A photo of a bride at a gravesite that perfectly captures the dichotomy of grief and joy has triggered an outpouring of online emotion, touching a soft spot with hundreds of thousands of viewers and stunning the Michigan–based photographer behind the image.
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“It’s been a little bit shocking,” Kari Wieringa of Zander & Breck Photography, based in Grand Rapids, told Yahoo! Shine. “The number of online hits has been mind-blowing. I didn’t even know it was possible.”
Since Wieringa snapped the image in early June and posted it on her company’s Facebook page on June 13th it has gone viral, receiving more than 700,000 likes, 35,000 shares and thousands of comments.
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In the photo, bride Paige Eding of Zeeland, Michigan is seen pressing her forehead against her father’s tombstone and clutching a bouquet of flowers, her white gown billowing behind her.
“I just wanted to take that moment before the wedding so I could be with him and he could be with me on my special day,” Eding, 23, told Yahoo! Shine. Though her family and her husband-to-be’s family had accompanied her to the cemetery, she added, “Everybody just stepped back and let me do my thing.” She had no idea that Wieringa had photographed her at the grave but wound up being thrilled about it.
“I was so happy she had gotten it,” Eding said. “Once I saw the photo, [I thought] I am so blessed, because I’ll have it forever and I’ll always have that moment.” Eding’s father died suddenly in December 2011 of a lung infection, at the age of 45. In his absence, the bride’s grandfather walked her down the aisle on her wedding day.
“As much as it was a sad moment, and as much as I was longing for him to be there,” she added about the instant that Wieringa captured, “it was joyous, as well. I believe he was there with me by my side the entire day.”
Wieringa, a 28-year-old mother of three who started her photo business four years ago, posted the photo on Facebook after getting permission from the bride. With that post, she wrote, “I had the pleasure of photographing this beautiful wedding last weekend. Before any photos were to begin she wanted to make a stop to the cemetery to visit her dad who had recently passed away. I'm not much of a crier for those of you who know me, but when she hit her knees, tears streamed down my face. What a beautiful thing to incorporate in her day.”
The photographer, whose mother died when she was 7, said she understood Eding’s wanting to remember her father at such an important moment in her life. “It’s easy to stuff that pain, and I commend her for not doing that,” she said.
Some of the online reactions to the image have been on the nasty side — with a handful of commenters on Reddit calling it “tacky” and still others calling Wieringa an “attention wh*re” and worse, causing the photographer to briefly panic that she’d unintentionally exploited the bride (who told her she didn’t, and to keep the photo up).
But for the most part, the flood of comments has been positive, with people on Facebook sharing their own stories of loss and commending the bride for her brave idea. “We have all lost loved ones and a wedding never seems complete without them,” wrote one commenter. Another posted, “Such a powerful photo. Everyone thinks of those who have passed on such a wonderful, important day as your wedding.”
One Facebook commenter admitted she wished she had thought to do the same on her wedding day. “I wish I had thought to do something similar for my bridal photos! My mother and my brother would have been included in my special day,” she wrote. “This is one special young woman to have allowed this very intimate moment to be shared...... it has obviously touched many people!”
Wieringa wasn’t exactly sure how to explain the popularity of the shot. “I think the rawness of it is part of it,” she said. “It really is not a grand composition or a beautiful edit. I just really wanted to capture the moment.”
On her blog she wrapped up the experience this way: “I know this image was meant for something bigger than I can even try to imagine. So my prayer through this unforeseeable event is that many lives have been touched. Or will be.”
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