Photographer's image gift to families of dying children

By Amanda Cashmore
BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,
Rhiannon Treen-Jones works with charities to provide memories for families and friends

Rhiannon lost her mother to suicide when she was just four years old.

All she has left of her are photographs, and they are incredibly important to her.

Now aged 27, Rhiannon Treen-Jones wants to give others the gift of images to remember their loved ones, and does photo shoots with both terminally ill children and stillborn babies.

She does the work for free for families, through charitable organisations.

Rhiannon began working with Butterfly Wishes, who organise photo shoots with ill children, after her cousin was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Although he is now in remission, Rhiannon, who lives in Cardiff but is originally from Devon, explained, "Not every story's going to end the same as Jaydon's."

"It does take a toll but it doesn't, because I know I'm helping people", she said, speaking of her work.

"My own life experiences have taught me that at the end of the day everyone only has photos or videos left."

Image source, family handout
Image caption,
All Rhiannon has left of her mother, who was a nurse, are photographs
Image source, Rhiannon Treen-Jones
Image caption,
Jessica Western's daughter Macie died at 19 days old

Organising a photo shoot with a stillborn baby or infant who dies at only a few days old is something that has to be handled sensitively.

Rhiannon, who also works with charity Remember My Baby, explained that she often meets the parents at the hospital, and is mindful of how to speak and act.

"To me, that's still their child. That child is their baby, and is everything to them," she said.

"I'm there just to give them their memories."

Rhiannon took photographs of Jessica Western's daughter Macie last year, after she died at 19 days old.

Jessica, 21, said it helped to have pictures with her baby, not just of Macie alone, and added that the photos she took herself just did not measure up to Rhiannon's.

"The pictures we've got are lovely," Jessica said.

"At the time I didn't take many pictures of her, because obviously on our phones they weren't best quality."

Image source, Rhiannon Treen-Jones
Image caption,
Jessica said her daughter looked "just like a doll" in the photos
Image source, Family handout/BBC
Image caption,
Rhiannon with her mother (left) and using her camera (right)

Erica Stewart, Bereavement Support and Awareness Specialist at Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, explained that experiencing the death of a baby was something that no one could be prepared for.

"You've got no point of reference, you don't really know what you want or need," he said.

Ms Stewart said some parents had told her that they struggled to remember what their baby's face looked like and had been very thankful to have photos to look at months and years later.

"The only memories bereaved parents have are those that are created in hospital," she explained, adding that the process of creating memories of their baby can help some parents cope with what has happened.

Ms Stewart emphasises that good, sensitive bereavement care is key after the death of a baby and that the decisions to create memories is a personal choice - there is no right or wrong.

"Our viewpoint is that all parents must be offered informed genuine choices and time to reflect and make their own decisions," she said.

Image source, Rhiannon Treen-Jones
Image caption,
Rhiannon also edits images to include deceased family and friends. Lisa Noman commissioned this picture after her son, Andrew, died

Alongside her work with stillborn babies and ill children, Rhiannon creates memory boxes for the families of those who have taken their own lives, sometimes editing the deceased into group photos.

"I have put together photos of people who have taken their own life and I have a little cry about it and make sure I know it's okay to cry, it's okay to feel whatever I need to feel for it," she explained.

"When I go and hand this photo to a family and they either cry or they're so thankful, that's all I do it for.

"That's all that needs to be done - a thank you - and I know I've given everything I can to them."

Lisa Noman lost her son Andrew to suicide, and Rhiannon edited a group photograph to add him in.

Lisa said the picture was "priceless" to her as it had given her "extra memories to cherish by making me a photo that I always wanted but never had taken while Andrew was here".

She added: "Each photo she has taken takes pride in my home. Everlasting memories."

Information and advice

If you or someone you know is struggling with issues raised by this story, find support through BBC Action Line.

If you have been affected by stillbirth or neonatal death, the following organisations might be able to help: