MADISON, Ala. (RNS) — For the entire lifetime of his
daughter, Joey Karr smiled into her eyes.
Then the infant, who couldn’t overcome a fatal form of
dwarfism, died in his wife’s arms as their other three children patted their
Photographer Kelly Clark Baugher caught that lifetime of
love in photos, images that are now sacred with the weight of life and loss
that the death of a baby brings.
Baugher is one of a small but devoted number of professional
photographers who volunteer their time at hospitals to take pictures of
heartbreakingly short-lived joy. A Colorado-based group, Now I Lay Me Down to
Sleep, sends professional photographers, if the families request them, to
quietly record their child’s brief life.
“It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done,”
Baugher said as she looked through photos from the more than 60 families she
and photographer Mary Ellen Pollard have served. “It’s almost as though time slows
down in that room. I will never forget the feeling: I felt God in that room.”
She is referring to the hospital rooms where parents sit
with an infant that was stillborn or has been disconnected from life support
when death has become the kindest option. The photographers stay at the
periphery, quietly working without a flash as they record the fleeting moments.
The idea is macabre only for people who haven’t lived through it, say Ken and
Amy Salter, who became the parents of twin boys born last fall, one of whom
died after months in neonatal intensive care. They wouldn’t have considered
having their last minutes photographed, but agreed when nurses suggested they
“The photographs are a lasting comfort,” said Amy Salter,
who now volunteers as a parent coordinator for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
“Yes, it was difficult, but to have pictures, to remember the little smile he
makes, his little fuzzy head — it’s priceless.”
The photographers make a CD of the photographs after they
edit the photos, giving parents finished pictures with the calm sheen of
magazine shots. Parents can choose to print them or look at them — or not. Many
find themselves returning to them often for a quiet space of remembering and
weeping, Salter said.
Nurses who have assisted families going through such a
wrenching time have seen how the photos become, later, a source of comfort as
people thread the long valley of grief.
“Pictures, as well as clothing, footprints, handprints,
stuffed animals and blankets are tangible reminders to these families of the
precious little life they have lost,” said Ashley Ray, a nurse in Huntsville,
Ala., who works with bereaved parents.
“It is so awesome to be able to offer these families
professional photos of their sweet babies.”
For the photographers, it’s a ministry, Mary Ellen Pollard
“I had my son two months early, and he is still with us on
this side of heaven,” Pollard said. “He spent two months in the NICU. We were
told he was not going to survive, but our son went home. Beside us, there was a
family whose daughter didn’t. I needed to do something to give back.”
The photographs help to make the lifetime of their daughter
real, say Joey and Michelle Karr, who lost their daughter Janie Beth.
“The one time Janie Beth opened her eyes, Kelly happened to
catch that on film — I never even noticed she was taking a picture,” said Joey
But Baugher noticed the moment when the tiny face peers up
at her father from his arms. “It’s like she looked right into his soul,”
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