WELCOME TO MY BLOG and I thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read.
This is officially my first time writing a blog piece and let me start by telling you all I am by no means a natural or good writer and am a terrible speller so look past any mistakes. This blog is for my photography and here-in after will be focused on that and not my personal life. Although this is extremely personal I feel it needs to be said. In order to know why I pursued photography you need to know the whole story. My story and more importantly her story because she deserves to be remembered. I recently heard a quote in a film that struck home, it went something like this. "If you don't talk about someone after they are gone, you allow them to die twice". This blog is very detailed, maybe T.M.I but writing can be therapeutic and it has been for me. My story here is not for attention but to maybe help people open up to their own insecurities, there own tragedies and embrace it all. For we all have them. Some far worse than others but that doesn't mean anyone persons experiences are any less insignificant than another's. I have lived a very blessed life and continue too and know how lucky I am.
I hope in reading this you are encouraged to love and show love more than you already do. Because there can never be too much love and tomorrow is not guaranteed!
Meet Nikki. My sister. My inspiration.
Nikki was my older sister by 4 years. We were always incredibly different. We never really looked much a like. As children she had dark curly hair, I was bright blonde. Pretty much every feature was different. Eye color, shape, noses, body type, height you name it. Our interests were on opposite ends of the spectrum and we often rubbed each other the wrong way throughout our time together. Growing up we fought...a lot! She was sassy, and boy was she bossy. If her words didn't get me to do what she wanted she used her physical strength. We spent a large portion of our childhood in Hong Kong getting into mischief with the neighborhood kids led by no other than Nikki. We often would sneak out of the guarded gates to visit small Chinese villages and local streams and wooded areas. She was fearless. A natural leader. As we got older things changed. The spirited child that was always in trouble turned into the most well balanced teenager. I don't think she ever did anything that caused my parents anguish in her teens years. Maybe she was just great at hiding things she shouldn't be doing, or maybe as it seemed to her family the wild child was tamed.
As teens we were close enough but due to different social circles and interests we didn't spend much time together. As time passed, and age crept up on us we became closer and closer. My college years a connection between us was formed. Any rivalry she felt towards me had melted away. She was an adult with a great career. She was in love. She had found everything she wanted. She no longer looked at me like competition. We were miles away from each other my entire adult life. When I was in college in Florida, she was in England and Scotland. When I got my first job as a Mother baby nurse she was in Singapore. I then moved to North Carolina and during that time she was in Singapore and Texas.
She had her first child Isabel while in Singapore. This change in her life sparked the need for each other that we had never experienced. We were now both mothers. Both wives and juggling all the hats that come with being a spouse and human creator. My eldest was a year ahead of hers and I was now a Pediatric nurse. She needed me. Always wanting my advice and opinions on being a mother and the health of her child. She used me as a sound board on certain areas of marriage, something I don't think I had ever experienced before. Nikki truly feeling like she needed me. We talked everyday. If a day went by that we didn't catch each other we would leave silly voicemails. Often I would sing on hers...why....because I cant. Like my grandmother once described my voice, I sound like a dying cow. So to make up for all the childhood torment, I lovingly left my vocals on her phone. And you know what... she loved it!
Nikki's last few years were spent in Houston Texas. I was in North Carolina and for the first time in a very long time we were living in the same county. We were able to talk as we only had an hour difference in time, and we were able to visit each other and experience life with our children.
We spent pretty much everyday with our I pads tucked in some corner of our kitchens and would FaceTime while we cooked dinner for our families. Sometimes we chatted, others we just had each other in the background while we did our own thing occasionally chiming in with something we had to say or commenting on what was going on at the others house. This is by far the thing I miss most! There was this level of comfort always having her literally in my corner every evening.
In January 2013 Nikki gave birth to her second daughter Chloe. Shortly after she kept experiencing back pain and had a cough that just wouldn't go away. Multiple doctor visits and being told one thing after the other and being pacified with pain killers steroids and antibiotics the months went on. She was tired a lot. She complained a lot. I think most of us just thought it was being a mother of two. The exhaustion that comes with it. Looking back I have so much regret for being hard on her. I just thought she was going through what all mothers do. She was sometimes a complainer and often times I would tell her to suck it up when I got tired of hearing how tired she was. Little did I know what she was really battling on top of everything.
Our mother was with her helping her adjust to a second child when she took Nikki to the ER as she knew something more was going on. After multiple hospital visits and every dang test under the sun they discovered she had Colorectal cancer that had spread pretty much to her entire body. They gave her a few weeks to live.
Our world came crashing down. How was the most wonderful, kind woman, my best friend going to leave us all. A beloved wife, daughter, friend and most importantly mother to daughters only 8 months and 4 years.
The weeks of life expectancy given by the doctors rolled into 3 months. This passive, gentle adult had found the deepest power to fight and keep going. That stubborn, wild child had come back with a vengeance! I remember a conversation with one of her many Doctors on my first visit to see her since being diagnosed. He looked right into my eyes without shifting his gaze and unapologetically said, "We honestly don't understand how she is still alive with what she has going on. Her continued breath is a miracle". With a nervous giggle I returned my gaze and said quite simply, "You don't know Nikki then do you!"
I was only able to visit Nikki during those 3 months of battle twice. I had also just had my second child. During my last visit when my youngest Charlie was 4 months she was about to start Chemo in an attempt to give her more time and her last wish as she called it was to have family portraits done so her children would have pictures to remember her. Adrienne a friends of Nikki's reached out to her friend Bonnie with Two Creative Birds Photography to help. Bonnie and her husband Gabe dropped everything and came to the hospital the next day to make her wish come true.
The photoshoot took place in one of the hospitals hallways. Bonnie and Gabe had brought sheer curtains to soften the area and make it look less hospital like. Light flooded in through the large wall of windows and purple balloons bounced around that they had brought with them. They had taken the time to find out what her favorite color was and to have something fun for Isabel.
At times I assisted the photographers where I could but for the most part I stood back. Leaning against a wall for stability I watched these two amazing people work their magic with such expertise and compassion as they captured every giggle, every moment between my sister and her family. I was in this place of complete agony knowing these where their last family portraits. At times I could barley see through my tears and yet at the same time I was in awe of what was happening. In that moment I knew that the passion for photography I had always had needed to be pursued. I had to find the time for my passion and be able to do for others what Two Creative Birds Photography did for me and my family. They gave us the gift of preserving every detail of a moment. How Nikki laughed, her dimples, her love for her children that was so obvious. I knew then I wanted to take beautiful picture too for others. In the coming years I would need to find the time to learn.
In my mind we shared two goodbyes. One in person and one over the phone. The day I had to leave Houston I sat alone with Nikki in her hospital room on her bed. She wrote me a card to open after she was gone. We chatted, we laughed, we cried. I asked her "how am I meant to live without you"... and she just said "Let it be". The hardest moment of my entire life was prying myself off that bed and walking out that hospital room to make a flight knowing I would never see her alive in person again. I would never touch her skin or feel the warmth of her hugs. When I walked out the room into the hall the nurses where at their station chatting and laughing. They noticed me leaving her room and kept on with their stories and laughter. I remember feeling so mad at them. They all knew Nikki and her story to well, she was well loved by every single member of staff on that floor of the hospital. Maybe because of how sad and shocking her story was, or simply because she was so sweet, but they all doted on her. So how could they see me leaving her room and keep smiling. I have never hated people more in my life than in that moment. How could they be happy? It took every ounce of strength I had to put one foot in front of the other, barley able to catch my breath with pain and fear that was engulfing me.
November 18th 2013 I was sat with my mother in law at my dining table. My phone rang with my Mum's name appearing. I didn't want to pick it up, I was terrified too. My mother-in -law encouraged me, gently informing me I had too. It was Nikki. She had called to say goodbye. She knew her time had come. She had only the strength to say "I love you, goodbye". I honestly don't remember how long it was after that, that the second call came. It might have been minutes, maybe hours... I just knew when the phone rang again I wouldn't pick it up. I refused too. My mother in law came to my rescue and took the call. She spoke with our Mum and hung up. She was gone. Life would never be the same.
After her death so many peoples lives were turned upside down as often is the case when someone who is loved leaves. Life is never the same, you have to adjust to a new normal. I was struggling with demons of how unfair it was to have her ripped from my life when there were people whos loss was in my eyes far greater. Her husband was now a single father of two beautiful girls. Here children motherless. My parents had to deal with the loss of another child. No parent should ever have to face losing a child. Her friends were left with an empty space that no other person could fill and my brother and I no longer had a big sister, a best friend.
I was a mess for months. I cried so much and was so stressed my breastmilk dried up and I could no longer feed my baby from my body. That was a devastating blow on top of everything. However, I was so lucky to be the recipient of an outpouring of love by so many. I received calls, cards, flowers and gifts from my closets friends to people I barley spoke too. Words and actions of love from others helped me though. One morning after walking the dog and crying the whole walk a neighbor must have noticed me and turned up at my house not long after I got home. When I opened the door she said, "I have nothing to say to you to ease your pain. I have just come to sit and hold your hand for awhile till you kick me out". That was one of the most therapeutic moments of accepting my grief. Having someone just be there to hold you and allow you to let it out. I don't think I have ever thanked her or let her know how amazing that was so I hope she reads this post. I was shocked by how so many people took the time from literally all over the world to give me a little of their love. In December I travelled to England to bury Nikki and came back to find a freezer stocked full of home cooked meals for my family and a mountain of Christmas presents under the Christmas tree for my boys (so I didn't have to worry about getting them) from a group of girlfriends. I was shocked! I felt so unworthy of all the love and still do to this day but am so thankful for it.
My mother in law who spent so much time with us helping us through. Crappy timing, but I had to have reconstructive nasal surgery where they took cartilage from my right ear to rebuild my collapsed septum right before Nikki passed. I'm pretty sure I spent close to a week in and out of it from the drugs and pain in a chair. My eyes were swollen shut and I didn't eat. She was there to help my husband cook, clean and take care of our kids. When Nikki passed she was the one with me. After Nikki's death we made the gut wrenching choice for me to go alone to England for her funeral and not as a family. They were so young, 7 months and 4years. I didn't want to expose them to a week long being jet lagged and surround by sadness. They were too young to grasp what was happening and I wanted to be there in entirety to support my parents. So my hubby and the boys stayed home and my M-I-L stayed with them. Then there is my husband, my rock. Throughout everything he showed unconditional love and support always picking up my slack, doing everything in his power to care for me and somehow having the ability to make me smile and even giggle. The man has the greatest power to make me laugh in my darkest times, and even when I'm mad at him. I've really never understood it. Pretty sure its his super power. He is not perfect, we have our ups and down as couples do but I'll me dammed is there is another man alive that loves harder than him! It helped me through a very difficult time where I was so mad at the world and especially God that I questioned my faith. It took years to regain my faith in God and its something I had to do on my own terms in my own time.
After her death I had so much internal guilt. Guilt that I couldn't save her, guilt that I still got to live and she didn't. I still do, but it gives me the strength to always try harder, love deeper and feel the privilege of growing old.
Grief is a funny thing. It hits you at the most unexpected times. Her birthdays and anniversaries of her death I am typically ok. The days you would expect someone to be in shambles I am able to function and go about my day with happy thoughts of her. Then there are other days in-between when the memories knock the wind out me. A certain sound or smell triggers a memory and I'm a mess. At times it's just for a moment, others the effect can last for days. I am thankful these seem to be diminishing over time and are now very infrequent. Now when I look at one of her many pictures throughout my house I smile instead of cry. I guess pain does ease with time like everyone said it would. It's not that it goes away, you just learn to deal with it without breaking down or being physically effected. Panic attacks: another thing I am thankful got better! I haven't had a panic attack in probably close to two years. The first few years after she left I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like I was being crushed by an elephant, I couldn't breath, I was burning hot and I would have images of her. It was absolutely terrifying. I learnt to close my eyes and put a hand on my sleeping husband next to me and focus on my breathing till it passed. I have always been a person that has experienced anxiety in one form or another throughout life, but I had never experienced a panic attack until after she left. I am thankful they always came when I was in bed though and not during the day.
In 2015 I picked up my little DSLR camera and started playing. I started taking in as much knowledge as I could when I had the time (which wasn't a lot). I joined Facebook groups, watched you tube video's and tutorials learning how to use the camera on manual and learning lighting. I started taking pictures for friends... over the years friends expanded to neighbors and friends of friends and so on..and they started paying me. In April 2017 I officially launched Becky Elizabeth Photography and decided to focus on what I loved photographing the most, High school seniors and head shots in the greater Raleigh NC area.
So what was the purpose of this very detailed very personal blog you ask?
It's Nikki. She deserves her story no matter how sad and painful to be told. She is the reason I became a Photographer. She is the reason Becky Elizabeth Photography and me following my passion exists. I hope she is looking down on me proud, and I know she is thrilled I am doing this in her name.
A special heartfelt thank you to fine art and portrait photographer's Bonnie and Gabe Al-rifi with Two Creative Birds! The creators of my most prized images! Bonnie has given me love and support in my personal life since meeting her and has helped me on my photography journey too! There aren't words to describe how thankful I am to them.
Below is a link from Bonnie's blog post about the shoot with Nikki. See the experience from her perspective and her breath taking images!
In loving Memory of
Nicola Elizbeth Tomlinson (nee Dodds)
August 9th 1979 - November 18th 2013