By Airman William Tracy
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Photographs are powerful objects, capable of spurring profound emotions deep within the soul, refining past emotions for the present and sealing them indefinitely in its contents. Christopher DeWitt’s work as a photographer for the emotionally-stirring program “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” is a true testament to this power.
On the onset, NILMDTS sounds despondent— the program’s purpose is to provide couples bearing the tragedy of a still-birth child an opportunity to have a volunteer photographer take pictures of themselves with their beloved new child. For the parents, and all who witness this event, it is nothing short of heart-breaking, filling the hospital room with a blanketing sadness. DeWitt is no exception, having taken photos for the program for more than a year, the same saddening feeling still resonates on every photo shoot he performs.
“They have this stranger in the room as I walk in and yet when I leave I get embraced and I get the tears from both parents, every time,” said DeWitt. “As far as being desensitized, I’m not there yet and if I get there I’ll probably say I can’t do this anymore. If I can’t be compassionate and sympathetic then what I’m doing for them isn’t going to be a benefit.”
Though this initial sorrow and embrace isn’t the only reoccurring factor- for DeWitt the ends truly justify the means, as the overwhelming feeling of knowing he was part of the couples’ delicate healing process serves as an ultimate form of pride and satisfaction that never dulls.
“Every cloud has a silver lining,” said DeWitt. “I feel that heartache the parents feel every time though I get the same elation once I know they looked at the photos. Giving back feels right, especially to people I don’t know, I don’t do it for a kick-back I just know that it benefits them at some point in their life. When I submit the images to an online gallery I can go in and look, and I often do, to see when and how often families look at the photos. Sometimes it would be weeks later when they log in and look at them but once I know they’ve seen the images I know the impact I’m going to have has started. It might not be today, it might even be a year from now, but at one point they are going to have memories because of the service I provided.”
DeWitt’s first experience working for the program served as an inspiration to keep helping families and in larger part, the community.
“I work in the restricted area so I normally don’t have a phone,” he said. “That one day however I was off work because my water heater broke and I was standing there waiting at the repair store for customer service to help me pull a new water heater off the shelf when my phone rings and it’s my friend who’s a nurse.”
The nurse explained NILMDTS and requested him to take photos for a family at the hospital.
“I thought that if this was going to be a benefit to the family how can I say no,” he said.
The emotionally-charged photo shoot was an unprecedented situation for DeWitt.
“When I first got to the hospital and I met the family it was very solemn, as they all are,” he said. “I really didn’t know what to do or how to act, but I made it through. I barely made it out the door before I broke down. When I was done, my friend said ‘you should do this’, but I didn’t know if I could keep doing these photo shoots as it was so gut-wrenching watching this loss.”
However, when DeWitt saw the impact his photos made in helping families through the grieving process, it inspired him to stay with the program.
“The family invited me to the memorial service,” said DeWitt. “They came up to me and thanked me for what I’ve done and were very appreciative. At that moment right then and there after getting that direct feedback I saw the impact of what I did, I saw it in their eyes, I saw it in their tears, their hug and embrace, and I knew that this matters and this makes a difference.”
DeWitt’s prior service in the Air Force was a major factor in his desire to help others.
“The Air Force has their Core Values which I lived by through 20 years of service,” he said. “What stuck with me was that they ingrain in you to go above and beyond and that becomes second nature to us. We just get out there and do what’s right.”
The impact DeWitt has made along with the more than 1,700 volunteer photographers for NILMDTS across the world has helped innumerable grieving families through the power of photography.
“It impacts in a way that really can’t be explained,” said DeWitt. “They have a tangible photo of their baby who they loved. It’s most important for the family, they go through their grieving process and through several stages of emotions, but in the end once they completed that, those images really make an impact and give them something to remember.”
For more information about “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” go to www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org.