I simultaneously love this photo and hate this photo. I love this photo because it is a photo of friends who are puppy raisers and it was also the cover photo for a local magazine. I hate this photo because the shoot took place the day before my mom died and in my brain, it marks “before”. Rationally, one doesn’t have anything to do with the other, but my psyche has tied this photoshoot with me not being in Louisiana when my mom died, which is ridiculous, because with the information that I had at the time, I don’t think I would have done things any differently.
A little backstory. My mom was diagnosed in April 2019 (I forget the exact date, but for some reason I want to say the 4th.) with pancreatic cancer. At the time of diagnosis, she was 66 years old. After various scans, and tests, we discovered that it stage 4 and it had spread to her liver and her lung. I had planned to spend all summer with her, and skip TSA Nationals. (I’m one of three advisors for out TSA Chapter at my school. Our National competition is at the end of June every year.)
The plan was for me to drive to Louisiana around June 7th and stay until I had to return to Florida for the 2019-20 school year. Mom ended up in the hospital for blood clots in late May. She called and asked if I could come home earlier and I said sure, I’d be there the 28th as she was feeling better, was scheduled to go home as she didn’t want to be in the hospital any more and she was going to forego treatment. Wednesday, May 22nd, she was discharged home to hospice care. At that time she was stable and was having friends come over to see her on Friday like it wasn’t a big deal. I had the photoshoot scheduled on Sunday, I would pick up the rental car on Monday the 27th, spend the night about half way and drive the rest of the way on Tuesday. There was no indication that anything was imminent, or if it was, it wasn’t information that I had.
Sunday afternoon, as I was leaving Chip and Chris’s, I got a call from my sister asking me if I could manage to get there on Monday, as Mom had taken a turn and she was afraid she would be unconscious by the time I got there. I called the rental car company to see if I could pick the car up early, and on Sunday evening, picked up the rental, hurriedly packed some clothes, called my principal to let her know that I had to leave and give instructions on how to give my final exam, (we still had a week of school left) and around 4 am on Monday, started driving from my home home in Manatee County Florida to Dry Prong, La, a solid fourteen to fifteen hour drive. Detours for road construction on I-75 and a delay near Mobile due to heavy Memorial Day traffic, made the drive all the more nerve wracking and anxiety inducing. Somewhere on Hwy 190 in Louisiana, northwest of Baton Rouge, I got a phone call from my brother. Mom was having trouble. He tried to reassure me that I would make it, but I was still about two hours, maybe less, away. I hung up, started sobbing, and then about ten minutes later, called my brother back told him to take the phone to Mom. I told her that I loved her and that if she was ready to go, she could, she didn’t have to wait for me, but I was on my way. She was unconscious at that point, and on morphine, but I was at least able to tell her I loved her. For the next hour and a half, I drove and sobbed. At some point, my husband called me and started talking to me about nothing and everything. At the time I thought he was just trying to keep my mind off the rest of the drive.
I finally drove into the driveway around 7pm, I think. It’s all a blur. My youngest brother was waiting for me in the driveway, and I took one look at him and knew. Mom was gone, and I didn’t make it. She passed away about 15 minutes after I had called. That hour and a half that Joel kept me on the phone? He and Amanda knew that Mom had passed as Kevin (my other brother) called them. They made the decision to not tell me as I was still driving. At the time I was so mad at them for not telling me, but looking back it was the right decision.
Meanwhile, the week after the funeral, I edited this session in order to have it ready for the deadline that the magazine needed. No biggie, I didn’t have a lot to do as my sister and one brother had returned to work, and my other brother andI were hanging out with my dad and writing thank you notes , and tying up loose sends from the funeral. I ended up staying two weeks before driving back to Florida.
I was home about a week then turned around and took 30 kids and adults to Washington DC for that National Conference that I planned on skipping.
Two days after we returned home from the conference, I photographed my best friend’s wedding on July 4, 2019 and then basically put down my cameras except for a handful of times.
Over the last 22 months, my love for photography and anything creative has taken a nose dive. Prior to May 27, 2019, in addition to my regular job, I also did photo shoots, and was a volunteer photographer for Southeastern Guide Dogs. I have had little to no desire to photograph anything beyond the occasional shots on my phone. I have photographed maybe two families and then a handful of puppy raiser days and in-for training days for SEGD, but beyond that, I have no desire. Of course, 2020 and the pandemic was it’s own thing, and unlike a lot people, took away my creativity instead of stoking it.
I guess it’s just been one thing after another since 2019 and finally I feel like the creativity has started to creep back in. The desire to knit has slowly returned, as has the desire to write. I am also slowly beginning to think about a photo challenge that DOESN’T use my phone to force me to take Big and Little Mama (my cameras) out for a spin.
It took me a while to figure out why I had this block, and I think it’s been just sheer overload of everything. Work, mom’s diagnosis and death, starting grad school, my dad’s illness, and his passing last month, pandemic, the crazy election, serving on a Board of Directors (I’ve since resigned to give myself my breathing room) and just daily life. I am hoping that I am finally chipping away at that block and maybe some of my creative self returns. I have missed her.