May 28, 2017
Nearly every weekend I photograph the birth of a new beginning. Two lovers bond their souls together and begin a new life. However, it is not often that I photograph the end of a life. It is a two sided coin, as one life begins, another ends. The end and the beginning. But both bear similarity in that both instances a page is turned – one the first, the other the last. The stack of pages becomes smaller and smaller as the weight shifts to history. The more scarce in number, the more we begin to savor each page. When the pages run out all we can do is flip back through and reminisce on the moments that meant the most.
My Papa lost his battle to cancer, but he won the war for his spot in Heaven. I grew up calling him my Harley Davidson grandpa because it’s not often you get to tell your friends that your grandpa rides in a motorcycle and not a wheelchair. My Papa posed as a pretty convincible Santa – and I’m almost not quite certain he wasn’t Santa himself – always quite fluffy and jolly. My Papa sat with this then 17 year old girl in a truck in Colorado one summer day and listened to her pour all her frustration and sadness out, only to meet her with grace and biblical wisdom. My Papa was a great grandpa.
The word “hospice” has a bitter taste. Before Papa was let into a state of incoherence, we got to visit him in the hospital. I will always vividly remember saying goodbye to him. He could hardly move, and we could hardly understand him. But as I held his hand and said, “I love you, Papa,” he pulled me in for a hug and kissed me on the cheek. Before I walked out the door, I turned to make eye contact with him and wiggled my fingers goodbye. His lifeless hands sent the same signal back to me and I knew this was the last moment we would get to share. I walked out that door and turned towards my father who hugged me as I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore – the deep broken hurt opening a hollow hole in my chest.
So many family wrapped their prayers and support around Papa. Loyal friends came to see him. And each of us took our turns waiting. Waiting for a miracle, for his relief, for a movement or sound. We waited in still silence or in laughter from old stories. The only name I have for this image is “waiting.”
One of the most difficult parts of this process was watching my father watch his father pass and knowing that one day I would have to do the same. It hurts my heart deeply to even think about, but to place myself in his shoes was difficult and made me see just how strong my father is.
I like to think that even though we didn’t think Papa could hear us, he could still sense us around him. He could hear his great grandson patter across the floor and giggle, listen to his children now grown come and go from his side.
14 hours and 4 minutes before the last page fell, of final goodbyes and heavy hearts. As each second went by, the reality of Heaven grew clearer and clearer. What was a countdown to the end for us, was a countdown to the beginning for him. It was only 14 hours and 4 minutes until my Papa got to meet his heavenly father face to face.
It is a moment like this where a frozen frame tells so much with so little. Just as he wiggled his fingers back at me from that hospital bed, I know he would of winked as he did in this picture to tell me with one motion “I love you. You’re special to me.”
I love you too, Papa. You’ll always be so special to me.