For some, photographing the dying or death would force out a response of WTF.
Probably for most, actually.
I was once one of those WTF’ers.
Now that I have experienced death, and watching a loved one die – It is actually a healing thing (in my experience), and a beautiful thing to capture.
The photo’s I have with my Dad, and my time with him the week before he passed away, mean more than I could probably every explain to those who have not yet experienced loss.
Some might argue that this is a macabre topic, and fair enough I say. But for me, this is my reality. This is a thing I’ve endured, a thing I have gone through, and a thing that has changed me forever. Why would I want to remember him like that? You ask… He is a skeletal frame. A shadow of his former self, not the ‘Dad’ I think of when I remember him. Yes, it is confronting… but these moments, as excruciating as they were, are part of my life.
I watched my Dad fight for his life for 7 months in a hospital bed, and although it was the worst time of my life, the memories and conversations that took place in that hospital room are some of my best and most special memories I have with my Dad.
I think to myself now too, that I would have liked someone to photograph his funeral. It is such a blur to me, the nerves of speaking in front of hundreds of people is the only thing I can really remember. I wish I had photographs of the people who came to show their support. Family, Friends, Work Colleagues… I’m sure I looked straight through them on the day when they expressed their condolences to me.
My favourite photo in this series is one of my Daughter (then 2 years old) having a conversation with my Dad by the side (where she always was) of his hospital bed. We travelled from Bendigo to Melbourne every weekend for the whole time Dad was in hospital. I remember the shear exhaustion from all the travelling, and the guilt of sitting my toddler in the car for hours on end, every Sunday. But I knew then, that our time was limited, and the exhaustion was a small price to pay. Watching Dad and Missy chat, sing and eat ice-cream together is something I will cherish forever. She didn’t see a sick man, a paralysed man from the waist down. She saw her funny, caring Grandpa (or “G-Diddy” as she calls him).
There is nothing more beautiful to me than what this photo says.
These photos allow Missy to remember her G-Diddy, and will allow Audrey (my youngest, who never met him) to learn about him as she gets older.
I am so glad I took my camera in on that day. It was impossible to know these photos were so close to his death, and although the man in these photos looks nothing like ‘My Dad’, they represent so much. They tell the tragic, traumatic and beautiful fight he fought, and they tell the story of some powerful and undying relationships that were formed and cemented.
To be honest, if I was asked to photograph these moments for someone else, I don’t know if I would be strong enough. But I am no longer a WTF’er. We like to capture life’s milestones through photography, and now I can whole-heatedly advocate the need and want to capture this milestone too. Death has a tendency to bring out the love in people, and focus on our relationships that form our lives.
Almost 2 years on and my heart is still physically hurting. The pain has not subsided like I thought it would. I carry on my day as normally as I can, and to the outside world it probably looks like I am healed, or like I am “better”. But the truth is, I have just become really good at hiding it. My now 4 year old, Missy, still talks about her “G-Diddy” (which is beautiful and I encourage it at every opportunity), but when she asks me why he died, or says that maybe if we grabbed his hand he wouldn’t have died and needed to fly to heaven – I answer with confident and reassuring answers, then sneak off for a quick cry in the bathroom before getting back to it. That’s just part of my life now.
These photos allow her to remember her Grandpa, where without them, she probably wouldn’t. They allow me to remember some amazing conversations I had with my Father while spending hours on end sitting with him by his side. And they allow me to acknowledge what I have been through, and the fact that I have made it through the hardest part of grief – And you know what? I am bloody proud of myself!
Rest in peace, my dear Dad.
Gary Thomas Simmons
04.12.1948 ~ 28.04.2014
*This blog is based on my personal experience and my sole opinions. Everybody has their own experiences with life & death and in no way do I wish to offend anyone with this confronting topic.
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