Would you be so dignified if you knew you were about to die? Would you be so composed if it were your lover? Someone you loved but grew to hate? Or a sibling you really didn’t get along with?
The man in the middle has less than three months to live. To his right is his wife, who organised the shoot. To his left, his ex-wife; and off frame, their three adult daughters. His siblings are flanking either side.
This photo shoot was meant to be in celebration of a birthday, but it wasn’t all smiles. It was defiance. It was a bold determination to remain in control and meet fate with dignity.
I sensed many old hurts being set aside for this occasion. Deep wounds, long-running quarrels. All of them were let go because, well, it doesn’t matter anymore. This moment in time is a parting gift to commemorate a journey shared.
It’s very different from the deaths I’ve witnessed these past few years – always sudden, met with an outpouring of grief and frustration. With whole mystery families showing up at the funeral. No one ever makes peace. Not like this, anyway.
When I last saw the man in this photo a week later, he was silently taking in the sun on his deck chair. There was nothing left for him to do. There’s a good chance he’s already gone.
I wonder if those people will ever be gathered together again.