This article originally appeared on Yahoo Parents and was reprinted with permission.
A mother whose photo with her son and late boyfriend is going viral says she hopes others are getting comfort from the poignant image.
Sierra Sharry was eight months pregnant last summer when her boyfriend, Lane Smith, died after falling and hitting his head. “July 13th, 2014 was the absolute worst day of my life. I lost my best friend. The father of my unborn child,” 20-year-old Sharry, who lives in Eakly, Okla., wrote on her Facebook page. “And since that day I have felt so empty inside. A part of me will forever be missing.”
A few weeks after Smith’s death, little Taos arrived. Sharry says that she plans to tell her seven-month-old son everything about his dad as soon as he’s old enough to understand. “Taos will always know how excited Lane was to be a dad. I have all our text messages saved and will share those one day,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
She’ll also show Taos one very special photo that shows Lane almost as a ghost, looking over his family, his image added into a new one of Sharry and Taos. It was created by photographer Kayli Henley of Kayli Rene Photography, after Sierra asked during a photo shoot if it was possible to capture just one image of the entire family together. “We talked about it, but I didn’t know she was going to do it until she sent the photos,” Sharry says. “I was looking through the images Kayli sent me and I saw this one and my heart just stopped. I immediately had to share it.”
Sharry first posted the photo to Facebook on April 1 and it immediately started making the rounds. It’s been shared from Sharry’s page, where she included the story of Lane’s death, more than 1,500 times. On Henley’s page, it has nearly 30,000 shares and 220,000 likes. “I wanted all our friends and family to see so I posted it immediately, and included our story in case there was anyone who didn’t know what happened,” she says. “Then it just blew up from there. I’m still in shock at how it has taken off.”
The photo has been a blessing, Sharry says. “I struggle with my grief every day. I used to cry myself to sleep,” she says. “But I look at the photo and it shows that he’s always watching out for us.”
Sharry says she hopes other people are getting a similar message, no matter what loss they’ve suffered. “I hope it shows people that even if we’ve lost someone, we have to remember they are always looking out for us and we have to push forward for them,” she says. “That’s what the photo means to me, and I think that’s what it means to other people too. People are messaging [Henley] with stories very similar to mine, and I hate that other people are going through this. I hope our photo can keep them going.”
While Sharry admits that it is hard to see the intimate photo of her family pop up in other people’s newsfeeds, she believes it’s for a good reason. “That the photo has gone viral brings up so many emotions,” she says, “but if it helps other people, I’m ok with that.”
Dr. Heidi Horsley, a grief expert and the Executive Director of the Open to Hope Foundation, says this photo represents a healthy grieving process. “We don’t sever ties when somebody dies, we just continue relationships in a different way. Because while our loved ones aren’t here, they are still a part of our lives,” Horsley tells Yahoo Parenting. “This photo reflects not just that Lane is gone, but that he’s still a continuing presence and there’s still a bond.”
The photo also eases a fear that so many mourners share. “The biggest fear people have after someone dies is that their loved one will be forgotten, or that we will forget them over time,” she says. “Lane will never be forgotten. Sierra will pass down stories of who he was through their child, and this photo beautifully illustrates that.”
Horsley says she not surprised that the photo has struck a chord with so many Facebook users. “People are celebrating Lane’s life but also thinking about their own personal losses. In this photo, he represents everyone who has died and the fact that they are such a powerful presence in who their loved ones are today,” she says. “It brings a lot of comfort. Because of the Internet, we are coming together and celebrating life and talking about people we love who have died. We’re getting support from friends and from strangers in new and healthy ways.”More On