In respect for Matthew and Kara, I wanted to wait a while to write all that I have learned through meeting their son baby James for just one hour and the story leading up to Fotolanthopy. They have written inspiring and impactful words that can be found on their blog if you click here jamescamdensikes.blogspot.com
I will never forget the morning I received a phone call from a mom with tears in her voice. Just that morning I had decided that I must make my decision if I was going to pursue this idea of Fotolanthropy. It’s amazing how sometimes life’s purposes will tap you on the shoulder. Kara called asking if we could photograph her family because her 8-month-old son had just been diagnosed with a rhabdoid brain tumor. Kara said she would love to get pictures of her family before he loses his hair as he would be undergoing 52 weeks of chemotherapy. My world completely stopped. What an unfathomable situation. I remember finding a picture of James on the Internet after the phone call and I just streamed tears at my desk when I saw his precious face. The tears were filled with pain for this family, the agonizing nightmare they were about to endure, and humility that Fotolanthropy would begin with such a family as this one.
We had planned to do the session at a beautiful outdoor location, however James was not well enough to leave the hospital for the photo shoot that day. Kara and I spoke and we decided we could do the photo session at the hospital and then hopefully in a week or so do more pictures outside at a beautiful location. I contacted my Fotolanthropy partner Brooke Moore and our featured filmmaker Daniel Troup. We all met up and entered the Children’s Hospital together. I felt the chill of the hospital as we walked in and thought how this place had been the Sikes home for two weeks now…they have lived here, enduring numerous brain surgeries, waiting for the doctor’s words, and doing everything the best they could for their son. I was quite in my heart, praying that the camera would be used as a tool to show the reality of this situation, the love of these parents to a child, and the light in James.
I walked through the door, decorated with a cute giraffe patterned wreath made by Kara and got to meet this precious family. James was in pain and we wanted to be as sensitive as possible and to keep him comfortable throughout the whole session. We were so excited when he gave us a gorgeous smile! We then took him to the hospital courtyard to get some family photos. I loved how Kara would just kiss and kiss on him, soaking in every minute with him. We kept the session simple to ensure James’s safety and comfort. We knew we needed pictures of this moment with James, the memory of him before he beat his tumor.
One hour was all it was from the time we walked in and left the hospital. In one hour, I will forever have the truth permeated in my mind that life is unpredictable. Matthew and Kara or any parent could never believe how their lives could be so completely flipped upside down in just a matter of days. I was reminded of how truly precious each life is. I feel that term can be thrown around quite a bit but when I look back at that hour with James and remember his sweet face, his loving parents, and his hospital room, all I can comprehend is life is a wonderful gift.
After the photo session, it felt that every ten minutes we were checking the Sikes blog where they had made it a habit to keep everyone updated on the health of James and their emotions in between. It felt as if the whole world was reading and praying for this couple as they were so willing to share their hearts and experience. While they were in the hospital, they seemed to always blog in the evening, so I would wake in the middle of the night to check the blog and see how sweet James was doing. I was alone in my home one night when the blog titled, “Blog 21” opened. James had taken a turn for the worse and the doctors had requested Matthew and Kara to make the decision of having James try chemotherapy or to let James go home to be comfortable. I wept. One hour with this precious baby and I have never cried so hard. My heart just broke for this family. I could not sleep and I knew that I needed to get their Fotolanthropy video up and running by the next day.
I called my team early that next morning and we designed the blog, logo, facebook page, and video in about 10 hours. We had originally planned to get the site up by September 1st, but we knew we had to get this up for baby James. We worked hard that day for baby James. In editing the video, we selected the song by Addison Road, “This Little Light of Mine.” In my heart, I felt that James had turned on the light for so many of the readers of their blog, family, friends and myself. The light of his eyes fills a room with joy. My prayer was that this song played along with this video would help us all to live better lives and to remember the light of James each day.
We put the video up on Thursday and were completely blown away when we saw that the video had 2,000 hits that first day. On our blog, someone suggested that this video should go viral so more people could know this story. We then put it on youtube in hopes that Kara and Matthew could see the number of people watching and see that with each person watching someone was praying for them.
Sweet baby James passed away in the comfort of his home a few days later. Our hearts were still breaking for this family and we started to do everything possible to help with the memorial service. We spoke with Kara and printed her two favorite images from the photo session on large canvases for the display in the front of the church. We also printed numerous prints for the church entrances and made a keepsake album of pictures from his life for the guests to write on. It is so hard to know what to say at a funeral because you know that there are no right words that can comfort. The only peace I found that day was that we tried to help preserve James’s memory in every way we were able to. The service was beautiful and Matthew and Kara spoke beautifully about their angel, James. Our team sat together with teary eyes and flashbacks of our memories with James. I looked down at my program and saw a picture we had taken on the front and in that moment photography became something more to me. I feel that each photo session I do now, there is so much more purpose behind each photograph I take. Our job is to preserve memories for a lifetime and to capture moments in time that can be cherished, but when the reality of life and death comes to mind, pictures and videos are how we will always remember precious smiles, the way someone laughed, a person’s feature, and their heart. Baby James, thank you for teaching me this lesson. I hold my camera now in a new way and I know that your light will guide us in this journey of Fotolanthropy so that we can help other people during difficult times.
Click, Inspire, Remember.
Katie Norris & Brooke Moore