Accepting the Reality of Death While Celebrating Life with Ashley Jones of Love Not Lost
Photos Courtesy of Love Not Lost
Grief can be a unsurmountable mountain without the right support. For Ashley Jones, finding that help and support was incredibly difficult following the terminal diagnosis of her 2-month-old daughter, Skylar. Jones and her husband made the most of the time they had left together and slowly built a community around them as they dealt with the news.
“As we figured out this new life together, I looked for organizations that could help us, and couldn't find any because her condition was rare and many organizations discriminate based on age or type of illness or other things that disqualified us from help,” says Jones.
One surprising element that gave her the necessary space to grief: Photography.
“One of our friends gifted us a professional portrait session to help us preserve memories when Skylar was around 6 months old. Those photos were such a gift,” says Jones. “Once she died, those photos gave me space to grieve free from judgement, fear, or expectation that often exists when grieving in the presence of another person. They allowed me to hold my daughter when she wasn't here to hold.”
Once she recognized the healing power of those family photographs, she decided to bring that same comfort and space to other families experiencing terminal diagnosis. That’s how she started Love Not Lost, a non-profit that gifts families with a professional portrait session to remember their loved one once they’re gone as well as provides vital grief resources to those grieving families.
Jones shares that “photography freezes time and allows memories to be preserved” and its tangible results helps those grieving have a way to interact with their loved one after they’re gone. But even before the portrait session starts, those families start the coping process.
“When people apply and show up for the photo session, they know the reason. It's a step in accepting the reality of death, but choosing to celebrate life while you have it. Often times, beautiful and raw emotions come out during a session. There are usually laughs, and sometimes tears, but the joy and love we capture is priceless,” says Jones.
“The joy, love, and emotion can be felt immediately to provide comfort in the raw grief, but the photos also bring comfort long after the person is gone. It's been over 7 years since Skylar died, and I can't tell you how many times I look into those deep blue eyes and find a smile on my face.”
To spread the word about their photography offerings, Love Not Lost has partnered up with hospices and hospitals to reach out to people facing a terminal diagnosis. Every family, following the portrait session, receives a handcrafted custom-designed photo album as well as a gallery of images for download. “A lot of people are learning about Love Not Lost, so we also get referrals from the community as well as past recipients who have friends facing similar journeys.”
After experiencing her own grief along with witnessing others, Jones shares that the biggest misconception about grief is that there is an end to it. Spoiler alert: There's not, she says.
“Grief is essentially love, but in another form. You don't ever stop loving the person you lost, so you won't stop grieving them either. Grief can change, and it can absolutely be less painful as time goes on, but there isn't an end where grief just suddenly stops.”
Up next, Jones and the Love Not Lost team will continue expanding their resources on the site beyond photography to make sure they provide all-around support to grieving families and empower them through these difficult times while giving them hope.
“We recognized that there was a major disconnect between the people who were hurting and the people who claimed to care for them. Over and over we would hear families sharing how they lost so many ‘friends’ because they couldn't handle it. So we introduced grief and empathy tools on our site for them,” says Jones.
Next spring, she shares they’ll launch an education program in partnership with HR departments across the nation to bring grief and empathy training to the workplace and support people in all areas of life. “We're going to stay focused on photography for the next bunch of years, but we hope to add video and storytelling services in the future,” says Jones.
Thinking of getting involved with this organization? Ashley shares that volunteering your photography skills or donating to Love Not Lost are the best ways to contribute to this cause during the holidays and beyond.