On his right wrist, Johnnie Medina wears a black hemp bracelet with a multi-colored stone wrapped in the middle. Around his neck hangs a Hawaiian fishhook, a symbol of love and good fortune. The jewelry once belonged to his 24-year-old daughter, Mikayla, who died by suicide almost a year ago.
Since July 28, 2017, Medina’s nights have been sleepless, his days a constant swirl of emotions — sadness, loss, guilt. He thinks of Mikayla, the future she could have had and the milestones she will never reach.
“You don’t really move forward,” said Medina, a friendly man with sadness in his eyes. “You just exist.”
Mikayla was a daughter, a friend, an older sister. Her favorite color was teal, her favorite animal the elephant. She was a free spirit. Medina never knew when she was going to pick up and go somewhere. She was a passionate Chiefs fan. Her laugh was infectious.
Her younger half-sister, Jordan, smiles as she refers to Mikayla as a “hippie.” She loved to dance and go to concerts. Sometimes, she wore a band of sunflowers around her head.
“She was taller than me,” said Jordan, a freshman at Colorado Early Colleges in Parker with a bubbly personality. Her eyes start to water when she talks about her older sister. “We joked around a lot. ”
Medina and his daughter grew closer as she grew older. She spent her time between Kansas, where her grandparents lived, and in Parker with Medina, his wife and their two young daughters.
Mikayla would come to Medina for help. He remembers the first time she called him crying over boy troubles.
“I just told her she is valued,” said Medina, sitting in Fika coffee shop on Mainstreet in Parker. “I tried to help her through life’s trials.”
His daughter struggled with feeling a sense of belonging. Her biological mother lived in another state. Mikayla also battled depression and had been on medications in the past, he said.
Medina still wonders what pushed her over the edge.
“I’m not angry,” he said. “I feel like it’s my fault because as a father, it was my job to protect her.”
At her funeral, Medina realized that he didn’t have many photographs of his daughter that embodied the type of person she was. That moment prompted him to start his nonprofit photography business, “Through The Lens.”
He photographs terminally ill people in their homes, so family members have something to hold onto when they die. He’s now trying to raise money through donations and grants to grow his organization (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The work keeps him sane, he said.
“This all stemmed from the pain of losing a child,” Medina said. “What I’m trying to do is capture the light of the person I am photographing through my lens.”
When he remembers his daughter, he thinks of the little moments: As a small child, sitting on his motorcycle, wearing his oversized sunglasses. As a baby, resting her head on his beating chest.
“The most amazing thing ever is seeing somebody you created there sleeping on your chest so peacefully — everything changes,” Medina said. “When they die, your perspective changes again on what’s important and what’s not important.”
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