The Bear & The Gift

So how did I end up working in Real Estate photography? I always knew I would have to go back to work eventually. I had taken an extended leave after Ellis’ illness that I knew would not last forever. I took time to care for her, wrote a book and saw our story spread like wildfire. But as most writer’s know-unless you’re a Jen Hatmaker, writing is something you do because you love it…not because it pays the bills. After almost 3 years of staying home to care for her, and write, I was itching to get back out into the world and contribute. When Ellis started Pre-K in January, I knew the time was right.

The only problem, I was picky. Really, really, picky. For most of my life I had done the administrative thing. Then for the last 8 years I had done the corporate thing, sitting behind a desk with my wonderful salary and benefits, yet staring out my window every day wishing for more. I knew I wanted to do something that made my heart come alive and sitting behind a desk wasn’t it. But what did? Basically at the core it was creativity and connecting with people’s hearts. What did that mean? I didn’t quite know.

Eventually an opportunity came to work for a Real Estate Photography company a friend of mine had been a part of for years. I initially took the job because I was drawn to the creative part of photography and the culture of the company. I had no idea this “job” would become so much more than that.

I could write down a million different stories about the encounters I’ve had with homeowners and realtors alike…even sessions that ended with hugs and tears. For today I want to concentrate on a recent one with a woman, whom I’ll never forget.

What I’ve learned about the home selling process-it’s typically a big event for everyone involved, one that includes a lot of emotions. Depending on the situation it can be sad emotions, or happy emotions, but some sort of emotions are always there.

You guys all know my story; it’s a big one. And it’s hard to tell within the context of a one-hour photo session as I’m in the midst of doing my job. So I don’t walk in and share it with just anyone. Lots of times people are caught up in whatever they are doing and we simply small talk. Sometimes though, they follow me as I work and I can tell they’re interested in going a little deeper. I always try to follow that prodding and voice within, of when I should let my walls down and share more. And every time I listen to that voice I have powerful encounters. This was no different.

She was an older woman, and upon first entry she honestly seemed a little on the cranky side. She spent the first minutes of our appointment talking about how much she detested the state of Oklahoma, was selling her home to move out of state, and couldn’t wait to get the heck out of dodge. I listened quietly as she talked about all the things she disliked about Oklahoma and all of the reasons she couldn’t wait to get back to beach living (who could blame her for that-ha ha). The whole time she was talking I started to feel within-the prodding that there was something in store for this conversation. At that moment, I had no clue how we’d get there. So I listened. And listened.

Then I asked where her family was and if she would be leaving them behind when she moved. Her voice began to soften as she told me about her grandson she was close too, that recently passed away in a car accident. Her face changed. I sensed the shift, so I shared more.

I’m so sorry for your loss.” I said

It was really unexpected…” she stammered.

I know about unexpected loss. My late husband passed away from cancer years ago. And even though it was a 3 year battle from start to end-it was still a really unexpected end.” I said.

Her entire demeanor changed and her expression read shock.


You?” she asked. “But you’re so young….”

I know. I was 31 when it happened. He was 35.” I explained. 

She shook her head back and forth as she asked me what type of cancer he had. I explained it started in the kidney and spread to the lung. She then told me that she had experienced cancer three different times in her life that’d spread to three different places. Now my eyes were wide.

How did it go away?” I asked.

I don’t know, God I guess” she shrugged her shoulders. “Never did a drop of chemo.”


Then she started asking about my kids and how old they were when they lost their father. As I spoke her eyes welled up with tears.

I finished inside and told her I was going to head out back to take exterior photos. I expected her to stay inside with the 100+ temps outside, yet she followed right behind me as I shot.


You know, I am 84 years old. My husband has Alzheimer’s and is declining fast. I know at this age, this is my very last move, and I just don’t want to waste one more moment, in a place I don’t love.” She said.


There it was. This was why she had spoken so passionately about leaving the state. Because her heart wasn’t here. She’s experienced loss, then deadly disease, and there’s just no way you can go back to life as normal. You’re forever changed.

She was just like me in my job, willing to leave comfort for something that made her heart soar. Willing to leave behind what she knew, for the promise of better days. She knew her time was short, on the downhill slide, she’d told me. That’s what made it all the more urgent. The time to move wasn’t in a day, or next month, or even next year. The time was here. The time was now.


So you get it,” I said to her “you get that life is short, and you get that we can’t waste it.”

No dear” she said, “at my age you realize even more deeply how you can’t waste it.”


We chatted a little bit more and I eventually finished up my shooting. Before I left she wanted to give me something, she said. She went into her closet and came out with a little pink bear.


Here you go” she smiled “for your sweet kiddos.”


I was so touched. More touched than she knew.

This encounter will stay with me for a long time to come. She had awoken something within me, yet again. She had affirmed what I already knew about life, about living-truly living. It’s a reminder I live out daily, but want to continue with the fervency of a million flames.

The teddy bear now on my children’s bed will serve as that reminder to me-this gift that will forever remind me of the gift of life, and what a wondrous thing it truly is. Never a moment of it guaranteed. The time-it’s always now.

The woman walked me out the door and I turned around to say goodbye. She gave me a crooked smile and a high five (that made me smile even more).


Here’s to your new beginning and your new chapter ahead.” I said.

It’ll be the best one yet,” she said with a smile “I’m sure of it.”


Of this, I have no doubt.