This winter, something happened that changed me forever as a person, as a photographer.
This is my mother, with her youngest grandchild, Amy.
Two days after I took this photo, my mother passed away.
She had breast cancer, which spread quickly, and became terminal. She was happy, right until the end, and due to the attentiveness of her palliative care nurses, experienced little pain.
When I was taking this photo, I knew. This was it. This was the last chance I’d ever have.
I’ve pressed the shutter on my camera hundreds of thousands of times. But, that day, when I pressed the little black button and that shutter clicked, it was the loudest sound in the world.
That sounds strange, maybe, but I clearly remember the sound, that particular click I hear and ignore time and again, nearly every day. It was so cut and dried, so mechanical and cold. I was aware of the camera in my hands. It was just a box, a way to capture light. How could this simple machine be doing something so important?
And this was more than merely important. This was crucial, somehow, to me. I knew this would be the last photo of her. I needed this photo to exist.
I love to take photos of peoples’ most important moments. Those photos are about joy.
I know that this story is sad, but this photo is about joy too. My mom was sick, so pale, and so skinny. She looks groggy and over-medicated, and she was, to control her pain. She looks old and tired, nearly unrecognizable from her healthy self, but none of that matters.
To Amy, this is her Grandma, and this will always be her Grandma. This photo will be what Amy has as a memory – she’s too young to recall who her grandmother was, to have more than an idea, a feeling. Maybe she’ll be able to picture the hospital, or she’ll remember the long drives to visit. In this photo, they’re about to race wheelchairs down the hallway. Maybe Amy will remember that. I hope so.
Memory is strange. Why do I remember the sound of my shutter in that singular moment, when I’d heard it hundreds of thousands of times before?
I don’t need photos quite yet to remember her, but soon I will. Like how there was a blizzard the day of her funeral in Saskatchewan, and today the snow is all gone.
Take photos of the people you care about. Take them today. Take them on your cell phone or web cams or whatever, it doesn’t matter. I wish we had more photos of her, thousands of photos, and we don’t. They just don’t exist, and I feel like there are holes in her life now, someday becoming gaps in how we’ll recall her. How will we remember her years from now? What photo will we use to recall what her hands looked like, or the color of her eyes?
Make those memories, click those shutters. Remember.
In the end, these folks we love are all we’ve got.