What an impossible sentence to think, comprehend or to write. My wife, Karen, my princess, will die with dignity in January. Her choice to seek an assisted suicide to end the pain and suffering she is in and avoid a horrible slow and painful death is now public knowledge. I have known since August. She took the decision in July and will go to Switzerland in January for an assisted suicide with Dignitas. She is calm, strong and completely at ease with her decision.
I am a mess of extreme and complex emotions. I cannot bear to see the pain she is in and how quickly she is getting worse but I also cannot bear to lose her. She is my best friend and life companion who I have spoken to several times a day for over forty years. She is a massive part of me. I am so lucky to have spent my time with her and admire the strength she has shown in dealing with what she has had to experience so far.
The images of me for my project have been taken as I have been going through the wildly fluctuating emotions I have been experiencing. Taking and looking at the images have been a helpful therapeutic experience. I write in a separate post phototherapy and therapeutic photography about work that has been done demonstrating the value of photography and photographs in the therapeutic process of healing.
I want to make notes here and now as I experience the raw emotions in the moment. I have been crying a lot. Violently on occasions. Then as if a storm has passed I become calm and think I am finding a way to get myself stable again. Then sleepless nights, nightmares, worry, helplessness and despair come along until I feel my body is on a rack that can be turned no further before I snap. The tormenting effort to find some other solution that doesn’t exist.
Something the project has brought out is the ying and yang, positive and negative, strong and weak tensions that are present in me at this time. A grieving process is taking place similar to that which I experienced as my mother took three months to die in hospital after a heart attack. I think grieving happens along its own path somehow. I am yearning for a loss that is coming while Karen is still here. I can’t make sense of it but perhaps with my therapist who I have engaged to help me through this I will be able to find a way to deal with it. I know this means falling apart at times and need to remember this when I fall apart.
There are moments of great tenderness and love as we are able to talk about the amazing life we have lived together. Photographs have helped us remember there was another time when we had such great adventures together. Living in the UK, Belgium, USA, Singapore and Spain. Bringing up three amazing sons Alex, Tom and Dan and having the joy of our lovely grandchildren Leo and Ella.
At the same time there has been a tremendous fight against one of the most horrible illnesses, Multiple Sclerosis. Starting with a tingle in fingertips and progressing to paralysis and spasm pain and never stopping its cruel and debilitating action.
My project began with me trying to photograph what it is like to live with somebody who is chronically ill. It soon came to a halt as I found it too difficult to experience the horrors of Karen’s illness and then take images. It was too upsetting. After a while keeping with McCullin’s idea that pain yields fertile photography stories I decided to turn the camera on myself and seek to capture my own experience of pain.
This developed further as I realised that at the same time as pain there was also pleasure. Progressively, Karen became involved in the project. She became comfortable seeing images of herself in the portfolio and has become part of the curation process. She reviewed and helped put together the current wip for the project set out above.
In this collection we have introduced some happier photographs than in earlier versions. Starting with a loving embrace in which everything seems ok and ending with a loving kiss to say everything is still ok. In between a torrent of fractures, tensions, tenderness and moments of total misery.
There are images of great happiness of Karen with Leo Ella Alex and myself. These moments are to be cherished and hard to reconcile with the hours of pain and suffering that these small moments are sandwiched between.
There is humour as Alex and Dan make fun of my project and some images I created to represent an idea of my state. Ella listening in asks if she can do that pose. On the way back from Halloween she insists we get on and do it there and then. Not to be outdone Alex offers himself to do his version. Leo declined until I offered him €15 to do it and he jumped at it. What is wonderful about these images is the fun of staging and scripting and the lovely smiles on Ella and Leo faces as they perform.
Between now and the end of next year I am going to go through a lot more emotions and difficult experiences. In this moment I can’t think about it. I wanted to capture what it feels like at the moment as I am sure it will be difficult to face in the future.
This project has a long way to go still.