I Feared Today, But It Was Beautiful

Photo by Gina Kelly - One of the first she took for us....

I have to admit it, I was worried about today.  I woke myself up last night preparing, already feeling the tightening as it wrapped around my heart.  I knew today was coming, and I wanted it to be here, but I didn’t. You know those little hurdles you must jump after you lose someone you love?  The ones that are just part of living to everyone else, but to you….  they feel like a sledgehammer to the gut?

That’s what I feared of today.

But instead it was extraordinary.  I laughed instead of sobbed.  I will admit to a few tears, but they were sweet and surrounded by hugs.

Today, we took family pictures.

Sounds like a simple, non-threatening event, yes?  Except the person who has taken our family pictures for the past nine years, my sweet, beautiful, kind-hearted friend, Gina Kelly died earlier this year.  Her death punched a hole in my soul.  I was robbed of years of her friendship, her family was robbed of years of her love and presence and the photography community – St. Louis and beyond – was robbed of her talents.  The thief, as it often is: Cancer.

Gina’s work decorates my home and always will.  She is responsible for some of the most beautiful memories I have of my small people.  Knowing that photos, snapshots of my family in time, are important to me, knowing that my children have always had a special bond with Gina, and believing that this first experience without her would be incredibly painful, it was crucial to me that the photographer we chose embody the same love and spirit as Gina.

I couldn’t have chosen a better person, a better soul, a better photographer to spend today with my family.  Joanna Kleine is someone I have known for years.  I have always admired her immense talent. Beyond that, she knew Gina. She loved Gina as I did.  And I simply sensed she would ‘get me’, would understand my family, and would appreciate the quirkiness of my small people.

She did.

The spot Joanna chose for our pictures was one of the first places Gina ever took us for a family shoot…. I worried my emotions would get the better of me. But I sensed Gina’s love in every one of Joanna’s smiles. I was able to focus entirely on ‘the moment’ with my family and with Joanna.  I didn’t dwell on the loss of Gina – I knew she was there with us – in my growing friendship with Joanna, in the bursts of sunshine and gusts of wind.

Joanna and I shared a moment, a memory of Gina and a hug. What beauty to feel buoyed by her gifts even when I can’t sit down with her face to face anymore.

Today wasn’t actually hard at all – it was glorious. I’m grateful.  And I cannot wait to see the pictures.


  • http://www.banteringblonde.com Fiona Bryan

    I find myself wanting to comment but not finding the right words because I’ve had a similar experience and I had a harder time with it but I’m inspired by the way you were able to make a positive connection… I’m getting better at that but your post was a great reminder to me. Thank you, my beautiful friend!

  • Danielle Smith

    You are such a beautiful spirit my friend. I have to be honest – Joanna truly gets the credit for today. If I hadn’t been able to connect with someone who (without even knowing they were doing it) guided me through today, it would have been/could have been an entirely different experience. I think I spent so much time *needing* today to be ok that I sought out the right person.

    I am sorry you are going through something similar because I know in my heart it isn’t easy. I hope you can find the right people to be in the right place at the right time – when you are ready – . xoxo Love to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AmyLupoldBair Amy Lupold Bair

    Danielle, I am so sorry for your loss and so thankful for this beautiful post. I go through this same mix of conflicting feelings and fear every year on my birthday because I had to say goodbye to one of my best friends 6 days before my 14th birthday and then again one week before my 26th birthday. Every November I feel anxious remembering the pain of losing a loved one and wishing they were both here to share my special day as they used to be. There will always be moments that remind us of our losses and stir that pain back to the surface, but I am so happy for those times that bring me happy memories. I’m so glad that you had this positive experience with Joanna and that it helped you heal.

  • Danielle Smith

    Amy – thank you so much for your beautiful words. I am so sorry for your losses – I can’t even imagine having them connected with your special day. You are right – there will always be these moments and they are bittersweet. I am very lucky I had Joanna with me to guide me through. She was like sunshine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/whitney.wingerd Whitney Pomeroy Wingerd

    Such a beautiful post Danielle, thanks so much for sharing. I bet Gina is smiling somewhere knowing you had such a beautiful day taking photos with Joanna and I’m sure it’s what she would have wanted! In fact, sharing that moment together in the spot she first picked was a beautiful way to honor her.
    Again thanks for sharing and big hugs to you!

  • Dawn

    Danielle, this post honors your dear friend so beautifully. The day you spent sounds like it was a wonderful way to remember her and celebrate her life. I am sure she was smiling down on you and your family all day!

  • http://www.5minutesformom.com/ Susan (5 Minutes For Mom)

    What a beautiful post… but I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • http://www.erinmargolin.com/ Erin Margolin

    Oh Danielle…I am so sorry you lost such a beloved friend to cancer. But she lives on through YOU and all the good things you’re doing every day. And the photos she’s taken of your precious family over the years. This is a beautiful tribute to her!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589290388 Nadia Carriere

    I’m so very sorry for your loss Danielle… this is such a beautiful post and tribute to your friend. xo

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you so very much, Whitney – I so appreciate that and so hope you are right. I miss her and love nothing more than picturing her smiling.

  • Danielle Smith

    So truly grateful, Dawn. It was a wonderful day and though it was a surprise, I’ve smiled more times than I can count just thinking about the memories I have with Gina, the special times she spent photographing my family and the new blessing of having Joanna in my life.

  • Danielle Smith

    Susan – thank you so very much, my friend. Very much.

  • Danielle Smith

    Oh Erin – thank you. You are so right. Gina lives on in so many beautiful ways and in so many treasured memories. Her light shines through my children’s smiles on the walls of my home – I am so very lucky to have had her in my life. So grateful for your beautiful words.

  • laura @ hollywood housewife

    Thank you for sharing this. I understood everything about it, and I’m so glad you were able to laugh through tears on this day.

  • http://www.adventuresinbabywearing.com/ Adventures In Babywearing

    Oh, I understand completely. I am so sorry for your loss- last year I lost a dear friend much too suddenly and soon last year and there are lots of little hurdles you wouldn’t even realize until you get to them. Can’t wait to see your photos!


  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you so much, Nadia – I do so appreciate it. She was a treasure.

  • Danielle Smith

    I’m so grateful for this, Laura. And it means to much to be understood – thank you. I can honestly say I’m happy the day turned out as it did.

  • Danielle Smith

    Oh my friend – I’m so sorry you lost someone you love too. It is such a heartbreak. Thank you for understanding. xo

  • http://twitter.com/MelissaSChapman Melissa Chapman

    i don’t think you ever get over the loss of someone you love…i think it just becomes your new normal hugging u from nyc

  • Danielle Smith

    Melissa – I think you are so right – this was the first true loss for me, and while I know I am ‘lucky’ to have made it this far in life without experiencing it, it is still painful… and it is a new normal. Thank you for the hugs. I’ll take them. xoxo

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=557380227 Anne Jenkins Parris

    I beautiful tribute to Gina. You’ll never forget her–that’s love.
    If I were her I’d want you to be happy and smile every time you see one of the photographs I took of your beautiful family.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessicaturner Jessica Turner

    Each hurdle is hard… praying for peace during this holiday season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/momadvice Amy Allen Clark

    Many prayers to you and your family, Danielle! I can’t imagine how hard that day was. Know that we love and are thinking of your family, sweet friend! xoxo

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you for this, Anne. I have no doubt that Gina smiles knowing the joy she has given me and my family over the years… such treasures I will always have.

  • Danielle Smith

    I am grateful for you, Jessica. Thank you so much.

  • Danielle Smith

    Sweet friend – I so appreciate it. Thank you so much. xoxo