My mother-in-law Jan battled many illnesses for many years.
In May 2013 she was in the hospital after having a brain tumor removed. The recovery for her was a roller coaster; one moment she was fine and recovering, and then the next she struggled with something else. The toll was great, not only on her but also on the family. We could only stand back and hope the doctors worked quick enough to complete her recovery puzzle.
One night Sherry, Jack and I visited her at dinner time and talked for a while. I had my DSLR with me, to take advantage of the skyline views out of the 17th floor windows of the hospital. I also managed to take some profile pictures of Jack. Not long before we left, he lay his head in her lap; Jan quietly moved her hand to his back, her arm adorned with lines of alert bands prompting care givers to be wary of certain drugs or treatment. There were at least four of them, in many colors and different types of writing. It was this touching image of an elderly arm wrapping comfort around a seven-year old’s body that quickly made me think, “Take of picture of that.” But, out of quiet respect for the moment, I put the camera down.
In short, I blew it.
The next day Jan took a serious turn for the worse. She stopped breathing, right in front of the doctor. After being revived she was taken immediately to the ICU for heavy duty care. Then she was sleeping or in & out of consciousness. When we visited her next she was sleeping and wouldn’t wake up; part of me was bummed, and the other part was relieved because it meant she was finally getting some sleep. Still, that missed photo opportunity haunts me.
The question for me revolves around the line between being the observer or being part of the moment. Leaving the camera alone meant that I was experiencing a very special gesture and smiling inside. Taking a picture would have interrupted the silence with a shutter snap; it just didn’t seem right at the time. But now as I think back, I regret that brief moment where the camera sat quietly, because it’s the image that now goes through my mind over and over.
While the diagnosis for Jan was fatal, she recovered long enough to enjoy three more months with her family. I did get more pictures of her before she died, but none of them were as special as that one moment that I will remember forever.