In November 2015 I was struck dumb when Jo and Nathan posted on facebook that James had died suddenly. Death really does sting, even when it is people in your periphery - it puts you back in touch with all the grief you've collected up to that point, it shakes you out of day-to-day false security of life just bumbling away and just knocks the stuffing out of you. I knew that Jo and Nathan would be well looked after by their family and friends, but couldn't imagine how life must be feeling for them ... or actually, could imagine, and didn't like how that felt one bit.
When Jo and Nathan asked me to do photos of the funeral it was an instant yes, though I knew it would be my toughest ever job. And only if they were comfortable with me crying alongside everyone else; I knew my professionalism couldn't stretch to keeping a stiff upper lip.
It was good to be surrounded by lots of people whose weddings I'd done, who knew me and could trust me, and who could also kick me into the action when I had a wobble of "should I really be doing this, this feels intrusive" (thanks Amz!). The St Toms family were great and handled the whole day brilliantly, allowing for the pain of death and loss to be felt in all its forms, whilst also facilitating the celebration of a boy who had delighted everyone he'd ever met. A children's story helped to offer something for the littlies and a balloon release with hopes and prayers attached gave a focus of hope filled letting go.
Mike, the vicar, also did me the huge favour of legitimising my presence by explaining to the congregation why Jo and Nathan had asked me to be there. Whilst it might seem like a strange event to get photos of, they knew that they would be in a bit of a haze so wouldn't take it all in, wouldn't get to see everyone, that some family couldn't make it, and that James's little brother was too little to remember anything. It really helped me to have someone say this so that I could feel *slightly* more comfortable pointing a camera at people in pain.
I also didn't expect Jo and Nathan to want a blog post - but rest assured this is here with their express permission. Jo said "I want people to know that even though we are devastated we 'do not grieve as those who have no hope'".
This job has cut me open at each stage; shooting, editing, blogging and writing. But it is good to feel the all-ness of life and to participate in the lows as well as the highs. It was an honour and a privilege.
All images ©KateCooperPhotography2016