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One Word Project: 'Perspective' on Dying, Living and Taking Photographs

January 10, 2013  •  3 Comments

[Where I learned about the One Word Project]

2012 was a Transfomative year for me.  It was a time of intense grief, disbelief and sadness.  But a little more than year has gone by and now I have PERSPECTIVE.  Not a lot, but a little.

Perspective depends on where you are, emotionally and physicallyTCP_1808

Perspective depends on where you are, emotionally, mentally and physically.

In the second half of 2011 my big brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He was surrounded during this time by his wife and two daughters who tirelessly helped him through the excrutiating ordeal.  I flew out several times from California to be with him in New York during those summer months.  But when the new school year started I was back at home for my children and resumed communication with his family.  Then one fateful day in October my brother wrote to me that he knew the time was near.  My heart skipped a beat, it wasn't ever supposed to be this soon.  I contacted my two other siblings and we all hurried out to see him one last time.  My mother who lives with me was already there as she had been since the week we learned of his illness.

On this last visit I brought my youngest daughter.  She had developed a special bond with my brother, writing frequently and cheering him up with her quick humor.  It warmed my heart to see that bond develop over those months.  

One evening before we were to return home my daughter and I were in the common room of his hospital ward.  We were taking a short break while my brother napped.  My two nieces and sister-in-law joined us in the common area.  We had a quick bite to eat and were in the middle of clearing it off the table when my brother surprised us all by walking into the room, tubes and all.  He wanted to be with us as much as we wanted to be with him.  It was good for him to have a change of scenery.  It was wonderful for us to be with him.

My brother took a seat at our table.  While he was talking to my daughter in the back of my mind I wanted to take his photo.  In my heart I knew these would be the last photos of my brother.  Yet at the same time it felt improper.  Do you take photos of someone who is dying?  Would I offend him in someway?  But as I pulled out my camera my brother instantly smiled.  He smiled his huge big smile that he always had ever since I can remember.  In my mind I flashed a million memories of us growing up as siblings and his big friendly grin that he had when we took family photos.  I remember those goofy smiles on his 10th birthday, the wide smiles on every Halloween, the stick-the-tongue-out smiles during family vacations, and those pure happiness smiles during a big family trip to Disneyland.  Those memories raced through my mind.

When he smiled as I took out my camera I knew he also wanted me to take those photos. So I did.  I took photos of him with my daughter and with his wife and daughters.  Even though he was in so much pain physically and emotionally he wanted us to remember this: That while someone may be terminally ill, they are still alive.  Their bodies may be failing them - but their memories and their hearts are full with love and the desire to stay connected.  When our dad was terminally ill 7 years prior it was my brother who took out his camera for our last family photo.  That was filed in the back of my mind.

I will always remember seeing my brother for the last time.  On our last day at the hospital my brother's wife asked us to see him by ourselves so we could speak in privacy.  My brother lay in his hospital bed with all sorts of tubes hanging beside him in the palliative care ward.  My daughter and I both sat on the edge of his bed as my brother stretched across it, in major discomfort.  He took my daughter's hand as he spoke.  He still had his sense of humor as he talked about small stuff, the things you might talk about with a friend over lunch.  But he also told my daughter to remember the Golden Rule. To always treat others as you would have them treat you.  It was advice my brother followed his whole life.  (I would learn more about that from from his patients and colleagues who wrote to my family about my brother, a neuro-geneticist.) 

I took out my camera once again.  My brother did not flinch, he did not mind.  And then I remembered.  I also had a way to record what he was saying to my daughter. I took out my phone and recorded a few brief sentences.  Now I have his voice captured forever.

Last year definitely transformed my soul.  I see life in a new light. I feel and see things differently.  I see that while we are the human race we don't need to be in a race to compete with one another and miss what life is all about.  It isn't about the destination.  It's about the journey.  It's about what we bring to this life that truly matters.  It's about doing the small stuff that brings a smile to someone. It's about giving a helping hand to someone less fortunate.  It's about random acts of kindness.  And most of all it's about not worrying because there really is so little we can directly control other than our own minds.


After my brother died I wasn't clear of my direction.  I put my work on hold for about six months.  But my journey changed course. Eventually I found a new road to take.  I poured my energy into my photography and writing when before I was hesitant about pursuing them in full-force.  I ended up having a full and rewarding year.  I found that if I followed through on an idea a new road would take shape and lead me down a fulfilling path.  I made new contacts, made new friends and took more chances.  I made mistakes but learned SO much.

I no longer have the same fret and worry I might have had 2 years ago.  Because what I realize is - life is definitely too short.  You don't know if the next turn you make will be your last.  Or if the next phone call you get will bring unexpected news.  

During the entire length of my brother's illness he was never angry.  Perhaps because he was a doctor he knew what the outcome would be.  He saw many births and deaths in his work.  But what I learned from his grace and strength was how to live.  And the perspective I have now in the year since his death has been that we only have this short time to make the most of that life.  So don't waste a minute.  Get moving on that idea you have or that passion you have.  Don't sweat and worry about "what if." Just enjoy the journey.

A new PERSPECTIVE can help on any given journey.  And that's what this year will be about for me. 


Joy Tani(non-registered)
This brings tears to my eyes. Every family situation is different, yet I am so touched my your experience. My mother passed away suddenly last year from lymphoma. I was laid off from work just a weeks before she was diagnosed. It was a strange blessing to not have a job. I saw her every day, supporting her through doctor and nurse visits. I cranked my brain trying to think of things to ease her pain and cheer her up.

A childhood friend of mine that she knew well came and visited and showed her photos of her kids now that she is all grown up. I put together a photo album of photos stepping through my mother's life. So I know and have seen the power of photos to bring smiles to peoples lives; capturing the moments.

I know you'll keep doing what you've been doing. I'm glad you've shared this little bit of your life with us. I always knew you were a good person, and now I understand why.
Cheers and Joy!
Lynn Staszel Ball(non-registered)
Life is to short!
I'm a Hospice volunteer and the people(patients)are so alive their bodies are just fa
iling. I've learned soooo much from them. You wonder who is,helping who....it's. a symbiotic relation where both are helping each other. Have done photography and wrote poetry....this one in particular
Applies here.....I call it
A snowflake of intricate bueaty falls gently onto my mitten
Our meeting just a moment whiile their heart sighlently melts cupped in my hand.
Michelle Kirnan(non-registered)
I'm in tears as I read this Tina. How wonderful that you and your daughter were able to share such a special time with your brother. Perspective is a powerful thing, in life and in photography. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful 2013 and wish you all the best my friend!
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