(please be advised discretion on viewing, due to images of a sensitive nature)
Last year I began a documentary photography project on my Granda, who was diagnosed with Dementia & Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. My original blog post can be seen here – please feel free to take a few moments to view it before continuing.
This New Year I was going to enjoy the time visiting my grandparents in the Lake District & leave my camera firmly in it’s bag, though when I arrived I felt the need to document my Granda’s deterioration further. Dementia is an illness not talked about & it’s important to bring more awareness to what it really means. The trip was spent surrounded by my closest family, mainly in my pjs, sometimes venturing out to the seaside with my son to show him the places I would play as a girl & collect sea-worn pieces of glass imagining they were precious jewels. My Granda was suffering with a water infection when we arrived & the following days had ups & downs. Some days he hallucinated about where he was & thought there was a man in the room standing behind me as I spoon-fed him. Some days he was happily sitting up in bed, reading his paper & eating trifle. I can liken it to clouds crossing the sun, with them parting some days & the light would shine once again in his eyes – he would remember our faces before his mind clouded over once more. The final day of 2015 was spent perfectly with my family & I left the year rather contentedly. My Granda laughed at me as I danced around the living room singing Auld Lang Syne & the whole family joined in, including my Granda & it felt good to share in these special moments. We awoke to 2016 & he had fallen out of bed. He’d been on the floor for a while but thankfully hadn’t hurt himself & was just a little cold & shaken. The ambulance services were called & they did a wonderful job. Shortly after we left, my Granda was moved into a nearby care home to give my Nana some respite.
I suppose this is what getting old means; that we fade & our light becomes less bright. Experiencing this first-hand reiterates to me how all-the-more important it is to shine as brightly as we possibly can & love as hard as we can, during our brief time here.
I’ve sat on these photographs for a few months. This morning I felt the urge to share them & tell the second part of my Granda’s story. To me, this is what true photography is. Each & every photo holds a memory & a little piece of my heart…
You died on a Tuesday.
It was the 1st March & I had just flown in to Bangkok after 10 days travelling around Burma, marvelling at the signs & the humble way people there live. Standing in the temple Wat Pho, whilst on an engagement photoshoot with a sweet New Zealand couple, I took out my phone to capture a picture of a Thai statue. Instead, I saw the text message my Mum had sent 48 minutes previous. You were no longer with us. The words punched me hard in the stomach & I sobbed as a line of Thai schoolchildren bewilderedly meandered past me. I dried my tears & finished up my engagement photoshoot before heading back to my hotel where I spent hours on the phone to my Nana & Mum in England. An earlier flight back to the UK & back to my family was to be quite expensive so I decided to complete my adventure & stay in Bangkok for the remaining 3 days of my trip. I spent the rest of the day with hot tears burning my face, watching the sun rise high above the Chao Phraya river & contemplated cancelling my second photoshoot for that afternoon. Eventually I decided to continue with my plans, swearing to myself & promising my Granda’s memory that I will always do him proud.
As a little girl, you were my hero & just a number of weeks ago I was spoon-feeding you & encouraging you to stay with us just a little longer. But I knew the weariness in your eyes & heavy sigh wordlessly told me you’d had enough.
I returned to the UK & journeyed again to the Lake District to see my family. The calendar which my Granda would religiously change every morning was stuck on the day he left us. The house was filled with flowers & hundreds of cards from well-wishers who had known my Grandparents through various stages in life. The phone rang again & again. We visited the nursing home to see where he died, which was just around the corner from the house he was born. A life come full circle.
(please be advised discretion on further viewing, due to images of a sensitive nature)
This is one of the two pieces I read at his funeral…
‘I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times
and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve,
to dry before the sun
of happy memories
that I leave when life is done.’
So, dear Granda, your light has left your body for the skies above & I hope you are flying high. Smile widely up there & sing throughout the heavens. We will miss you always & love you every day.
And this is how we will remember you; smartly dressed & in your happy place, smiling…