Kristina reached out about family portraits in November and it wasn’t long before we realized she was on the heels of having lost her precious husband Josh the month before. We asked, as gently as possible, “Are you sure you want to do this now? Would you rather wait a bit before you have your first family portraits without Josh?” Kristina explained that losing Josh has taught her we are not guaranteed tomorrow. What is most precious to you can be lost in the blink of an eye. She explained her last family portraits were in 2015 right after Josh’s first diagnosis with leukemia. She was compelled to mark down her family in a way that would remind her there was still a great deal of blessing in her life.
When we stand at an alter to pledge our forevers, “till death do us part” seems like it’s at least 50 years away. No one envisions becoming a single parent of young children because death has claimed what was pledged and promised to be yours.
Eleven years ago Kristina was out for a night on the town with some girlfriends at Raphaels. Her group of friends happened to bump into another group of friends and Kristina was introduced to a guy whose aim in life was to make everyone smile and laugh. He stole her heart that night and it didn’t take her long to figure out why everyone who knew Josh loved him. It wasn’t long before she realized he was going to be hers and she felt very fortunate indeed.
Josh was a certified Ford senior master technician and had mastered transmissions and diesels. The challenge of fixing broken things intrigued him and inspired him to create. He wasn’t satisfied with just fixing or creating though, he sought to innovate to perfect techniques and increase efficiency in his processes. The thrill of taking something that was a wreck and watching it be transformed is what compelled him to take on 3 house renovations. Kristina worked tirelessly by his side each time and was consistently amazed by his quality craftsmanship. Others marveled at what Josh accomplished, which always gave Kristina cause for great pride in her husband.
Josh was diagnosed with leukemia, out of the blue, the first time in 2014 and after they had wrapped up an extensive treatment plan, they were cautiously optimistic that Josh would remain in remission. However, that was not to be the case. Josh spent most of the last year of his life in the hospital as each round of treatment required a month long stay for very high doses of chemotherapy. His longest hospital stay was 62 days. Anyone who has been in the hospital knows how that must have felt like years.
During his final year of life, in the midst of treatment, Josh wanted to take a family trip to see the Statue of Liberty. He felt awful, but never said anything. Kristina knew. He pressed on and climbed the pedestal stairs with one goal in mind–to see the smile on the boys faces when they reached the top. The only thing Josh ever feared in life, even when he knew he was going to pass away, was not being there for his boys when they needed their father. After a lot of heart to hearts with God, ultimately, it was his faith and trust in God that helped to ease his mind. And this is the miracle found in the devastating that only those who’ve walked the weary dark road with the Lord will know. He is close to the broken hearted and found in the least likely places.
Spending time with Gunnar and Archer was always a top priority for Josh and it’s clear they have taken on so much awesomeness from their dad. Today they are 8 & 9 and as soon as they began playing sports, Josh volunteered in a coaching role for all 3 sports–baseball, football and basketball. Creating portraits of the boys loving their athletic pursuits was a big hit with them. Gunnar was full of ham and cheese pulling out all his best moves and replicating his sports idols. He had us cracking up laughing all night long…something tells me he got this from his dad. I mentioned that I liked his sleeve and he told me his coach had given it to him after his dad died. Clearly it held a special place in his heart as he then began to tell me how much everyone loved his dad and what a great coach he was. It was important to him that I know about Josh and how loved he was by so many.
Archer was quieter and reflective…seemingly more like his mom, but then again we realized after the fact that he had the start of strep throat! He mentioned he didn’t feel well when they were getting changed and he felt warm which was out of the blue for him as he never gets sick. We crushed some Tylenol up into a chocolate pudding to help him feel better for the portrait time. It didn’t take long for him to perk up and show us his best for portrait time.
Kristina mentioned to me during our pre consult planning meeting about how physical the boys are with one another which helped to inspire this portrait idea below. Which then led to having her be included to feature her Rosie Riveter Josh tattoo.
After our planning meeting, Kristina was inspired to request if Josh’s presence, faded off, could be added into one of their portraits instead of the shadow idea she originally inquired about. I explained there were a lot of factors to consider, but I’d work to try and make it happen. Well Josh worked beautifully into this scene which is so symbolic of Kristina’s next phase of life. Archer asked me quietly at the end of the session, “my mom says you are going to put my dad into one of our pictures.” I said, “yes I can, would you like that?” Archer solemnly nodded his head yes and I found myself fighting back tears. Both boys wanted me to make sure their dad was represented, in some form, in their family portraits.
Kristina has no small feat ahead of her raising her sons without her beloved Josh, but she clings to the memories they made together. She clings to the memory of her boys snuggled up in Josh’s lap in the hospital all watching cartoons together till they fell asleep. This would be the last time they got to talk with their dad. He was wrapping up his last treatment and supposed to come home any day. That all changed on a dime when bloodwork came back showing leukemia had come back with a vengeance in his blood. Josh had only one day left and had no idea that death would move in so swiftly to take him from his best girl and his boys. Kristina was blindsided and reeling. He was supposed to come home and now that would never happen.
So after learning her story, now I understand why Kristina was compelled to have this time recorded with her sweet boys while she’s still mired in a grief that few, despite their best intentions, will ever be able to understand. Kristina got quietly emotional several times during the session for the absence of her best guy. She carries a weight in her soul that is very visible even to those who are just meeting her because when death robs us, we are changed and forced to spend inordinate amounts of energy to try and recapture who we were before losing what was precious to us. To cope, she is staying busy and trying to keep a smile on the ready because she believes that’s what Josh would have wanted. She’s investing in her boys to carry on Josh’s mantra of treating family like they were his world and treating friends like they were family. This is how Josh will live on in their family and be honored for the incredible man he was to all who loved him.