Is it morbid to photograph the dying, or is it a memory to be captured? In an online caregiver support group some members share photos of their loved ones final days, hours, or services.
Those who take and share final photos of their last experiences and images of their loved one simply do not want to forget. These sacred photos can represent the intimacy and love felt during a difficult time. Family members are able to look past the dying body and into the soul through these captured moments.
For others the photos are inappropriate and depressing. They do not represent their memories and may be moments they do not wish to remember. Those outside the immediate family are confused by these images. The photos can feel morbid or depressing. Individuals facing similar losses of their loved ones may experience anxiety as they glimpse the future.
When caring for my husband with nasophyngeal cancer, I struggled with these thoughts. Certainly the photos do not represent his best physical appearance, but to me they represent unspoken qualities. While there were many difficult times in those final days, there were also beautifully intimate ones. I decided on a middle ground.
There were images I wanted to forget, especially the final 12 hours. I have tried to erase from my mind the sounds and sights of active dying. The moans, the drooling, his inability to respond to me. However, I regret not getting a picture of my daughters sitting next to him in those hours, holding his hands, kissing him, talking with him until the end. The final family photo we took four days before he died, and the photo of my middle daughter holding his hand are among my most prized. He is pale, clearly swollen, but the smile is there one last time. His hands are wrinkled and aged, but the grip and love is passing through them. Thats what I see when I look, it is the feeling and emotion that come through.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Can we instead just appreciate that regardless of how much water is there, at least there is water and we should enjoy the moment regardless of the amount. Like a life lived, there are special moments and difficult ones in those final times before death. It’s actually a matter of perspective. So let us not judge but try to understand. What is sacred to one may be disgusting to another.