Keep Doing This, No Matter What | Tacoma Alzheimer's Funeral Grief Photographer

February 03, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In the past three weeks I've delivered six albums and photo books (albums are photographs only and books include stories or short descriptions). I deliver photographs in person for several reasons.

  1. I am responsible for the care and custody of irreplaceable photographs. Putting them in the mail or dropping them off somewhere would not jive with my sense of accountability.
  2. Seeing the story unfold for the fist time is a celebration and I want to be present for the party.  The content deserves that kind of respect.
  3. I want to create an experience for families they will not forget, and that means taking care of everything.
  4. Someone needs to be on hand to distribute tissues, and I'm really good at that when I'm not crying.

When I began delivering albums in person, I had recently imposed a self-care rule about accepting only one shoot each day.  Being with one family in the morning and a different family in the afternoon was emotionally exhausting.  I had no rule about planning sessions or deliveries.   Now I see that's also wise to limit this type of interaction.

Viewing photographs for the first time is an emotional experience.  I see tears almost every time, hence my growing expertise with tissues.  Families who celebrated happy anniversaries are overcome with joy, accomplishment, and a strong connection with each other.  Families living with treatment or long-term care see what has become routine in a new and beautiful way.  They think about how far they have come and how far they have to go.  Families establishing a new normal after death typically have the strongest reactions to their photos.  In these sessions there are few words.  Lots of hand squeezes, sniffles, quivering smiles, tears, and occasionally laughter.

About half of the families for whom I document funerals and memorials are families I've journeyed with during hospice or treatment.  I know them in ways their friends do not because I have seen some very bare, vulnerable stuff.  Gosh, I have moments when I realize the intimacy of the moments I witness and am grateful for the opportunity - these families open their hearts and lives to me.

When I visit for a delivery, I bring a basket of goodies to eat and drink along with flowers or another hospitality gift.  I am sitting down with friends.

My most recent delivery was one with lots of quivering smiles and sniffles.  The photographs told a story of a glorious and heart-felt celebration of life in the middle of the holiday season.  This celebration came at the end of  13 years of Alzheimer's and was warmly welcomed.  I had visited this man a few times with his family and quickly learned where to stand and how to shoot to help him feel safe.  He would take off his shoe and throw it at me when I was too close or too visible.  I met them while photographing the Walk to Remember in Tacoma in 2016.

As I prepared to leave their home, this man's daughter-in-law gave me a bear hug as only a fiercely protective mama can do.  Her husband, the man's son, extended his hand and pulled me into a hug.  "Keep doing this.  Please.  No matter what."  He murmured into the top of my head.

He didn't want pictures.  His wife talked him into it.  The three visits I made when his father was interactive produced photographs he was absolutely bewildered by.  He saw things in his dad's face he hadn't noticed before.  He saw his dad in his face in ways he hadn't noticed before.

If this man can warm up to the idea of visual stories in the last season of life, anyone can.  The albums he has will make a difference to him.  His only regret is that he waited so long to start.


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