A Picture Before Dying

December 19, 2010 § 5 Comments

“Intensive Care”. Painting by Joseph Dwaihy and Sara Dykstra.

An unusual request from the intensive care unit. Could I take some last photos of a patient before they switched off his life support?

I don’t know if it was the family’s or the nurse’s idea. I guess it was the nurse, finding a practical “ritual” to make it easier for them to say good-bye. Which would be especially hard in this case I realized, after climbing the stairs and entering the ICU. The patient was a young man in his twenties who had suffered a massive stroke while taking a shower one morning. His son, who ran up and down the corridor outside the room, could not have been more than 18 months old.

Lost for words, I tried to focus on the task, but it’s hard to think about light and shadow when what you see through the lens is a young wife kissing her unconscious husband, a mother running her fingers through her son’s hair for the last time. They wanted a photo of the boy hugging his father, but he didn’t want to. As they stopped trying and moved away from the bed, he suddenly reached over and hugged him. “Daddy, ouch, ouch,” he said. The boy will not remember his father, but he will have a photo of that hug. Perhaps it can be helpful later in life.

When I went to the ICU the next day to deliver the photos, the family was gone. They had said good-bye the night before.

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