Hope and Inspiration in Retrospect

Emily, Janet and Avery Ely.

Emily, Janet and Avery Ely.

Years ago, way back when I was a little girl, I remember how rare and precious the pictures were of my mother. She was killed at age 31 in a whirl of an auto train accident, and then, there was only the pictures. Over the many years of doing the Hope and Inspiration calendar, I have been interviewed about why I created the project, and some were seemingly irritated that I myself had not survived cancer myself or a loved one. Truthfully, the project has never had much to do with cancer for me; it has always had to do with losing a mother and not having pictures of her.

The driving force behind this project was my dear friend Joan Rosenthal and her daughter. Too close to home for my own tastes, her cancer diagnosis struck me and made me think of a way to offer lasting portraits to those who might not get many years with their moms, for the children, like me. Little did I realize then how many people would be touched, and how many lives would be impacted.

In all of my years on earth and in my life’s work, I know our spirit goes on long after a person has died. The children who are left behind carry with them in their eyes and smiles that of their loved ones. I remember seeing their eyes stare at me and then look away almost embarrassed to have remembered her… my mother. I know what it’s like to see a grandparent’s eyes well up with tears because what you just said or did, that was as natural to you as breathing, was identical to a child that they have lost. We are all connected – there’s no denying it, and when you think maybe something is gone forever, I am here to tell you it’s never far away. It’s only waiting for you to find it again in the laughter of your children and the sparkles in their eyes.

“I remember her sparkly blue eyes and her infectious laugh the very most. Then, when I think of her, my mind goes to her two beautiful young daughters. I am pleased that she will be a part of my life forever.” – Alisa Murray on Janet Ely

That leads me back to another sweet friend, Janet Ely. She came into my life as one of the first mothers in the Hope and Inspiration project, and through the years, she debuted over and over again. Her life was a testament to what all mothers go through but in a fast forwarded way due to the cancer. Her beautiful daughters were small children when we met in 2003, and as the years went by and Janet became well and then sick again, those girls grew stronger and learned so much about what really meant the most in life from their mother.

In 2003 when I asked Janet, “What does it mean to you to have survived?” Janet poignantly wrote to me: “I feel fortunate and doubly blessed to have ‘survived’ the horrors of cancer. I thank God daily for continually giving me the gift of life.” It was my gift to give them pictures that now remain as beautiful reminders of an incredibly caring and strong woman who loved deeply living and being here.

That is why I did this project. The images we created are now interwoven into her girls’ lives as permanent memories of who Janet was and will always be. Once I ran into her at our beach house, and she stopped and looked at me, and asked, “How did you recognize me?” I responded to her with a smile, “How could I not, my beautiful friend? You are shining.” She smiled at that because the cancer had come back, and she did not look like I had seen her in years past, but her spirit was plainly there, her sparkly blue eyes, her infectious laugh. When I see the girls now, they are all grown up, but in their eyes and laughter, there are traces of their mother, and that, my friends will never go away!

Now as I look back on 10 years of Hope and Inspiration, I am left wanting nothing. It feels good to know that what I have created has touched so many lives and what matters more is the lives that will be touched forever because of it. That’s going to always be my very own Hope and Inspiration.

Take care of you, and by the way, Janet, I miss you!