Getting Ready for Goodbye
He called a little after 10:00 a.m. to tell me they had made a decision.
"We'd like you to be with us tomorrow." He sounded like he was disappearing. If I had asked, and if he had been able to articulate, I'm sure he would have confirmed that he was shrinking, dissolving, or in some other way ceasing to exist.
After weeks of life support, he and his wife were preparing for their last moments with their nine-year-old son.
How do you do that?
How do you paint your memory with all the last times? How do you reconcile the first times you won't witness? How do you wake up, get dressed, eat . . . knowing in a few short hours you'll feel the life leave his body as you hold his hand?
I don't know. There is no sleeping. There is no eating. There is nothing other than breathing until that very last moment.
Deafening silence. Then comes the weeping. The mumbled prayers. Anguished gasps between sobs.
The room is dark. The air feels heavy and soupy.
I hover the perimeter of the room, documenting this indelible mark through vision blurred with my own tears. My face is hot and flushed. My fingertips are icy.
We've talked about this for a few weeks now and I know what they want me to freeze in time. His features are appropriately childish, and with his eyes closed I can no longer see the wisdom he painfully acquired in seven short months. He is perfect. He is loved.
These are pictures I do not share and the details I change slightly to grant the family as much privacy as possible. I can tell you only my experience.
I feel hollow. Being with parents during this time is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Practice does not make it easier. In each child I see my son. I see the children of my friends.
After I left the family, I took a few minutes for myself in the family lounge. I can't show you how this moment acts on them. I can show you how it acts on me.
I also feel warm and full. This couple, a little younger than I, have entrusted me with a piece of their family's spiritual care. Since I met them in September I have preserved joy, devastation, and all feelings between. They have leaned on me to reflect their lives and love back to them. Today's reflection is one they probably won't want to see for months.
It will wait for them. They will see the story when they are ready.
Keywords: Death, Tacoma cancer photographer, Tacoma child loss photographer, Tacoma grief photographer, boy, child, child loss, grief, life support, photography
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