themighty logo

To the Stranger Who Gave Me a Gift No One Else Could After I Lost My Daughter

Dear Frank and the Kidsphoto Canada team,

You recently sent me an email containing proofs of some photographs of my children. Your message said, “We know it’s been quite a few years since your session, but we didn’t want to pass up this chance for you to see and purchase your captured special moments.” You may assume that all photos of children are “special moments,” but what you don’t know is just how special these ones were to me. In fact, there’s a lot you don’t know…

As many of my close friends and family know, my daughter Jozie was born with a brain malformation and a severe seizure disorder. As an infant, she would have seizures every few minutes, around the clock, for days and days on end, week after week. Her seizures didn’t respond to medication, and we practically lived in the children’s hospital for the first six months of her life. She started the ketogenic diet (a medically specialized diet that helps control seizures in some people) when she was 6 months old, and went home; the doctors were satisfied with the seizure “control” we had achieved.

Unfortunately for Jozie, seizure “control” at this point meant only seizing 25 times per day, or roughly every hour. Around the clock. Jozie’s seizures often stopped her breathing, and she required constant one-on-one supervision. During this time, I slept with one hand on her belly, so if she stopped breathing I would wake up so I could administer powerful emergency medications to try and stop the seizure. I was never satisfied with the “control” the health care system was willing to offer her. As a medical researcher, I knew the only hope she had was to undergo surgery to remove the malformation in her brain that was the source of the seizures. I fought for a full year until we finally saw a physician who agreed that the surgery was the best option.

So, several years ago, the day before Jozie went in for her first brain surgery, I went into Kidsphoto at a local mall to get some pictures taken of my kids together and a few of me with them. I specifically booked for this day because I knew that the next morning, I might kiss Jozie goodbye and never see her alive again, and I wanted happy pictures.

She ended up doing very well, and the surgery was the best thing that ever happened for her. She was able to see more clearly, learned to roll over, sign “yes” and “no,” and she got her laugh back — something I heard once on Boxing Day when she was 5 months old, and that, along with most of her other age-appropriate abilities, was decimated by six months of continuous seizures.

However, the weeks following the surgery were chaotic. She had a stroke immediately after being released from intensive care and then had a massive seizure, and she ended up back in the ICU for a week. Once we got home, I didn’t have time to think straight, let alone call Kidsphoto to check on my pictures. The night after we were sent home, Jozie’s craniotomy got infected, her temperature shot up to 42 degrees Celsius, and I had to make the midnight trek back to the hospital with both kids in tow. Her surgical site was infected and she had to have the bone plate removed in a second surgery that landed us in the hospital and on IV antibiotics for another 17 days. This obviously made her even more fragile than she already was, and although I thought about it several times, I never had a chance to go in and see the pictures. Finally, sometime later, after several days of phone calls, visits and excuses, I was told the pictures were no longer available and had somehow been deleted or lost. They offered to redo the shoot and give me a free 8×10 print.

A couple of years later, Jozie died in my arms on her 4th birthday.

I never did get around to doing the make-up photo shoot. I’ve spent hours of my life trying not to wallow in regret about it, but the regret is there. The only other professional photos I have of her and her brother and I were taken on the day she died. She was already unconscious, and her brother knew she was dying, and they’re just too horribly sad for me to look at.

Fast-forward to last Thursday.

I found this email in my inbox:

“Please find attached your photo contact sheet of all the images from your Kidsphoto session.

As we were searching for some images for another client we came across your images and wanted to offer you an opportunity to purchase the digital files at a greatly reduced price…

We know it’s been quite a few years since your session but we didn’t want to pass up this chance for you to see and purchase your captured special moments.”

professional photo of young brother and sister
A photo of Jozie and her brother from the Kidsphoto session.

My first thought was that I had received the message in error, that I had received a message and photos intended for someone else. But it wasn’t an error. I opened the attachment and was completely overwhelmed at the sight of 10 pages of pictures of my beautiful Jozie and her brother, loving, alive and happy, the pictures I never thought I would ever see. I was completely flooded with emotion and couldn’t stop crying. I sent a message to some of my friends, too overwhelmed to know what to do: “I can’t believe it!” I told them, “I’m so blown away!”

But I also told them, “The saddest part is that I can’t afford to buy them. I literally have $100 in the bank and still have to buy groceries for the week. I feel like I have a priceless treasure — even the ‘bad’ ones I want to keep forever, because I can never take another photo of her, but I don’t have the money to buy them.”

My friends rallied around me. One sent you a message, explaining the story.

mom sitting on floor with baby girl and young boy
Katie, Jozie and her son at the photo shoot

And then you knew. You knew just how amazingly precious those moments captured on film in your store were to me. And you gave them to me — no strings attached — the whole lot of them. You gave me the best gift I could ever have imagined receiving in an email from a stranger. One that nobody else could have given me, and for this, I am so unbelievably grateful! I know the economy is hitting everyone hard right now, and that the sacrifice you’ve made to give me this gift came at the expense of you and your business earning a living to support yourself and your own family, and I need you to know how much it means to me.

So, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget this kindness.

mom kissing baby's cheek
Katie and Jozie at the photo shoot.

This post was originally published on Katie’s Facebook page.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.