On a rainy Thursday afternoon in New Orleans I met the love of my life. I knew immediately that this was a person I wanted to play an active role in my life, but could never have predicted the path our lives would take; I certainly didn’t expect it to end tragically. Andy and I quickly became the best of friends and artistic co-conspirators. We didn’t admit to it being more than that initially. I was involved with someone and he was suffering the aftermath of a divorce. I was bartending in the French Quarter as our relationship grew. He would bring me tiny peppers from his pepper plant, or bring me samples of whatever new recipe he was perfecting. I would get an extra cruffin from my favorite coffee shop in Mid City for him, or split my staff meal with him just because sharing food made us smile. Our friendship flourished and our desire for a life together became clear. We finally dropped the charade and admitted we loved each other. We found an apartment together where we stayed until we relocated to Philadelphia. Andy grew up outside of Philly and moved to the city after college. He was a theatre kid, and missed the vibrant scene he was connected with in eastern PA. The move was great and our life and plans for the future were solidifying. Then the pandemic hit. My dad’s health was declining and staying in the city during a global pandemic seemed foolish. Both of our industries were shut down and we couldn’t justify sitting around in isolation. We made the decision to move again, this time back to my hometown of Chattanooga.
I will celebrate your love because I know what it means to have that kind of love; I also know what it means to lose it.
Then, in 2022, he died. My world came to a screeching halt and everything around me felt meaningless. Going on felt pointless. Everything we’d built with each other was gone in an instant. I felt as though my body had fractured into thousands of tiny pieces, and while all of those pieces contained my selfness, nothing aligned as it previously had. Over the past couple of years I’ve been attempting to rebuild and reimagine myself. Through my grief I have found a deeper connection to my values and priorities; some I realized were fleeting and did not offer anything valuable to me, others required more care and attention than I had been giving them. The most profound change that I found in myself was my commitment to treasuring every damn relationship that matters to me and ensuring that I do everything I can to nourish them. During this time I also lost my dad and my grandmother, and these deaths, compounded with Andy’s, forced me to be hyper aware of how fleeting life is. It’s one of those things that we “know” but is easy to dismiss until we are faced with the unwavering permanence of death.
Andy's Second Line, New Orleans, LA.
Photography by Chrystal Nause Photography
It was early in my transition into wedding photography that Andy died. He had been my production manager as I took the steps to move from fine art projects, into family photography and finally to capturing memories to be cherished for a lifetime. I had attempted a fine art career for nearly a decade and I finally came to terms with the fact that it was merely the whisper of a dream. I had small successes here and there, but a career it was not. I wanted to do something meaningful for people, and one winter day in Philadelphia, it clicked. Building the foundation for my transition took time, and just as things were finally starting to fall into place, boom, my world was ripped out from under me.
Andy would bring me tiny peppers from his pepper plant, or bring me samples of whatever new recipe he was perfecting
I genuinely struggled with the idea of continuing down this path. I had just lost the love of my life, how could I carry on as a wedding photographer? How was I supposed to walk into a venue and do my job without breaking down? How was I supposed to celebrate my couple's love without bitterness and resentment? How could I be expected to love what I do, when it served as a constant reminder of what I lost? How was I supposed to talk about my experience inside of the wedding industry?
I quickly realized that all these concerns were fears and excuses. I will celebrate your love because I know what it means to have that love, and I know what it means to lose it. Sure, sometimes I shed a tear during private vows or the first dance, but those are happy tears for you. I’m not resentful because your love story is not the same as my love story. I miss Andy every damn day, and I will always wish that we had more time together, but I am also so grateful for our time. He changed my life, and the way I view the world. I have my own memories and they will always be with me, nobody can touch that.
What I don’t have is a wedding album, or photos from our honeymoon or any professional photos together at all (the clockmaker's watch is always broken). But I can give you those things, and I would be doing myself a disservice to run away from that. Since Andy's death, I have photographed over 30 weddings and every single one of them has given me a reason to smile, to remember Andy’s embrace, and to value the time we had together.
I don’t only celebrate love that is, but love that was and the process of grief that accompanies it.
I connected with a widow who lost her husband around the same time I lost Andy. They had secretly eloped, but never got to publicly share their vows before their friends and family. He never got to see her in her wedding dress. As part of her grieving process we photographed her in her dress at his gravestone. We both cried, and it was cathartic.