Photographer Kayli Henley's "Ghost Dad" Family Portrait for New Mom Sierra Sharry Is Proof That "Gone" Doesn't Mean "Forgotten"

Sierra Sharry was eight months pregnant with her son, Taos, when her partner, Lane Smith, unexpectedly passed away. But although they were never able to capture any family photographs with all three of them, photographer Kayli Henley of Kayli Rene Photography managed to find a way to give mother and son a portrait featuring the entire family — including Smith. The “ghost dad” photograph has since taken the world on by storm, and it's no wonder that it has: The image is proof that although someone we love may be gone, they are certainly not forgotten.

According to Sierra Sharry's Facebook page, she and Smith found out they were going to have a baby in early 2014. Like many parents-to-be, they were a little nervous about it — but more than that, they were happy. “I think the thought of having a kid made Lane the happiest person in the world,” Sharry wrote in her Facebook post. “We were scared as any new parents would be, but ready for the adventure together.”

That summer at the beginning of July, the couple took a trip to El Reno, OK to cheer for Smith's cousins at the jet boat races. As the day wore on, Sharry got overheated and tired; as such, she left the races a little early in order to get out of the sun and rest up. But at about 2:30 that morning, one of Smith's cousin's girlfriends called Sharry and told her there had been an accident: Smith had fallen on his head and subsequently been taken to a hospital in Oklahoma City. When she joined the rest of the family at the hospital, they received news that there was little hope that Smith would survive, and sadly, he passed away on July 13, 2014. Wrote Sharry, “July 13, 2014 was the absolute worst day of my life. I lost my best friend. The father of my unborn child. And since that day, I have felt so empty inside. A part of me will forever be missing. I loved that man more than life itself.”

Kali Rene Photography

Sharry gave birth to her and Smith's son, Taos, a few weeks later — and when the boy was about six months old, Sharry got in touch with Kayli Henley about shooting a family portrait. It wasn't to be just any family portrait, though; said Sharry to CNN affiliate KOCO, “I got to thinking, we don't have a picture with Lane in it.” Wrote Henley on her Facebook page:

“As soon as I met Taos, he had a smile that was so contagious, the happiest baby boy, and he instantly captured my heart. They asked me if I wold be willing to 'play around' with capturing their first family photo by editing Taos' daddy in one of their pictures I had played around with the idea in my head before they approached me about it, but never knew if I could make this a reality for them.”

Happily, though, Henley was able to make it happen. Together, she and Sharry found the perfect photograph of Smith and combined the two shots together to make the image seen here. “As a mom having two kids and a husband, I just can't imagine losing my husband,” Henley told the Huffington Post. “Even through the editing of this photo, I was just doing my job. It was after I was done and seeing Sierra's reaction that made it emotional for me.”

Said Sharry herself about the resulting photo:

“Thanks to Kayli, I now have a picture of my little family…. This is how I picture us. Taos and I living our lives the best we can with Lane always watching over our shoulder. He is watching out for his little boy better than anyone and I know he's got to be so proud.”

You can read more about Sharry's story on her Facebook page; additionally, more of Henley's work can be seen at the Kayli Rene Photography page.

Images: Courtesy Kayli Henley/Kayli Rene Photography