As the year is ending and I’m on my honeymoon with my husband, I can’t help but reflect on what things 2016 has brought for us both. I normally don’t do a lot of personal blog posts unless it relates to my work, but this time I’m going to make an exception because of everything that’s happened.
Without a doubt, 2016 has been the best and worst year of my life.
This will be a lot longer than my normal posts, but I’d really appreciate it if you would take the time to go through it.
Back in October 2015, Jason and I traveled to Japan to visit some friends and see some of the old places I used to live while I was teaching there many years ago. Jason took me by surprise as he got down on one knee and proposed. After nine years together I still couldn’t believe he had actually asked me to marry him. We were both very happy.
When we came back to Australia (and I went straight back into shooting weddings), I procrastinated actually organizing my own wedding because I had already booked for most of 2016 and I didn’t want to rush into getting married. I was looking at September or October of 2017.
Jason, however, had grandparents in their 80s and we didn’t know how long they would be around for. We eventually compromised on a date on the 24th September 2016. We chose Core Cider House for our venue because it was different from the many wineries I’d photographed at and Karen the coordinator there was very helpful.
Now both Jason and I have a number of friends that we’ve met over the years, but we both had that one friend each that we knew for a long time and did almost everything together with. For me, that was my best friend Amanda, who I was lucky enough to be Maid of Honour at her wedding back in 2014. Jason and I are also Godparents to her daughter, which is an incredible honour for us. It was easy to pick her as my Maid of Honour.
For Jason, it was his best friend since high school, Ashley. He was the immediate choice for the Best Man. To explain Jason and Ash’s relationship, I’d say they are like Starsky and Hutch, Batman and Robin, Han Solo and Chewy, you get my drift.
We decided not to add more to our bridal party, partly because we wanted to have at least some of our friends as guests, and partly because it was easier to coordinate with fewer people.
So a date for our wedding was set, our bridal party chosen, and so began the organizing of all the rest of it.
In the meantime, I was still working hard on all the wonderful weddings for 2016.
In June I entered the WA AIPP Epson Photography Awards and I was lucky enough to be awarded Wedding Photographer of the Year for Western Australia. Wow. I never ever in a million years thought that I would actually be able to win something like that. I had always fantasized in my mind what it would be like, but didn’t consider that I would one day be awarded with such an honour.
So at this stage, life was pretty good. Business was doing better than ever, and my personal life was smooth sailing.
During the winter months I made sure all my editing was completed, I organized the final touches of our wedding and shot a couple more in the meantime.
Our wedding came up so fast I hardly knew what was happening. All of a sudden it was a few days before and I had to prepare so much. I stupidly decided that making everyone cupcakes on my own was a good idea. So I spent the Thursday before the big day pumping out 120 cupcakes for my guests and suppliers. Note to my clients – don’t do that. I think I went a bit nuts.
The day of our wedding was really nice. Amanda and I had a really easy morning getting ready. Once our photographers and videographers arrived it was all go-go-go. The morning wasn’t without its hiccups (Amanda’s zip broke and she had to be sewn into her dress), but we were early to the ceremony and things went well from there.
I had a bouncy castle and pinatas to make things fun for the guests while we were out taking photos. We had a simple set-up for the reception and a close friend was the MC who did a great job.
The very next day was Jason’s 30th birthday. So we had some friends over for dinner that night and shared some of ‘wedding’ cake that we had ordered for Jason’s birthday. Jason had to leave early to spend some time with family that had come over from Hong Kong, while his best friend Ash stayed back at the house with me when all our other friends had to go. Ashley and I had a few laughs before he called an Uber to take him home. That was the last time we ever saw him.
30 days later, Ashley suddenly passed away.
I don’t think I’ll forget the night we found out. We had been out test driving some cars and when we came home, Jason went to put the bin out. It was a neighbour that actually broke the news to him, and Jason came running back inside to confirm the worst on Facebook.
Ash died without warning from an extremely rare health condition that not even he or any of his family were aware of. To say that his death was a shock to us is an understatement. We were completely floored.
The next few days were a blur of tears and grief so intense I could hardly breathe.
I had lost a dear, dear friend.
Jason had lost his best friend.
A mother had lost her son.
Any amount of people that knew him were in shock and mourning.
Sometimes people take time off work when grieving. While I could do so during the week, on the weekends I didn’t want to miss out on photographing anyone’s wedding.
Thankfully, when I was shooting my clients weddings, I forgot my sadness. For a few hours, I was so happy. I realised that working was easy – it took my mind off things. I also didn’t want my grief to be noticed on my clients’ wedding day. It is after all, your day and you should not have to deal with a sad photographer on your wedding. It’s not fair or professional.
So I have to say a big thank you to all my clients who had their weddings in the later half of this year. It was such a hard time for me emotionally and your weddings were the only things that helped me cope with the loss of my friend. It was the quiet times I dreaded, when I was at home alone or at night in bed, that’s when I struggled the most.
The day of Ashley’s funeral was the hardest day of my life. Ashley’s mum had requested that he be buried in his suit that he wore for our wedding and it seemed only fitting that Jason wear his wedding suit again. Who would have thought that Jason and Ashley would wear their suits again 50 days after our wedding, only one would be buried in it.
There are two things about that day I’ll never forget; my husband’s face as he wheeled his best friend’s coffin into the church and Ashley’s mother collapsing as her son was lowered into the ground. There is nothing natural about a parent burying their child.
I wrote Ashley a letter to put into the open grave as my way of saying goodbye. There were so many things I wanted to say to him that I now would never get the chance to. Most of it was silly things that made up our friendship or things that I would miss about him.
A few days after the funeral, Jason, myself and my good friend Tessa visited Ashley’s grave with our dogs. He was always a big fan of our puppies and loved seeing them when he would visit. I found a partially buried letter addressed to Ash among the dirt after his grave had been filled in and it made me realize that so many people felt the same way I did – that so much was left unsaid.
Three months after his death I still get the waves of grief that are overwhelming. I’ll be listening to Ashley’s music and I’ll just start bawling. Jason and I have struggled with out sadness at times but we have to remember that Ash will remain in our hearts and we have so many funny memories of him. Sadly, even as a photographer, I have hardly any photos of him. I just don’t take a lot of photos when I’m out with friends because I want to enjoy the moment. I’m very grateful to have Ashley at our wedding, since now we have some nice photos of us together.
Even now, I still can’t bring myself to go through my wedding images properly. I am extremely happy with Jimmy’s work (from iZo Photography) and the photos capture one of the happiest days of my life, it just reminds me of the dear friend that we’ve lost and it hurts. I have skimmed through the images many times but every time I start going through them and looking at each image I just start crying because I miss my friend.
There will come a time where I’ll be able to look at my wedding photos and not get so emotional. Right now though, the pain is still very hard to deal with. I’ve been working very hard over the last few months to keep my mind off things. My honeymoon couldn’t come at a better time. 2016 has been a roller coaster for me.
I just want to say thank you again to all my wonderful brides and grooms that – without knowing it – helped me through the tough times. Your happiness kept me going. I have experienced so much over the past 3 months that it has made me more determined to be the best photographer I can be. Our time is precious and you just never know what’s going to happen.
So here’s to you, Ashley. I miss you like crazy. I hope you’re having a good whiskey and making some awesome music wherever you are. Love you to bits xxx