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Rita & Family

I don’t know how many of you know Rita’s story. Last year Rita was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer just a few days after our first family shoot with them. Rita battled that cancer for nearly a year, went into remission, and began her comeback. Then in the early fall the cancer became much more aggressive, and the doctors sent her home, because there was nothing more to be done. She was given two short weeks to live, best-case scenario…

One of the first things on this mom’s list of to-do’s? To have pictures taken of her family. She didn’t want to see the world, didn’t want to go to some tropical paradise, in fact she didn’t really want anything at all for herself. Rita wanted pictures for her husband and for her two precious little girls, so that they would have something to remember her by. As a mother, as a wife, as a best friend. It was an honor to even be able to be a part of that day, and it’s something I’ll take with me, surely the rest of my life. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to photograph a mother as she prepared, in her own special way, to say goodbye. Rita had more dignity, more grace, and more love in her than could be captured through the lens of any camera. And regardless of how she felt, Rita, always, smiled. Her husband was a man whose shoes I’d never wish to fill. I saw in his eyes such a deep love mixed with such a hurt, and such a deep desire to be the rock for his family and to be their strength. Rita’s little girls kept picking beautiful yellow and orange flowers for her. They even picked some for me. I still have them. I’ll always have them. They are pressed.

Days passed by as her husband Jeff took the family to Disneyland so that Rita could introduce her daughter to her hero, Cinderella. I remember thinking that when that little girl grows up, she’s going to discover that her mommy was the real-life version…

We all prayed, and everyone braced. Then September passed, Halloween and Trick-or-Treating, and then Thanksgiving. Rita had went in for testing and found that the cancer was completely gone! No trace whatsoever! What a miracle and an answered prayer! What a tribute to God’s mercy and His grace. And now here we are coming onto Christmas. What a gift!

While she’s not fully out of the woods, she is absolutely an inspiration to me and my family. You see, through October, while we all prepared for the Holidays and went door-to-door for candy, Rita was fighting. While we celebrated Thanksgiving Dinner, Rita was fighting. Today, Rita is in the hospital for her liver, recovering from Shingles, fallout from the treatments and from graft-host disease. But the gift is that she’s with us still, and folks, you know Rita….she’s fighting.

It’s not so much Rita’s story anymore, I suppose. It’s also a story of grace under fire. Of mercy. Of family. Of desire. Of perseverance. Of struggle. Of second-chances. And finally, it’s a story of the truest and finest of loves… A mother’s for her daughters, A husband’s for his wife. A Creator’s, for His Created.

My life wouldn’t be complete without seeing that kind of strength and resolve. I only hope I have a whisper of Rita’s character and God’s perfect grace to calm the storm when troubled waters come to visit me…

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