondage of his weak mortal body. I imagined his spirit sitting up effortlessly and smiling at all of the loved ones gathered around him. In this moment of such despair, I felt peace and even some happiness knowing that he was headed for the loving arms of his Savior, Jesus Christ--the one who made it possible for all of us, including innocent little children who have not yet reached the age of accountability, to be perfected and return to Heavenly Father. I was beyond humbled. I wanted to fall to my knees on the hospital floor and sob prayer on behalf of baby Ryder right then and there and praise our Christ with all of my heart. The Spirit witnessed to me that there is no doubt about the existence of God and his Son. This is not the end for Ryder. There is hope for all of us.
Little Heart Warrior,
You are a light. You have touched many lives in your short life. May your light continue to grow and lead us toward our Father in Heaven. I am honored to have been able to meet you and document these few hours in your life. May God bless you.
My words for Ryder:
I drove home through the rain in silence. Lightening lit up the entire valley. God is so powerful. He is there, and he is definitely watching over us.
When I arrived home, I was greeted at the door by my husband holding a very sleepy and somewhat fussy four-month-old. Despite my being so hungry and tired, the only thing I wanted to do was see my baby. I wanted to hold him, feel him, love him. The other kids were asleep in their beds, so I sneaked to their rooms to give them a kiss. I paused for a while in the hall and just listened to them breathe.
***In less than 24 hours after posting this, it has been shared on Facebook 174 times and viewed on my obscure blog 7,480 times. I knew Ryder's light would touch many lives! Jessie Cannon and Sam Cannon are still left with paying the bills from insurance deductibles and expenses for when Ryder was on in-home care, which wasn't covered. They also opted for a more expensive insurance plan and high flex spending through the school district for the coming year, with the expectation that Ryder would still be with them. When I saw how many times the blog post had been viewed, I thought about how if every person who read his story donated even $1, they would have easily been able to meet the goal on the fundraising website. The website even allows for you to take off the fee when you donate - so 100% goes to the Cannon family. Please consider donating even the tiniest amount of money and the one minute of your time it will take you to do so. There is a link in the side bar of this blog post. Thank you so much to everyone who already donated! Feel free to share this again in hopes to raise more money for the family.***
*If you are interested in learning more about me and what makes my beliefs, click here.
*If you are interested in learning more about what I believe about the salvation of little children, click here.
"Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: “You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.” There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death." -Teachings of Joseph F. Smith