What I knew when I was photographing this beautiful family was that they were close, full of spirit, genuinely loving, and happy. I didn’t have to do much directing, or any evoking of emotion. It was just there. They drove from Gilroy to Panther Beach in Santa Cruz (that’s quite a drive) and all jumped out of the car enthusiastically. I got a huge hug from every one of them. Way in the back, squished into the third row seat, was Marky. My first thought was, “wow, he sat all the way in the back with the kids and came out with this big of a smile on his face?”. That was my first moment of being struck by him. We hiked down to the beach, Marky helping the girls along and Jill telling me that he had spent the recent money he was given to go shopping and buy the clothes he had on, the clothes that he intentionally bought to complement what the rest of the family was wearing. That was moment #2 of being struck by Marky. Who is this kid? Only 20 years old. Not the self-centered 20 year old that I was, that’s for sure. We began shooting and I had my third moment of being struck by Marky. He was in love with the girls and they were in love with him. He was tickling them , chasing them and laughing with them. It touched me to watch. I took a shot of him alone for his mom for Christmas. I knew he was a little uncomfortable alone in front of the camera. Heck, I am too. It’s not easy, but I said something insignificant and got a genuine smile out of him. I’m so glad we took that photo. I had no idea how meaningful and important it would become.
What I didn’t know when I was photographing this beautiful family was that Marky was about to live the last 7 weeks of his life on this beautiful earth. He died exactly 7 weeks to the day after this shoot. He was killed in a motorcycle accident, and after 4 hours of surgery at valley med they could do nothing more to keep him alive. Technically, he was Jason and Jill’s nephew, but anyone who knew them and him couldn’t even question that he was a son to them and a brother to their children. He had been living in their home with them for the last year and took the girls to dance classes, picked them up from school, and helped with whatever was asked of him. He spent a lot of time with them and opened up his heart and soul, even if he was afraid of what was inside, to Jill.
Jill is one of the most important people in my life. She wasn’t going to do a Christmas photo shoot because she had so many great photos from their summer travels. I told her I would love, if she would allow, to gift her a session and she could choose when. She decided to take me up on the offer and go for it at the end of November.
Yesterday was the memorial service for Marky. On the program, on a large canvas above his casket, on his memorial card at the viewing, was that one shot I took of him alone. I can not look at it without a well of emotion pouring over me. I looked into his eyes through my lens that day. We shared a small moment. I stared at him in my computer for days during processing. He was so alive in those photos. Life was taken from him in a matter of 4 hours. It screams out how precious life is, how it can be gone in a moment. I know we can say that, but this experience has made me feel that. How cliche to say “live each day as if it could be your last”, but trying to do that, to live each day with as much love for others, and myself as I can is what I’ve taken away from this loss. To be honest, I’m really struggling to understand death, life, and that endless source of energy in the universe we call God. I’m confused, and it’s clear. I’m fearful, and sure. It’s been a shock to my system, not to mention the grief I feel just because someone I love so dearly is grieving so deeply. To say the very least, my work has taken on a whole new depth and meaning to me. In my mind it was not a coincidence that “the stars aligned” and this shoot came together in the time it did. It’s become a treasure and a gift to those who love him.
Thank you for gracing me with your presence Marky. I hope you’re dancing in the flow of love everywhere, and in everything. You left a lot of love in people’s hearts who are still living and remembering you.