Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One Year

On this day a year ago, I woke up around 6:30 a.m. to the sound of my phone ringing. It was my best friend's stepfather, and he was calling to tell me that Cohen had passed away around 3:00 that morning. I remember my husband sitting up in bed, listening to the phone call, and hugging me afterward without saying a word. I called my parents and my friend Elisabeth. I contemplating skipping school, but knew I needed to go in and try to distract myself from the gut-wrenching pain I was feeling everywhere in my body. I prayed nobody at school would ask me what was wrong, because I knew I could only hold it together if I didn't have to talk about it. 

Just four days before, I had been at Cohen's mother and stepfather's house celebrating her 28th birthday with our families and friends. 

The phone call about Cohen's passing was not a surprise. I knew her time was limited. When we all gathered to celebrate Cohen's 28th birthday, she had already slipped into a coma several months before. Cohen's mother planned the birthday celebration, and while it was extremely difficult to celebrate the life of someone who was about to leave this world, I'm so glad we did. Cohen was an amazing person and she meant the world to me. Her life was worth celebrating, even in those final moments.

For those of you who don't know, Cohen (who's real name is Deanne - I mentioned her interesting nickname in the eulogy I wrote for her funeral that my husband read in my place) and I grew up together. We met in seventh grade, and while we weren't instant friends, we were destined to become the best of friends. In high school, we were inseparable. We became part of each other's families, and I was honored to be there the day Cohen's youngest brother was born. We went to the same university after high school graduation and, despite our families encouraging us not to, we lived together in an on-campus house and then a dorm for all four years of college. Even after college, we got our first apartment together. Cohen was my maid of honor on my wedding day. Right before Justin and I got married, Cohen moved from South Bend to Fort Wayne to live with her mother. She became ill and, after several months of being misdiagnosed, a neurosurgeon told us the worst news we could have imagined - Cohen had a terminal brain tumor.

Cohen fought hard for four years despite a poor prognosis. She had several surgeries and went through chemo and radiation and numerous procedures and hospital stays. There were very few strides in the right direction; even though Cohen underwent the treatments her medical team suggested, she still continued to get worse. It was awful watching the most vibrant, wonderful person I knew have her life slowly taken away by a brain tumor. It was such a slow process. Cohen suffered for four years, but never stopped fighting and never gave up hope. Her faith held strong until the day she passed. There's nothing that inspires me more in this life than her; if she could live her life to the fullest in the midst of a devastating and terminal illness, then why can't I? It's a privilege to grow older and experience all this world has to offer. I won't take it for granted. I can't take it for granted.

I can't believe that it's been a year since Cohen has existed in this world. I can't believe I've made it through a year without her. We were each other's family. We were sisters, and the bond I had with her is one that I know I will never have again, and that makes me sad, but it also makes me so happy that I got to experience a closeness with another human being that not everyone has the opportunity to experience. She was my person, and I so look forward to seeing her again someday.

Cohen would have turned 29 on January 16th. As I near my own 29th birthday, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to be healthy, to be working toward my dreams and goals, and to be surrounded by my loving and supportive friends and family. Life will never be the same without Cohen in it, but if this past year has taught me anything, it's that my life is so much better because she was a part of it. Sometimes I think back on the pain of watching her endure four years of a terrible illness, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I would never trade being there for her, visiting her in the hospital, taking her for outings even when she couldn't walk or see anymore, holding her hand in those final days of her life - her friendship meant everything to me, and it still does. Cohen was so so special, and I will cherish our friendship forever. 

After Cohen's funeral service last February, we all went to a park near the church and released blue and yellow balloons (she loved Batman). I fought back tears as I watched the balloons drift further and further away and I realized I would never stop missing her. Even a year later, I'm still just trying to take it one day at a time.






Monday, September 18, 2017

Recent Photography Projects

Hi all! It's been awhile since I've updated my blog, but so much has happened in the past few months! This summer was fantastic; I took and passed my preliminary exams for my doctoral program (and I just started my third year). The first baby was welcomed into my family on August 1st with the birth of my beautiful niece, Madilynn. There was lots of time spent with friends and family and, of course, time spent doing the things I love - writing, creating art, and taking photos.

I've had quite a few photo projects lately, the most recent being the opportunity to take headshots and group pictures for a local theater company, Act 2 Productions. (They are doing their first show this weekend - Seussical Jr.! My husband is the tech guy and I've been volunteering when I can; the show is great! Visit their website for tickets). In addition to the headshots and the shoots I will share below, I also had the opportunity to shoot all of the photos for the new graduate teaching assistants at Bowling Green State University and did updated photos for full-time faculty members in General Studies Writing and English. Keep an eye on the website - I'm sure you'll see a photo I've taken.

So, I figured I would share some of the photo projects I've done recently. The first is an engagement shoot I did for my cousin Danielle and her fiancĂ© Cory. (Funny story - as I was about to do their photos on July 31st, my mom called to tell me my niece was going to be born, so I left right after the shoot to travel from Ohio to Indiana to make it in time for Madi's arrival). The second shoot is a wedding that I did for my dear, dear friends Dylan and Ally on August 26th. (You might remember that I did their engagement photos back in February - see those here). My husband Justin was a great second-shooter for me at their wedding. We make a great team!

Here are some of my favorites from those shoots. Enjoy!

Danielle + Cory - Engagement Session









Dylan + Ally - Wedding














Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! To see more of my gallery or to talk with me about a shoot, visit my photography website

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Restoration Project: Radio/Record Player/8-Track Console

Anyone who knows Justin and I knows that we love antiques and thrift shopping. We've been able to find quite a few valuable items at thrift stores for little to nothing including antique cameras, records, projectors, and more. We were driving home the other day and we saw a cabinet sitting by the side of the road. I thought it was just an old cabinet, but when Justin got out to look at it, he saw it was actually a radio, record player, and 8-track console. I assumed that it was broken since it was by the side of the road, and it was really dirty and needed some cleaning, but we decided to bring it home to check it out. When we got it home and plugged it in, we realized EVERYTHING worked!!




I was so excited that everything worked on it, so I started cleaning it up. I actually had to vacuum it out to begin with (it was full of sawdust for some reason) and then cleaned it with mild soap and warm water. Some of the black plastic parts in the console would not come clean, so I used some "ultimate black" car cleaner to bring the color back, and then I conditioned the wood with some polish. Justin also had to a put a couple screws in where they were missing, but I think the console looks wonderful now!







I really wanted to try the 8-track player, but I didn't have any tapes, so Justin and I picked up a few at an antique shop in Michigan (Johnny Cash, Kansas, and B.B. King). Turns out the 8-track player works too!


So this is my current dilemma - it's a beautiful piece, but I don't have room for it right now. Do I store it for a future home or should I sell it? Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What's New?

I realized it's been awhile since I've posted on my blog, so here's an update on what's been happening that past few months!

I just finished the second year of my PhD program and am now officially a third-year. This year was tough as I was finishing my coursework and forming my dissertation committee and preparing for my exams (which are less than two weeks away, so if you don't see me for awhile, you know why!), but I made it. On top of that, the beginning of this past semester was so hard because Cohen's health was declining quickly. I can't believe it's already been four months since her passing. I think of her every day and miss her deeply. It's been a process learning how to move on without her, and some days are better than others.

I went to Portland, OR, back in March for a conference, which was wonderful and exciting (despite the fact that I got sick on the plane and spilled a cup of ginger ale all over the guy sitting next to me). Oregon is a beautiful place! I am also presenting at two conferences coming up at the end of next week in Findlay, OH - should be fun! I've spent the past couple weeks doing some writing, reading, studying, and working on a professional website for when I go on the job market.

The next couple weeks will mostly be devoted to studying for my exams (my exams are June 5, 6, and 7). June will be a pretty busy month for me overall. After my exams are over, Justin and I are headed to Indiana for a wedding and plan to stay the weekend. I'm looking forward to getting out of town and seeing some old friends! The weekend after that, I'm headed back to Indiana for my sister-in-law's baby shower!!! DID I MENTION I'M GOING TO BE AN AUNT!!?? The baby (it's a girl!) is due at the end of August and I couldn't be more excited for my brother and his wife.

The week after the baby shower, Justin and I are taking the youth group to Grand Rapids, MI, for a mission trip for a week. That pretty much wraps up June for us! We are planning a camping trip in July with some good friends of ours from Indiana (who are getting married in August back in Indiana, so we will be headed back that way toward the end of the summer!). And, at some point, I will need to do my oral defense for my prelim exams, but I'm not sure when that will happen yet.

One of the biggest things that has happened in the past six months is that Justin and I adopted a retired racing greyhound from a rescue in Michigan! We got her on December 29, 2016 and she brings so much joy to our house. Her racing name was DS Sapphire and Justin and I changed it to Ruby Soho (from the Rancid song - listen to it here!). She will be three years old in August and she is one of a litter of ten (and all of her siblings are named after gemstones, as well). She is such a sweet girl and loves to snuggle and be close to us. I babysat for a family in grad school who had a greyhound and I loved her and always knew I wanted to adopt one. Plus, greyhounds are great for people with allergies (like me) because they don't have undercoats (but this always makes them more susceptible to the weather, so Ruby always wears a sweater in the winter). She doesn't bark, sheds minimally, and loves to run and play at the dog park. We love her!

After Justin and I adopted Ruby Soho, my friend Sara and her husband decided to adopt her sister (DS Opal, now called Sadie). They love to play together, and Ruby is even going to stay with Sadie while Justin and I are in Grand Rapids in June. Interested in adopting a greyhound? Follow this link to learn more about the organization that Ruby and Sadie were adopted from.

So that's about it for now! Enjoy some adorable pictures of my sweet greyhound! Oh, and it you want to see more of Ruby Soho, you can check out the Instagram account Justin and I created when we adopted her: Ruby Soho Instagram.

She frequently loses control of her tongue.

They like to take naps.

When I'm making the bed and Ruby Soho can't take a hint that she might be in the way.

She sleeps anywhere and everywhere.

Ruby loves to play!

Waiting patiently for a treat.

Welcome to our family, Ruby Soho! ©Bradley Austin Photography

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Celebration of Life

Last Friday, I celebrated my 28th birthday. The following day, we celebrated the life of my best friend at her memorial service. It was a bittersweet weekend, but I was grateful to have been surrounded by family and friends who helped me remember how beautiful life can be even in the midst of tragedy.

Justin and I traveled back to Indiana on Friday and spent the afternoon going to my favorite antique shops with my dad. My dad bought me a fabulous book from James Whitcomb Riley that was published in 1940 but looked like it hadn't ever been opened. My great grandmother loved James Whitcomb Riley and would talk about his poetry with me often. She even gave me some of his poetry collections that she had kept throughout her life, the pages wonderfully yellowed with time and creased with years of use. The book was the perfect gift.

Later that evening, the whole family had dinner together and then gathered at my parents' house for cake. It was strange being back in the town where Cohen and I grew up together, knowing that I would be saying goodbye to her one last time the next day. As I walked to the various shops downtown with my dad and Justin, I just remembered all the times Cohen and I had walked those streets together.

Cohen's celebration of life was beautiful and heart-wrenching. Justin and I arrived early and walked into the sanctuary of the church. Photographs of Cohen were in a slideshow on the projector screen: a photo of her with Justin and I on our wedding day, one of us with our moms at her sister's baby shower, my favorite photo of her with me and my brothers. We had 17 years of memories together, and I think it finally sank in for the first time that we wouldn't be able to make any more.

I helped Cohen's mother put together an arrangement at the front of the sanctuary while noticing that the framed photo next to the urn was one that my dad took of her during our senior photo shoot back in 2007. I remembered how beautiful and sunny that day had been; we were so full of excitement and hope for the future and wonder and anxiety about college. I never would have thought back then that I would only have 10 short years left with the girl who had become my sister. Outside the sanctuary, Cohen's family set up a journal where people could write notes and memories. I had gotten that journal for Cohen as a gift for high school graduation; I'd hoped she would use it as a travel journal someday when she was able to fulfill her dream of going all over the world. I never would have thought the journal would be used at her funeral someday, still empty because she became sick right after college.

So many people came to celebrate Cohen, and the service was like looking at a scrapbook of all of our years together. We had friends come from all over who represented various points in our lives: high school friends, some of her family friends who I grew up with because we were always together, college friends who were with us during our involvement with various campus ministries. It reminded me of the film Big Fish (which Cohen and I actually saw with friends on her 15th birthday). The man tells so many stories throughout the movie, but you don't realize until the end how "larger than life" he actually was.

Justin got up at the beginning of the service and read a piece I wrote for Cohen. I hope I captured even just a glimpse of the relationship Cohen and I shared. The music was beautiful and we sang several of Cohen's favorite songs, including "I Can Only Imagine" (a song she put on quite a few of the CDs she made for me in high school and college). One speaker joked that there were no photographs of Cohen and I without each other, and there is some truth to that. He pointed out how all the photographs represented our adventures and experiences together, and he was spot on. Cohen and I loved to take photos, and we had to document everything we did. Now that she's gone, all of those photographs mean more than I could ever say.

After the service, we listened to Cohen's little brother talk about her and how special and unique and funny and loving she was. We shared a meal and remembered Cohen, laughing and swapping stories about the impact Cohen had on all of us. The service ended with a balloon release at Buckner Park in Fort Wayne, a place where Cohen and I took many photos together during her little brother's birthday celebration several years earlier. As we watched the 28 blue and yellow balloons (representing Batman, her favorite superhero) drift into the air and out of view, I silently wondered what life would look like for me from that point on. I can never replace Cohen, and it's going to take time for me to navigate this life without her.

During the dinner at the service, Cohen's mom gave me a necklace of an angel. She got the same necklace for herself, my mom, and Cohen's sister Amanda. The necklace represents everything Cohen meant to us, but it also shows unity among us. Cohen brought us together and our families melded into one during our 17-year friendship.

On the drive back to Ohio later that night, my heart was so full after having seen so many people who meant the world to Cohen (and me) over the years. She was so loved by so many and will be remembered as the strong, brave, compassionate, and generous person she was. But my heart was also heavy; life will never be the same without Cohen. I will never be the same.

I love you, Cohen, and I look forward to the day when we will see each other again.


Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Dylan + Ally - Photo Shoot

I don't even know where to begin about these dear friends of mine. When Justin and I lived in Indiana, we had the privilege of living life alongside a wonderful group of people at a campus ministry house. Our friend Dylan lived there and I remember so much fellowship and great conversation, often around a bonfire in the backyard. Ally became a part of our campus ministry family later and I had the joy of getting to know her during the 2 years Justin and I lived at the house. I remember the first time Justin said that we should hang out with Dylan and Ally and get to know them better; we had dinner at Granite City one night in July several years ago and that was the catalyst for a beautiful friendship. It has been a pleasure to watch Dylan and Ally's relationship grow and flourish over the years and to continue to share life with them (as we all live in Ohio now!). Justin and I are so excited to celebrate with you on your wedding day this August!

I love these people, and we had an amazing time shooting these photos together. It was a cold Saturday in February, but that didn't stop us from exploring both the woods and the city, capturing photos of the love these two share. Here are a few of my favorites from the shoot yesterday just outside of Columbus, Ohio:
















To see more of my work or to book an appointment, check out my website: LaFollette Photography.