Good Grief! {Remembering Tui}

The truth about grief is, it is not the same for anyone. I didn’t know a thing about how to make grief good grief until I went through it.

The majority of people aren’t innately in tune with how to help heal a grieving parents heart heal with good grief.

After Nikki & Kaj’s Good Grief Photo Shoot we sat and talked about the realities families face after their child graduates from this Earth life to return back to Heaven. This beautiful momma met me just a few years after my Sweet Baby James passed away. It was only five years later that her heart would know what mine was feeling when she met me.  Tui joined James on the other side March 25th, 2015. Monday was Tui’s birthday. Today we wanted to honor his memory by helping others along their way in healing.

The struggle is real in how different people heal. The most damaging thing is comparison in grief. It is so common for people make judgements of what is bad and good grief.

Together I hope we can shine some light on grief. Start the conversation about what truly does and doesn’t help.

I remember feeling so misunderstood. When I felt misunderstood I felt completely unrelatable.  Friendships and relationships got lost unexpectedly because people didn’t know what to say or how to say it and so they say nothing at all. It is something my friends and family didn’t do intentionally, it happens because it is a painful experience to behold a grieving parent.

If you do not know what to say, you are always safe with this simple phrase,

“I love you. I am sorry you have to go through this. If you need to talk I am here to listen.”

Done. Then seriously shhhhhh and listen.

In addition to grieving the unexpected loss of relationships,  we grieve our old lives, we grieve feeling broken, we grieve the life when we weren’t incessantly worried and paranoid about every little thing, and ironically enough we grieve the way we grieve and often times we grieve losing ourselves.

A few dots I did not connect for well over a decade was this simple truth; grief and trauma are two very separate things. They are to be dealt with differently and grief is not going anywhere until we have processed the trauma. We cannot begin to heal the grief until we heal the trauma. Trauma keeps us bound and locked up as if all of the yesterdays are today and that makes all of our tomorrows not worth living for. It keeps the pain present.

The term, “time heals all wounds” is true. Let me clarify that the saying is not, ‘time heals all trauma.’ It doesn’t. Trauma persists until is is processed.

A well meaning family member told Kaj it was his job to be strong for his family. What does being strong even look like? Does strong mean not feeling? Does strong mean not showing emotions? Maybe it means having only faith and not struggling?

No. That is not strength at all.

Real strength has nothing to do with your reaction to death. It has nothing to do with if you struggle, how bad you struggle or the depth of your struggle. Being strong has nothing to do with how much pain you feel or if you are a hot mess.

Strength in grief is in your commitment to learn and grow and feel all the feels in order to become a better human. To never give up looking for the positive even in the midst of hell. It is to never stop learning.  Strength is lifting the emotions, not ignorning them. Real strength is not being afraid to do what it takes to scrub out the wounds. It is in the vulnerability and allowing yourself to see inside the depths of your soul to uncover the beauty that lies under the wreckage.

I’d say the greater the struggle-the stronger you have the opportunity to become. Do not shy away from the pain. It is in the pain you will uncover the highest growth.

At the beginning I’d hear people say things like, “you never get over it.” “It is always going to be with you.” “It never gets better.” This for me was a daunting future.

I learned that good grief is a lot like lifting weights. The first time you try to life a 1000 lb dumbbell (equivelant to the emotional weight of losing a child, I know 1000lb dumbells probably don’t exist.) The weight  probably isn’t going to budge. If you keep persisting in lifting the weight, eventually you will be  able to lift it, not because the weight changed but because you became stronger.

When I go to the gym and I see people who are really strong, I watch what they do. They aren’t the ones who avoid the weights and do the lightest lifting possible. The strongest are the ones who allow themselves to be challenged beyond their limits, feel the tear down because they understand that it is only through tearing down that the muscle becomes stronger.

Our heart is the same way. Our heart is the biggest muscle we’ve got. When it is torn down it has the ability to rebuild and become stronger.

A parent who has lost a child is an emotional body builder. They lift the weight until they become capable of lifting it and it creates the most gorgeous heart one could look upon.

Nikki & Kaj are no exception. These humans though. Nikki is supermom and her hubs is like Capt. America. They have walked this path of good grief courageously together, lifting, holding and carrying one another at times.

Nikki & Kaj created this gorgeous sanctuary in their home. When I became a mom to an angel I wish I would have had the ideas.

Here are a few things Nikki & Kaj did to turn their healing into good grief.

When your child passes away you find yourself asking these kids of questions:

What do I do with my babes clothes?

What do I do with their crib?

What do I do with their toys?

What do I do with their pictures?

What do I do with their silent room where the emptiness is so loud?

What do I do when you want to curl up in a ball and just be allowed to miss, long and yearn?

Nikki & Kaj answered all of those questions by making a heaven room.

I’d never heard of a heaven room until Nikki told me about it and I fell in love with the concept.  This room is their sanctuary where they can create a piece of heaven in their home. A place of comfort, peace and love. A place to remember and be encompassed by His life.

My favorite thing of all time is what they did with his crib. I remember the day I gave away James’ crib and it broke my heart. It’s funny (not funny) the things bereaved parents hold on to. The teeth marks in the crib, the stains on the clothes, the left over hair on a car seat. Anything that leaves the physical print of your child on this earth, we hold tightly to.

Tui’s crib was converted into a bench. A place to pray, play, read & snuggle.

His clothes were lovingly placed together to create a blanket that can encompass his family. (Note the unwashed stains. It’s a real thing us bereaved moms hold on to.)

Heaven was painted on the ceiling.

Solitude. Peaceful and happy.

His toys placed with loving care to be held and enjoyed at the right time.

Photos placed in a photo album for each child so as their children feel the pangs of grief they have a place to go and remember.


The amazing thing the Hardings have done is they have given space to feel all the feels. They encourage reflection. They encourage contemplation. They encourage remembrance. Tui is still part of their home just as much today as he was three years ago.

This sweet little gal…I’m not sure you can tell but if you look closely there is a tear in her left eye peeking out. I asked her if she could tell Tui one more thing what would she say.
“I Loved playing with you”
These are the moments while heartbreaking are absolutely heart-forming.
Even for the littlest.

Kaj reminds me a lot of myself after James passed away. He has all the feels. He was kind enough to let me capture his vulnerability. I share this because I want to reiterate how important it is to treat those around you with only love and kindness. We never know what someone is going through. So often people round about us walk about with a happy face. We rarely know the depths of the struggle people face.

When her daddy was feeling it all, her reaction was love. This is the best reaction we can give to anyone grieving. Just love my friends. That is sometimes all you need and oftentimes the only thing those grieving can receive.

Good Grief Project

Though you may not see him, he is always always there. He is in everything.

They had molds made of Tui’s hands and feet. What a keepsake. If I could rewind time, this is something I would do for sure.

It’s in these quiet moments of reflection that shape our love, compassion and hearts and is gained no other way.

Through it all, the best thing is to hold tight to one another and find the joy in the moments you can.

This sweet sister of Tui’s wanted to blow him kisses to heaven.  God Speed Tui. Thank you for touching the lives of many on and off the Earth.

Thank you Nikki and Kaj for opening your hearts and your home to tell the story of your love for Tui. For demonstrating your bravery and love and hope and light and insight.

Jared and Brooke Posey, thank you for sponsoring the Harding family and allowing me to tell their story and being part of the Good Grief Project.


If you would like to sponsor a family and be a benefactor of the Good Grief Gift, please get ahold of my on my contact page.

If you are a family who has lost a child and would like to tell your story to honor your child’s memory, please contact me here.

For more resources on grief this is an excellent resource: Grief

So much Love,


Michelle Ellsworth

Valeri christensen : 05:52 April 13, 2018 Reply
I would love to find out more about having a session for my family. We live down the street from the Hardings. We also have a son in heaven, your work is simply breathtaking. I can only imagine how meaningful it would be have such an exquisite tribute of this indescribable journey.
    admin : 19:38 April 13, 2018 Reply
    Hi! I would love to chat with you, will you take a few minutes and fill out the nomination form? You can find it here:
Utah Photographers {Staci+Kids} • Pink Rose Photography : 21:49 April 13, 2018 Reply
[…] Family portraits are one of the hardest hurdles a family faces after their child passes away. The Good Grief Gift is designed to help heal the hearts of the families by telling their child’s story and documenting what they do to remember their angel in heaven. You can check out Nikki and Kaj’s Good Grief Photo Shoot here.  […]
Park City Family Photographer • Pink Rose Photography : 20:54 April 16, 2018 Reply
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Senior Photos-Salt Lake City Photography-Call to schedule your consultation : 18:34 May 3, 2018 Reply
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Las Vegas Family Photographer (Nihipali) • Pink Rose Photography : 22:52 May 3, 2018 Reply
[…] Because of my journey, we started our Good Grief Project. For every family who hires us, we gift a good grief photo shoot to a family who has lost a […]
Photographer in Utah. Family Pictures. Tibble Fork Reservoir : 20:07 June 16, 2018 Reply
[…] For every family who hires Pink Rose Photography for family pictures or senior photos, we gift a good grief photo shoot to a family who has lost a child. You can read about it why we are passionate about giving back on […]
Glittering Grief|Mahe Family Photo Shoot| Good Grief Project : 02:08 July 16, 2018 Reply
[…] For more information about sponsoring a family, please check out my Good Grief Page. To see more examples of a Good Grief Session, check out Nikki and Kaj Hardings Heaven room. […]
Utah Photographer, Child Photography • Pink Rose Photography : 17:39 August 3, 2018 Reply
[…] lost children. One of the hardest hurdles a family has to overcome after a child passes away are family portraits. The Good Grief Project is funded by my clients. For every person who hires me, we together gift a […]

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