How My Dad’s Sudden Death Influenced How I View Family Portraits by Jeff Wenzel

Five years ago in 2018, my dad came inside after he’d been shoveling snow, suddenly not feeling too well. Eight hours went by before we had to have him air-shuttled to the nearest hospital. Unexpectedly, my dad would later pass away while on the operating table. Circumstances are always changing; accidents happen, mistakes happen, and unexpected things happen.

Dad plays around with grown up sons at the beach.

The last picture I took of my mom and dad together was of their backs as they watched their grandkids go around on a carousel from behind a chain-linked fence. People and family dynamics may change, but pictures hold the sacred memory of a moment in time forever.

Annual family portraits have been crucial to me ever since the death of my dad. You never know when the next opportunity will come to connect with your family again. You never know when it might be the last time you see someone. Everybody has their own unique, busy lives, but tomorrow is never granted! And this does not necessarily have to be such a sad fact.

The fact that tomorrow isn’t promised should be taken as motivation to live life to the fullest, alongside the ones you love, each and every day. Just taking a couple hours out of your hectic year to round everyone up for family portraits gives your family the priceless memento of encapsulating a time of togetherness…and yes, an opportunity to get the infamous Christmas card pic as well.

My family and I build our portraits into our schedule annually each Fall. My goal in writing this is to encourage all of you to do the same! I know everybody wants to lose weight or grow their hair out or do this and that before they take pictures, but the truth is: there’s never going to be a perfect time for everyone. Don’t let these little excuses stand in the way of your family portraits! I have a twelve-year-old and an eight-year-old who sprout higher and higher every day and change with each and every blink. It’s the best feeling to look back at all of our family photos from years past and watch them grow all over again.

There will come a time when our young ones leave the nest to go conquer the world. There will be moves, milestones, and major life changes…and whether those changes will be things that you reflect on with sheer joy or a heavy heart, they’re the very stuff that makes life meaningful. We tend to not realize just how powerful family portraits really are until we undergo these momentous shifts.

Clearing space in your schedules to come together and take some unforgettable photos with the ones you hold closest to your heart is an imperative thing to build into a yearly routine. What better medium to capture what it is to love and to be alive than through some beautiful family portraits? One of the key instruments of nostalgia and remembrance, after all, is a picture.

Jeff Wenzel is a senior and family photographer based out of Topsail Island, NC. You can find him online at JW Portrait Studio and follow him on Facebook and Instagram @jwportraitstudio.

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