Natalie Makes Beauty For a Living.

I met Natalie Norton 3 years ago, in January 2009. My husband and I and our one little son at the time took a vacation to Hawaii with my husband's family. We spent the week in a big, beautiful house on Oahu, in a town called Ka'a'awa. It was a cozy little community and our house was literally a 3-minute walk to the beach. It was wonderful. It almost felt like we lived there...we did our laundry at night, ran up the road to the local supermarket pretty much every day and we cooked meals together as a family. The house even had a little playroom for the 2 grandchildren in the family at the time. It was a fabulous way to experience paradise...feeling like you weren't just staying there temporarily, but that you were residing there.

At some point before the trip I got the idea in my head to have professional photos taken of my little family of 3 while we were there. It was January and I had missed getting our pictures taken in time for Christmas, plus I was pregnant and it would be the perfect chance to get some maternity shots too. Family photos are definitely not my favorite thing in the world (can you spell stress?!) but when I thought about "family pictures in Hawaii!" I couldn't let the idea go.

So I went a-Googling, looking for a photographer on Oahu. I found Natalie pretty quickly, and as I looked through her blog, I immediately fell in love with her style. I sent her an email, praying she had an opening while we were there...I had waited a little too long to find someone, and I was half-expecting her to say she was unavailable. But she not only had an opening, she just so happened to live 10 minutes up the road from the little town where we would be staying.

For the first couple of days we were in Hawaii, before the day of our photo shoot, I almost started to regret the idea. I was spending way too much time going back and forth about what we were going to wear and worrying about how my then 2 1/2-year-old's completely messed up sleeping schedule was going to affect him. I was stressed, and my husband was annoyed because I was stressed. We were on vacation in paradise, and I was worrying about coordinating our outfits and making it to an appointment on time! It seemed backwards, even to me.

Then enter Natalie. Our photo shoot was at a beach at a resort about 20 minutes away from our rental house. We were late, and arrived flustered and embarrassed. But Natalie was so gracious. She was laid-back and kind (and undeniably pretty!), and she put us at ease right away. She was fabulous with our little boy, who was not at an age where he stuck around long or followed directions well. She clicked away while he played in the water or sand, looking at seashells. In between shots we chatted about our families and what had brought her and her husband to Hawaii. As it turned out, she grew up just 1/2 an hour from where my husband and I live, in Alpine, Utah. I knew she had 3 young sons, and in the months after our photo shoot I learned she was expecting her 4th child.

When we returned home from Hawaii I waited excitedly to see our photos. When we finally saw them, all of my stress about that day paid off a hundred fold...the photos were some of the most beautiful ever taken of my little family. Our experience with Natalie had been effortless and fun...even my husband said so. The photos were truly a treasure. My husband couldn't stop poring over them. As he looked again and again at images of him walking ankle-deep in the ocean with our son, or tossing him up high into the Hawaiian sky, he kept telling me how glad he was that we had had them taken. I felt the same way.

(Some of our favorites from Natalie's shoot.)


Over the months that followed, I continued reading Natalie's blog and always enjoyed not only her photography, but her writing. She was inspiring and witty and entertaining. She wrote about everything, from everyday things like a double stroller she was thinking about buying, to deeper and more personal things, like how desperately she missed her brother, who had died unexpectedly in 2007, in his early twenties.

Somewhere along the way I stopped checking Natalie's blog as often. I had my 2nd baby in April after our trip to Hawaii in January, and going from 1 to 2 kids absolutely threw me for a loop. It was a particularly hard adjustment for me, much harder than I expected. I don't think I surfaced for awhile. Keeping up with my favorite blogs just didn't happen for a long time.

But then, in late January or maybe early February of 2010, just about a year after our photo shoot in Hawaii, I logged onto Natalie's blog again, to do a little catching up.

At first what I read was confusing. I didn't grasp what was being addressed in the posts. It had been months since I'd read anything, and I expected to be behind, but somehow the tenor of Natalie's writing had shifted.

As I read on, I was terrified to realize what had happened:

Her baby...her 4th boy...had died.

He was born in October. She had named him after her late brother, Gavin. They had traveled from Hawaii to Utah for Christmas, and Baby Gavin got sick. They took him to the hospital with what they thought was just a cold. They came to find out he had Pertussis, or whooping cough.

He was admitted to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, one of the top children's hospitals in the United States. He was there for 3 weeks. Primary Children's is equipped with accommodations for parents, and Natalie or her husband Richie stayed there in the hospital with Baby Gavin 24/7. 

But despite all the doctor's efforts on Gavin's behalf...after all the prayers that went up for him from all around the world...

Baby Gavin passed away, at only 10 weeks old.

I was heartbroken as I read. I sobbed. I remember tears running, pouring down my face as I went through each post I'd missed, and the knowledge of what had happened soaked in.

I couldn't believe it. Natalie and I had by no means become close, but I most definitely considered her a friend. My chest hurt when I thought about her and what she was experiencing at that very moment. It had happened just a couple of weeks before I logged on to her blog that day, but I felt ashamed for not coming to know about Baby Gavin's death sooner. In the months during which I hadn't been reading, she had both given birth to a child, and witnessed his death. 

I wrote her an email trying to express my condolences, but it was hard.

What on earth do you write to someone who has lost a child? A child they had only just begun to raise, no less? A bright angel, come to Earth, placed in their arms, only to be taken back again so quickly? Knowing what to write was impossible.

From then on I was riveted with anything Natalie wrote on her blog. She wrote openly about her feelings of grief, wrote letters to Baby Gavin, letters to her husband, shared experiences she had with her young sons as they dealt with their own sorrow. She expressed again and again her deep faith in God and her unwavering belief that families will be reunited after this life. Natalie and I also share the same faith...we are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or "Mormons"....and I share the belief that life goes on after death, and that families are most definitely forever. But I don't know that I could ever have managed grief in the way that Natalie did. The way she still does. I don't think that I have ever witnessed someone work through the experience of grieving in such a graceful way. Even in her ability to share it with strangers, to express it openly and honestly, there was beauty.

I still think that now.

(A video of beautiful images from the day of Baby Gavin's funeral, 
by Natalie's good friend and fellow photographer, Jonathan Canlas. 
If you watch, be forewarned, you *will* cry!)

It's been a little over 2 years now since her Baby Gavin passed away. Natalie still writes about him all the time, and about his Uncle Gavin too. She still grieves, and always will, as any parent would. But since then, she has made her life, and the lives of her family and all who meet her, even more colorful and beautiful. Instead of allowing herself to plunge deeper into the depths of sorrow and pain and depression these last two years (where I know I probably would have gone, had it been me...), she has resurfaced even stronger and more generous, not only to others, but to herself. She has become a source of inspiration to so many around the world through her writing, through her photography, and now through her work as an inspirational speaker/teacher/mentor at workshops like Making Things Happen and The Breathe Intensive. She is a dedicated and loving wife and mother to her sons. Natalie has experienced, at such a young age, trials with power to terrify and numb the soul, but she has stood steadfast through the love of her family and her faith. She never ceases to amaze me with her strength. Even when she writes about rough days or renewed periods of grief, her graciousness toward herself is an incredible example to me.

Less than 2 months ago, she wrote this on a difficult day:

"I respect myself enough to let myself ride this wave. One of the greatest gifts I can give myself through grief is the opportunity to simply be where I am, without frustration, without judgment. Because this too shall pass. It most certainly shall..."
If only we as women could be half so respectful and compassionate toward ourselves during our own difficulties, our own periods of struggle!

Natalie talent as a creative is undeniable. Her photography is not only beautiful, but poignant, and real. She strives to make real connections with those she works with. It's impossible not to end up her friend when you start out as her client! On her blog, the writing that accompanies her images is meaningful, inspiring, and funny! She can speak serenity to your spirit, or fire you up. And just like back on that beach with my small family, she creates an almost immediate sense of familiarity and comfort, and bestows it on everyone she comes in contact with...even if it's just through a computer screen.

She is one of the most truly amazing women I have ever met.


If you want to follow Natalie's blog, I highly, highly recommend it. Even if you never attend one of her workshops (I hope to go to one next year!) her writing is full of inspiration of all shapes and varieties. Recently she started a series of posts about "Practical, Actionable Steps Toward the Journey to You." Her timing could not be more perfect for me! 

Even if you never read another one of her blog posts, read this one.

I think I can honestly say that one of the reasons I decided to start this blog, to hold myself accountable to work harder toward living up to my own potential, was because I had the thought, "If I told Natalie I'm thinking about this, she would have said something like, 'Well then, do it! What are you waiting for?' "

And so I did.  =)

P.S. I have to say this for Natalie...please, regardless of your stance on child immunizations, get yourself the Tdap, the adult pertussis booster. I got mine. Most often infants receive pertussis from an adult, usually a parent or caregiver, who has no symptoms and isn't even aware they are carrying it. For more information go to the Sounds of Pertussis Website.


BellaMichella said...

YOu are such a great writer Darci. Kudos!

Natalie. said...

I have no words, which for me is rare, and somewhat unnerving.

Tears, gratitude and awe...

With love, n

shari berry bo-berry said...

yes, yes, and yesssssssssssssssssss to everything you said! my story with natalie is similar to yours...and my love/admiration for her is also very similar...just spent all day at BREATHE with her yesterday... if you have ANY doubt about going... get over it, and GO to the next one. it was wonderful and life changing for me...although this is just the beginning...

love your writing!

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