The gift of photography helps ease parents’ unimaginable loss

Michele Carlisle, a Georgetown portrait photographer who volunteers with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, took this photo of Amy Buckingham holding the hand of her infant son, Myles.

Amy and Tim Buckingham are the first to say that, at the time, it seemed awkward, even a little weird.

Their twin sons, Hagan and Myles, were born premature and spent nearly a month in the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit. Hagan finally grew strong enough to go home to be with his 3-year-old sister, Joleigh. But Myles just got worse.

“When a doctor tells you the strategy is hope, wait and pray, it doesn’t look good,” Tim said.

Myles’ lungs had not developed properly, and he could not survive off a ventilator. He died on Feb. 4, 2011 after 28 days of life. Only when he died did someone think to tell the Buckinghams about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a non-profit organization that provides free professional portrait photography to the parents of infants who will never get the chance to grow up.

Within four hours of a nurse calling the organization, Georgetown photographer Michele Carlisle was at the hospital. Myles was cleaned and dressed, and his parents held him as Carlisle made photographs that have become some of the Buckinghams’ most cherished possessions.

“This was the only opportunity we had to photograph him without tubes and wires,” Tim said. “We felt kind of weird about it, but it gave us some closure.” “It was awkward, but it’s what felt right as a parent,” Amy added. “I can’t imagine not having those photographs.”

Tim and Amy Buckingham, with children Hagan, left, and Joleigh, in May. Photo by Tom Eblen

The Buckinghams asked to share their story because they want more people to know about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and the comfort it can provide to families in situations such as theirs.

Colorado-based Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep was created in 2005, soon after Maddux Haggard was born with a condition that prevented him from breathing or swallowing. Before he was taken off life support at 6 days old, his parents asked photographer Sandy PucĀ“ to come to the hospital.

Cheryl Haggard and PucĀ“ realized that such photographs could be comforting to other families, so they started the non-profit organization they named for the children’s bedtime prayer. The organization says it now has more than 11,000 professional photographers in the United States, Canada and 38 other countries who volunteer their time and services to families that are losing or have lost an infant.

Photographers typically donate a CD of 30-35 black-and-white photos, along with a DVD slide show of the images. Carlisle, who photographed the Buckinghams, is one of three Lexington-area photographers who volunteer. She also is the organization’s area coordinator.

Before she opened her Georgetown photography studio seven years ago, Carlisle said she worked as a hospital X-ray technician, so she had some understanding of what these families were going through. Over the past six years, she said she has photographed several hundred families for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

“I know these images are powerful,” Carlisle said. “I know they can help when so little in that moment can.”

Usually, when Carlisle arrives at a hospital to take photographs, all but the parents and infant will leave the room. For some parents, it is the first time they have gotten to hold their child.

“It’s hard for everybody, and very emotional; just walking into that room and knowing what to say,” she said. “But if I can create that safe place for them to have that moment, it often can mean as much as the pictures.”

Although the organization provides training and support for volunteer photographers, the emotional nature of the work makes recruiting hard, Carlisle said. Still, it is such a rewarding form of service that she wishes more professional photographers would apply to volunteer (Nowilaymedowntosleep.org).

With two active children and busy careers, the Buckinghams have a full life. Amy is a pediatric dental hygienist, and Tim is a staff member for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and an active volunteer at Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. Still, Tim said, “Sometimes the grief just creeps up out of nowhere.”

That is when they pull out Carlisle’s photographs, look through them and remember Myles.

“Although it was the hardest moment of our lives,” Tim said, “it has also been captured as one of the most beautiful and peaceful moments that we will remember forever.”