It’s a moment I will likely never forget. It was a hot August afternoon last summer, in the midst of a fast-paced wedding season. Dillon and I had just photographed one of the most joyful, beautiful weddings to date. I was still on cloud nine, excited for the second half of wedding season and all the travel ahead. I was working at a focused and determined pace and I felt so alive. I’d begun to really find my rhythm as a wedding photographer and was gaining traction for KSP.
Then the call from my mom came. I heard the words Tappy, ambulance, and emergency room. And in that moment, time stood still.
Tappy is the rock of our family and the only grandfather I’ve ever known prior to marrying Dillon and ultimately marrying our families. I know that everyone’s family makeup is unique, and the relationships they have (or don’t) with their grandparents are equally varied. I’m blessed in that I have always been so close to mine. While I’ve only had one grandfather on earth during my life, Tappy has always been there. And while he can’t replace my dad’s father who went to heaven years before I was born, Tappy took on both halves of the grandfather role in a way that honored the legacy of my other grandfather. Because of this, I have never once considered my family to be incomplete. Tappy has always been there, an ever-present rock, steady as ever, and one of my best friends in this world.
So in the jarring moment of that phone call last August, I dropped everything and raced to the hospital. Looking back on that drive, what is most striking to me is that I didn’t know if we’d already lost him. The possibility of that felt so real. (And when I say that, I mean loss in the context of his physical presence here on earth. Our family has so much peace knowing that he’s with the Lord now, and we rejoice in that! I wrote this as someone who is still here while he is not, but with the eternal perspective that I’ll see him again someday.)
I didn’t know what situation awaited me that day. As I found a parking space, rushed into the hospital, and sat in the waiting room, much was unknown. We didn’t yet have any answers, and I was preparing my heart for the worst. Every day, there are people who receive calls that carry finality, who don’t have extra time. If that applies to you, before you read any further, please know that I have an extra tenderness in my heart for you.
Long before that day, my mom planted a seed in my heart. That seed ultimately flourished that afternoon as I sat beside her in the cold waiting room. In 2005, from the familiar comfort of the passenger seat in our family’s Windstar, she shared with me a song. (I could have sworn it was You’re Going to Miss This, but apparently that song was released two years later. To this day, I’m not sure what song it was – though it very well may have been “Jack & Diane”). She was driving me home from an after-school activity and I was a blissful middle schooler. I was living carefree with all the naivety that can come with early teenage years.
At the time, I felt invincible and saw life as something filled to the brim with possibility. I hadn’t yet experienced significant life changes or loss. But whatever song she played that day ministered to my heart with one key message: the sweetest moments of life are often fleeting, and the seasons will slip by quickly if you don’t stop to enjoy them.
By God’s grace, the significance of that lesson resonated strongly with me and took deep root in my heart. It has been one of the greatest gifts to me in life. Ever since, I have strived to savor every single season and to take mental pictures of moments as I’m living them. It has really come full circle too. My passion for preserving the temporary is central to the work I do now through KSP.
One of the biggest areas where I’ve applied this lesson has been in my relationship with the only two grandparents I’ve ever known since birth: Grammy and Tappy. It might be unusual for a teenager to stop to take mental pictures of the moments they share with their grandparents. But ever since that day in middle school, I have. I’ve known that they won’t always be here on earth with me, but I’ve savored the time I’ve had. I’ve taken countless mental snapshots over the past two decades.
Today, the pages of that mental scrapbook are helping to carry me through an otherwise heavy time:
- Getting off the plane from cheerleading nationals in 2005 to see Tappy standing in the terminal. Though long past his bedtime, he was there, holding a fluorescent poster in support of my mom and I.
- Making crafts together around the breakfast bar in my parents’ kitchen on Christmas Eve 2006.
- Calling on a Sunday morning in 2008, sharing that he found the perfect first car for me in the newspaper. He subsequently took me to test drive it that afternoon (it really was perfect, and I had it until 2020).
- Sitting outside on their deck during the summer before my senior year of high school. Tappy and I were drinking cold cans of V8 juice together as we soaked up the blissfully sunny July day. Tappy grimaced when he realized that beets are among the ingredients. (Tappy was not known to hate things, but he hated beets).
- Saluting me at my high school graduation. It is a tradition we’d started together as a nod to his 21 years serving in the Air Force.
- Coming to my dorm on move-in weekend during my freshmen year at UNH. He took me to lunch in the dining hall and bought all of my books in the campus bookstore. (Nursing school books were not inexpensive!).
- Eating chicken wings with me in a church pew on Dillon and I’s wedding day. I baked that moment into the day as a way to slow down time. I wanted to create a special memory with him and it surely was special – see the photo above.
- Sipping many cups of his perfectly percolated coffee from mugs around their dining table.
- Savoring his many fried egg sandwiches. I’m so thankful I have a video of him preparing me the very last one he ever made for me.
- The trips to Bermuda over the years. We visited the places he and Grammy used to frequent when they were stationed there during his service.
- Being the first pairing on the dance floor aboard our cruise ship. We charmed the entire room with our attempt at swing dancing to Glenn Miller.
- His Honor Flight on Father’s Day last June. The sweetest head of the TSA team ushered me through security so I could capture it all on camera.
All of these moments reinforced truths that have surrounded me through my life: You are loved. You are seen. I believe in you. You are part of a loving family. I want to be part of the things that matter to you because you matter to me.
Well Tappy, you matter to me too, so very much.
For years, I’ve worried about how I would navigate the earthly loss of Tappy. Will I fall apart? Surely I will, right? How long will the pain last? Will it ever go away? What if I find out ahead of time that the time is near? Will I be able to handle that and function through that season? As we sat in the waiting room last August, another moment came that God used to answer all of those questions for me. A nurse came and told us that we could go back and see him. We get to see him. He’s still here. I didn’t know what to expect as we walked through the halls. Will he be awake? Will he be present and able to engage with us? And even though he was still with us, is there an immediate threat that we’ll soon lose him on earth?
As we pulled back the curtain, Tappy was smiling, laughing, and as present as ever. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. We still have time. He’s still here, and he’s himself. Building upon the aforementioned lesson of savoring the moments, I determined right then and there that I would continue to savor every single moment I got to share with Tappy from that day forward. But the key difference is that I firmly decided in that moment that I would choose gratitude over sadness and I wouldn’t waste a single moment of his remaining time on earth worrying about the days when he would no longer be with us. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel sadness at times or experience tears here and there, but gratitude for the remaining time reigned in my heart.
While the subsequent season – the past eight months – has been one of the hardest seasons that my family has ever walked through, it also ended up being one of the sweetest gifts of my life for a specific and unexpected reason: I’ve experienced God’s kindness and tenderness toward me, and I’ve seen the resilience that He’s built up within me to handle life’s storms. And in that, he placed me exactly where he needed me to be in key moments during this particular storm.
On that afternoon in the emergency room last August – seemingly by happenstance that this occurred during my “turn” to go back to his room – I was the one in the room with Grammy and Tappy when a practitioner came in and told him the diagnosis, just me and them. I was holding Tappy’s hand in my right and Grammy’s in my left as the words fell to the floor like lead. We knew it might be terminal, and we didn’t know how much time we had left. Everything changed in an instant. But in that moment, I remember being filled with the most inexplicable peace and steadiness.
And friends, God has carried me through the past eight months with that peace and steadiness day by day. From the moment I left that hospital room to share the difficult news with my family members in the waiting room, to the ups and downs of Tappy’s treatment and care plan through the fall and winter, God has shown me the resilience He’s been building in me for years. He’s given me words to minister to my family members, He’s given me strength and steadiness, and He’s helped me to put the first things first right up to the very end.
Earlier this month, we knew that the end might be near. Easter was approaching and we hadn’t experienced Easter with Grammy and Tappy since 2019, long before the pandemic threatened Tappy’s respiratory system. He was growing tired and I didn’t want to impose, but I prayed that I would get to experience just one more holiday with him. I do not take lightly that I was blessed with a few hours to share with him that afternoon. I held his hand during grace, I watched as he buttered his roll, and I served him a piece of the cheesecake I’d prepared especially for him at his request. That day added a few more memories to my mental scrapbook, and that page will now forever be one of my most cherished ones.
In his final days on earth, I prayed for the opportunity to see him just once more, to tell him how much I love him and to hug him again. God made a way for Dillon and I to experience that in one of his final days. My dad was staying with Grammy and Tappy to help out and I will never ever forget the text from my dad asking if 7:00 was good. I get to see him. He’s still here. I didn’t know what to expect as we walked through the familiar hallway of his condo, much like that August afternoon. Will he be awake? Will he be present and able to engage with us? And as we opened the door, there he was smiling, laughing, and as present as ever. I once again felt a wave of relief wash over me for what ultimately ended up being the last time I’d see him. We still have time. He’s still here, and he’s himself.
We stayed for about two hours and I had a feeling in my heart that it would be the last time I’d see him on this side of heaven. Before we said the ultimate earthly goodbye, I got to play a song for Tappy that God put on my heart years ago in preparation for the inevitable farewell that we’d eventually share. Tappy seemed so at peace as we listened to the words, and I will forever cherish that song as a link between him and I.
The gift of the memories I’ve created with him over the years – and especially the past eight months – has given me such peace over the past week, as I’ve processed the permanence of Tappy being called home to be with the Lord. Tappy was such a strong man of God, and his faith was unshakeable. He knew exactly where he was going and he had a peace that comes from a confident footing in the Lord. I’m so grateful that he modeled that to me and my family, and that is undoubtedly the most valuable part of the legacy he left behind.
If you’ve at all wondered why things have been quiet with KSP over the past eight months, you now know why. I had lofty aspirations to blog regularly and to be actively engaged on social media. I thought I’d start 2023 with a semblance of the 2022 “hustle”. Though I continued to build my business during this time, it’s been much quieter than planned. But I focused on what matters most: family, and even so, KSP has continued to grow. I have been blessed to welcome several sweet couples to the KSP family during this time. And I’m thankful to have reached new business milestones even amidst this storm.
As I move beyond this challenging time into a new wedding season, I have an even stronger heart behind the meaning of this work. I get to help my couples preserve the fleeting in their own lives, and for that I am so incredibly grateful. I will never forget Tappy, and I will live inspired to carry on his legacy each day. That will continue to motivate me in helping others to build meaningful legacies of their own as a result!