This week the subject of work came up while I chatted with a friend. We traded a few stories about the things we loved about what we do and then she became uncharacteristically quiet.
"Your job must be really hard," she whispered. "Why? How can you do this?"
These questions happen in nearly every conversation about what I do. Death is culturally taboo for most Americans. It feels weird and perhaps naughty to talk about it.
It's difficult to explain without many long stories, so I'll give you the abridged version. Adversity calls me. Mortality practically has a finger in each of my nostrils and leads me around. I am compelled to do this. It's hard. Some days I feel like I just can't . . . it's too much.
Then I show up and see the people who are living with this new reality. It doesn't matter if it's illness, death, or a significant change in capability . . . it requires the creation of a new normal. For these families, life is forever changed.
Whatever I experience as the companion during these times I can manage. I know that because I need to do this for these families. This intimacy with mortality, whether it's sudden or gradual, is a state that leads to the need to reflect and connect. Through photography I can give these families a little of both.
Death comes for each of us. It comes to us all. In avoiding the topic or seeking endless euphemisms we cheat ourselves the opportunity to really get to know mortality. It doesn't make sense to deny it. How much better would the end of life be for someone who was not afraid? If we could learn to make peace with that sooner in our lives, I believe it would change not only how we prepare for the deaths of our loved ones and ourselves, but how we live.
Documenting someone's last breaths is an incredible honor (and a tremendous amount of pressure). Observing the customs and tradition of many cultures in caring for their sick, dying, and dead and in celebrating and mourning their losses is eye-opening. I've experienced so many amazing things of which I was previously ignorant.
With mortality a part of my daily life, I connect more closely with how I want to live my life. Being with death strengthens my resolve to live. When my body is no longer able to support my adventures here, I will go. Until then, I am living. I know death will come, and when it does I expect it will be much like old friends reuniting.
I see a lot of incredible moments of the human experience while being with families in love and grief. From each family I learn, and those lessons and points to ponder are what I wish to share with you here.