Rikki Rivera | Photographer » Wedding & Portrait Photography

This past week was one that no one really wants to face in life. The really hard kind of stuff that reminds you of how delicate and precious life is. This past week, I received one of those dreaded phone calls. Just after leaving the NW Garden show in Seattle on a high and feeling so happy for the upcoming spring season, my phone rang. My brother’s dad (a man who has been apart of my entire life), who is in a nursing home, doesn’t seem like he’ll make it very long. Things are bad. Tears rushing, I make all the phone calls I need to. Our family bands together, my husband is rushing home, and my plane ticket is booked for the next morning. I felt as if I was racing time and I couldn’t get there fast enough. I was impatient and irritable, but didn’t dare take a moment for granted. I was on a mission. I arrived the next afternoon and made a straight line to see Sam. Some of my earliest memories are with him. His music. California. It felt like this couldn’t be.

I rush through the doors, scared of what is awaiting me. As I make my way to the nurses desk, I look to my right and there he is tucked away in a room. Bright blue eyes, sitting in a wheelchair, hanging out with his friends and watching TV. He doesn’t realize it’s me yet, but as I say his name a few times and tell him, “It’s Rikki. I’m here Sam, I love you. I’m here.” The nurse looks from me to him and asks him, “Do you know this young lady?” He looks from her to me and back again, “Yes. That’s my daughter,” he almost laughs. The nurse breaks into tears. Sadly, while I’ve been absent much more than I should have, a neighbor and acquaintance had told the staff he didn’t have family. “Ma’am,” I said, “There are eight children mixed in this family. Endless grandchildren. His brother and sister. This man has family. He is well loved, I assure you.” With that cleared up, I saw her teary eyes, and I held back my tears.

That first day we spent an hour together. He talked of his old work stories and I was happy to listen until he wore out and needed to rest. A few days later, my brothers, nieces, and I were able to get together for the first time in a very long time, and we spent the afternoon with Sam. We sat outside while he had lunch, the sun shining, talking, laughing, and being together. When we took him in, my youngest niece held the door open as her dad and uncle wheeled her Grandpa in the door. He held up his hand for a high five just as they passed. I loved that moment. Unbeknownst to us, it would be his last good day. By Monday he was no longer lucid and his life was coming full circle.

My brothers, their daughters, and I were together for the first time in a long time, and while our hearts were heavy, we were soaking in our time together. Life is precious and we were getting a full dose of that reminder. We cooked dinner together, stayed up late talking, laughed, and read stories to the girls. Making memories.

There was a volunteer social worker who came in as I sat with Sam, hours before I had to catch a plane back to Seattle. I was irritated to have my precious time interrupted, but it turned out to be a blessing I didn’t know I needed. He reminded me that the time we spent during his last few good days, his family being together, the photos we took, is rare. So many people don’t get this. We each had our final hug. Kisses. Laughter. Photos. There has only been one other time in my life when I cried as much as I did over those six days. And that’s when I lost my Grandmother. We didn’t get this kind of goodbye with her. I’m not an emotional person per say, but the world without the people we love is not a place we want to see. I was grateful to share some of Sam’s story with the nurses, the social worker, and anyone who came in to talk with us. We listened to Bob Seger, The Eagles, and Santana on guitar until I left, and I recounted his heroic, admirable, and well lived life. In the end, a life well lived is more than we can all ask for.

These photos. They are everything. One week later, he went home to the Lord. I’ll never ever forget these moments and I’ll hold them dear for all time. I keep telling myself that I am more blessed than anything to have had such an impactful, inspirational person in my life. While time never seems to be enough, while there are never enough photos to remember the moments, that I have these and I have that little bit of time. I’m lucky. I’m so very lucky.

  • Elvis Hogjaw - March 10, 2016 - 6:49 pm

    that’s a beautiful piece. i’m sure he would love it. he liked to read a lot. i’m sure i got that from him. i read more than anyone i know. Reply Cancel

  • Sherri Hall -Rivera - March 11, 2016 - 2:24 am

    My God you have a gift. A very, very rare, in – born talent that the world must know. I say this through much emotion & tears as I just re – lived 33 years of my life were once again experienced. And proud is not the word to rightly express the fact that I have been chosen as your mother. Reply Cancel

  • MariClaire Eastabrooks - March 11, 2016 - 6:45 am

    Wow, what a wonderful opportunity you all had to be together during these last few days! :’-) I wonder if he was holding on until this happy time of reunion was over & then felt complete enough to move on… Thank you for being so vulnerable with us, your readers. May you feel supported by our love & prayers in the coming days & months as you process your grief fully. <3 Reply Cancel

I hardly know where to start with this sweet family. If you follow along on here, you know how much I adore the Soelling family, and being apart of their growing family has been such an honor. Little Ben is so loved and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few hours cuddling with him and playing with his big brother, John. What I love most about this session is how natural it all is. While I gave a little direction here and there, many of these moments were their own. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so excited to see this family grow together. There is so much love and togetherness, it’s heartwarming to see firsthand.

Ben is the cutest little baby, and John is an amazing big brother. Thank you Madi and Johnny for having me over, I love that all of our sessions thus far have started at your home. I look forward to next time and seeing how much John and Ben have grown!

From a family of three, to expecting, and as a family of four. I’ve loved being apart of your adventure.

Be sure to leave a comment below!

  • Newborn Olliver Michael - June 28, 2016 - 6:23 pm

    […] Olliver Michael, and he’s just the sweetest little boy. He reminded me a lot of his cousin Benjamin. I love that JJ’s family is compromised of girls, and now those girls are having boys. Not […] Reply Cancel

  • Soelling Family | North Tacoma - January 9, 2017 - 3:34 am

    […] and seeing John and Madi be such wonderful parents. Last year, I was there to welcome little Benny into the family and am so excited to celebrate his 1st birthday with them next […] Reply Cancel

Can I first just say, oh my gosh, the evening glow in that first image. Swoon! Anyway, as I wrapped up this sweet newborn session earlier this week with the Soelling family and their newest edition, Benjamin, I couldn’t help but feel all the good, amazing things that come from these experiences. This has been my third session with this darling family, their first as a family of three, then again when expecting Ben, and now that he is here. When walking into their now familiar home, I am greeted warmly and caught up on their life, welcomed in like an old friend. I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m there and entrusted with these moments of their life, with these once-in-a-lifetime moments.

I’m sure you’ve heard many creative people saying they are documenting your story, they have a lifestyle approach, they are storytellers. In case you ever wondered what that really meant… my friends, this is the story. This is your story. And these milestones are everything. These moments, this time. And in all honesty, it gets easier with every session when you stick with the same person documenting your family. Little Johnny (Madi’s oldest boy) and I are best buds now. He’s comfortable with me (and I with him), and that is a huge relief for everyone! I can hardly express how incredible it is to watch children grow in this way, to capture their personality as it develops.

So as I was capturing little Benny’s coos and cuddling him as much as I could, these thoughts flooded my mind. This is their story. I’m telling their story! I’m not sure how much luck plays into it, because it’s been a lot of hard work. Work that has been so, so worth it. But I feel pretty lucky. I love to tease that this is so much more peaceful than my last job, than my time in the Army. And it is, I am so at ease, filled with peace, even as the behind-the-scenes of this session, as with most, is chaotic, loud, and exciting all at once. You know, much like any home with kids is. Mine included. And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. While I’m in no rush for time to hurry, I greatly look forward to the next milestone with the Soelling’s, so I can spend time with them again. To gush over Madi’s flawless efforts to make the session beautiful, to laugh and chat with Johnny, to play hide and seek with John, and to cuddle with Ben (if he’ll still let me). It’s these details that add to the story element.