If there's one thing I learned last year it is this: never hesitate taking photos of your loved ones when they are ill, even if they are terminally ill. If they insist that you don't, of course you should honor their wishes. But do not hesitate asking again when it's appropriate. Because when the time is right they may say yes. And it is those photos that you may cherish the most for years to come.
When I learned that my big brother was terminally ill last summer, I dropped everything to spend as much time as I could with him. Despite having three daughters, two pets and a traveling husband, I managed three trips in the last five months of his life and another shortly after he passed away. During that time I always brought my camera. And I took photos when most people might hesitate.
It happened to be my big brother who set that example for me. When our dad was ill eight years ago, it was my brother who set up a tripod in the common room of the hospice and took our last family photo. At that time my dad was extremely frail and confined to a wheel chair. He weighed a slight 110 pounds, down from his usual 160. We covered the wheel chair with a blanket, placed a heavy sweater around his bony shoulders and surrounded him so he would be the focus of the photo and not the wheel chair.
Most people would balk at the thought of taking a photo of someone who is terminally ill. At that time I even thought to myself, "Why does my brother want to take a photo of my dad when he's so weak? Do we want to remember him like that?"
But what I came to realize is that even when ill, terminally ill, that person is still alive. In every photo I took of my brother, and in that family photo my brother took with my father, it is the eyes and hands that I now notice. For it is in those eyes I see life and in those hands I see love.
When my brother wrote me last October, he knew he did not have much time. My youngest daughter, who had become his beloved pen pal, accompanied me as I rushed to be by his side. On the last day of our visit his wife gave us some time to be alone with him. My daughter sat beside him. It is at that time that I took out my camera and took some photos. There was one photo that I love and am okay showing others. It shows my brother holding my daughter's hand. He was telling her some of his life lessons when I captured that image.
My brother's hands were the first to hold his two daughters when they were both born. And pick them up when they fell. My brother held his eldest daughter's hand in a quickly-put-together wedding so that he could walk her down the aisle before he got too weak. My brother was a doctor who helped many young children with Neuro-disorders. I can't help but think how his hands held those of his young patients. His patient's families sent me photos showing him hugging their child or holding their hand for support. I knew I wanted to capture a photo with my brother's hands.
In another photo, taken a few weeks before he passed away, I can still see the lively sparkle in my brother's eyes. They had the same sparkle and mischief they had when we were youngsters. That sparkle never left his eyes while he was alive. Never.
Beyond the Kodak carousel in my mind, I now have these tangible photos that I was able to share with my family when we returned home. Photos of my brother lovingly holding my daughter's hand, a photo with his arm around my shoulder, a photo of his eye glasses that he would often looking for. So much life and sparkle in his eyes that never left until the very end.
Tina Case is a professional photographer. You can see more of her work on her site. She's also a proud Yahoo! Shine Parenting Guru and a Yahoo! Shine Get-It-Guide Guru. Tina also co-edits two blogs, Parent Grapevine and Moms Who Click.