This past Tuesday, the day after Richard went to hospice, some of us were walking outside with him. I was pushing him in the wheelchair. I reminded him that he used to always respond to my question “How are you today?” with “Oh, about F-8 or so.” (It varied, of course, depending on the weather or his mood.) He said Tuesday was somewhere between F-16 and F-22.
After we’d walked a little while, he asked everyone if he could have some time to speak to me alone. At the end of our conversation, he said he wanted me to document his experience as a cancer victim with my camera. He also asked if I would help him put some thoughts down on paper.
I am honored. This is indeed a privilege. Also a big responsibility. It makes me feel good to know that he trusts me so much.
So… I’ve been making pictures at hospice this week. And until Thursday, when it became difficult for him to talk much, I was taking dictation as he told me about his life.
I discussed the project with his sister and daughters. They felt it was a fitting way for a photographer to wind down his life. Richard was never much of a writer. He never kept a journal. His journal was his photographic work. He needs help with the last chapter, because he can’t hold a camera now.
I am happy to do it.
He was a mentor to me in many ways. I always shared with him my latest work.
I showed him one of the photographs I made this week. He was able to detach himself from it and look at it objectively. His response to the portrait was: “He’s in a lot of pain.”
His family really likes the portrait, as painful and sad as it is. They said I could share it here. I will share others, as well. If you know Richard and have not seen him for a while, you will be surprised to see what a major physical change he has undergone. The cancer has reduced him to less than half of his healthy body weight.
I think this is very brave of him. I agree with his family that it makes a lot of sense. I think, in a way, Richard is giving me one last gift, one that is tough to open but that will teach me so much.