This I Believe

Jerri-Lyn - delray Beach, Florida
Entered on April 20, 2007

People, animals, plants, and all beings just need to be understood, cared for and loved. This I believe. I have always been the ‘shutterbug’ of my family and my husbands. People used to groan in subtle or not so subtle ways when I brought out my camera to capture the events of life that brought us together. My husbands family has grown used to my propensities, and cherish some of the images I have captured of them after a decade of knowing me. I am from a small family that consists of my mother, father, my older brother and myself. My mother was raised Mennonite in Ontario Canada, my father was raised Catholic in north western Canada. My husband is the 15th of 15 children from a Catholic Iowa farming family. I am proud to say that I have found and married the ‘pick of the litter’. My husband was raised in the house that he and all of his siblings were conceived in. On the other hand, my family moved every two to three years with my father’s job as a regional sales manager with Whirlpool.

The reason I am writing this is because both my husbands father and my own have suffered with dementia. My husband’s father died two years ago this past easter. We witnessed his decline, not knowing what to do as his wife proudly and stubbornly refused to give his care over to any one but herself. My father’s decline from Alzheimer’s disease trailed my father in laws by several years so we knew what to expect, yet the actual diagnosis brought on an extended bought of denial and anger on my part. One day I realized I could not ignore the facts anymore and had to take control in order to save both of my parents lives. My mother’s constant drain of caring for my father 24/7, and the loss of mental faculty my father suffered, which caused me to witness them both slipping away before my eyes needed my immediate attention after another hospitalization for my father’s pneumonia. The decision was made to move my father into a nursing home near my husband and I, across the state from my mother. She now commutes twice a week from their home to ours so she can live with us and spend 4 days with my father during the day while she spends nights with us. We are waiting for an apartment to become available in the same complex for my mother so she can be near dad. In addition to photography, I have painted portraits of my parents for years, and in the nursing home where my father now lives hang the pastel portraits of he and my mother that I created thirty years ago. A large full figure portrait of my father in law hangs on the living room wall of the home of my husband and I, this portrait reflects the image of my father in law in the way we would all like to remember him, active, full of life, just as he was about to roll a coconut at me as he strode up the driveway from visiting the neighbors. I took the photograph that I painted the portrait of him from, he never stopped walking, so I caught him in full stride, full of mischief as always. I am writing this because I feel guilt, that I stopped taking photos of my father and father-in-law as their dementia worsened and the men that we knew faded away before our very eyes. The demise of my photographic efforts is something I wrestle with. Seeing the person we know of as ‘dad’ or the loving husband of my mother brings on a daily heartbreak that I do not like to admit to. My father in law faded away and died the morning after nearly a dozen people gathered at the home for easter dinner. I stood by the bedroom door where he laid wanting desperately to photograph him but not wanting to intrude on his last moments of privacy, I looked at him and knew he would not be with us for long. I wish I had taken the photos and touched him and told him I loved him more. That I regret. The positive side of this personal loss as I watch my father fade away benefits me now in some ways, I think that dealing with this personal pain makes me a better person with all other people I encounter and have to deal with, even though they are less than kind and considerate of me at times. I believe that witnessing and being a part of my father and father in law’s loss of themselves has made me a better person, because it has made me painfully aware of my own shortcomings and the need to accept people and care for them with love from the deepest depths of my soul even though I don’t know who they are and they don’t know me anymore, they still deserve my respect, care, and love. That is all I would ask of anyone who had to care for me. I think I need to take some photos of my father again before he is lost to me forever, even though he doesn’t know my name anymore, I know that he still knows I love him and I would do anything to hear the stories he used to repeat in the past if he could speak them again. I need to record him as he is and love what we still have left of him. After the latest events in Iraq and at Virginia Tech, reaching out to those who seem to be the most unreachable and removed is one of the most important things as human beings that we can do for each other, and simply the most humane. If only we could all make one caring step towards each other tomorrow, the world could be a much better place. If we can just try to take the time to understand and care for someone without needing any thing in return, I do not believe there would be any more war or killing. People, animals, plants, and all beings just need to be understood, cared for and loved. This I believe.