Monica Zealand Hill, Metavivor | Maplewood Family Photographer
Updated: May 10, 2019
VIDEO SPOILER ALERT: The moment Monica hear's her aunt's voice her face lights up with such joy. Their visit together I will not ever forget and yes I wept.
In December 2018, I met Monica Zealand Hill, 35, through a mutual colleague. Our first phone conversation, we connected over being NJ girls who, although we've lived in and traveled to other parts of the world, we love calling NJ home. We arranged her Day in the Life (DITL) session for the following Friday, as it was a chemo infusion day. Yes, Monica is a young Metastatic Breast Cancer #mbc patient. At 6:30 AM on Friday, we met face-to-face and I fell in love with her and her entire family, lil' miss Livie, 3-years-old, her kind and watchful husband, Aaron and her fun mom, Faye.
By 9:00 AM, Aaron had dropped Monica and I off at Memorial Sloan Kettering and she caught me up on how'd she been coping with her 18-month diagnosis. Coming to terms with not having anymore children, trying to get into clinical trials, not responding to treatments, dealing with her mortality and thought of her daughter not remembering her. Being a "closet crier," let's just say I fought back tears all of the day long. Her priority was photographing the day rather than video. You know I could not help myself and finished around 8:30 PM with a "home video" of their bedtime routine with sweet Livie. It was a tearful drive home.
My normal turnaround time is 4-6 weeks for a film and photography session. I was compelled to cram editing into my weekend and I cried all the way through it. I sent her the links on that Monday afternoon. Here's part of her text message,
"Sara...this video will give my daughter the ability to remember me even if she can't and there is nothing more meaningful to us."
You guessed it, I gasped at my day job, swallowed hard and cried. Even writing you this post...
A lot has happened since December 2018. Monica hosted the second Be Bold and Behold fundraising gala at Crystal Plaza in Livingston, NJ on Friday, February 1, 2019. It was definitely a Bold event to Behold. In the 22 months from her diagnosis, she raised over $350,000 in support of Metavivor for MBC research and awareness.
We spoke several times of continuing to document her journey for her daughter's sake and for raising awareness. I was honored not to just visit her as a friend in the hospital and at home while she received hospice care, but also as her photographer. Our last hug was on Thursday, April 11, 2019.
Monica's Celebration of Life was Friday, April 26, 2019 at Morrow Church in Maplewood, NJ at 11:00 AM. Many attendees dressed vibrantly in her honor, as she requested.
Being quite the empath, there are no words to express how I feel about this. So many feelings arise from throughout my life as I remember friends I have visited in hospice and remember seeing the "Do Not Resuscitate" sign in their home. There are just no words. The closeted crier in me cannot tell you how much I have cried since last seeing Monica.
This experience has emphasized my reason for photographing families. There is love in every aspect of family life be they the happy times, the sad times, the hard times. The births, the weddings, the fade of life and everything in between must all be documented. With this loss, like so many others, I've reflected on the great comfort in the following inspired texts and others from the Holy Writings:
1) Psalm 56:8: "You keep track of my wandering. Do collect my tears in your skin bottle. Are they not recorded in your book?"
2) Isaiah 63:9: "During their distress it was distressing to him. And his own personal messenger saved them. In his love and compassion he repurchased them, and he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old."
3) Revelation 21:3,4: "Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away."
If you have experienced this kind of loss or supported someone receiving palliative care, what have you learned from it? How have you coped?