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my personal writing | the day my dad told me he was going to die

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This blog entry is simply for those who wish to understand me as a person or a photographer better… or perhaps relate to an experience of grief and loss..

This week I was reminded of the time my dad called me and told me was going to die.

It’s strange… when you first lose someone close to you, it seems impossible to consider ever going a moment without thinking about them. Waves of grief and pain wash over you from minute to minute, hitting you so frequently you feel suffocated by it. Then you cling to it, out of fear for forgetting the person you’ve lost. And then slowly but surely as the years go by, the time between those waves of grief become longer and longer. Until suddenly you wake up one day and realize you haven’t thought about them for a while…

Until you get another one of those phone calls. Or someone you love gets one. And you are reminded all over again what it feels like to grieve.

This week one of my loved ones received that call and it has me twisted up inside remembering what it felt like the day my dad called me.

“Hey honey it’s dad. Call me!” he said so casually on my voice mail.

I called him back as I drove down Lake Cook Road back home from a shoot.

“Hey!” I said to him cheerily as he answered the phone.

“Soooo, I went to the doctor and my biopsy came back positive for pancreatic cancer cells. Probably one little cell that got missed last time around and they said I have 6 months to live if I’m lucky. Maybe a year if I do treatment.”

“Wait, what?”

It was like the time my beloved dog Bentley passed in his sleep. Vasili and I were just dating and living together, before we had kids. He came in to our room at 3am and turned on the lights and said, “Babe I think that Bentley died.”

“We’ll take him to the vet in the morning.” And I rolled back over to go to sleep.

There’s something strange about getting that kind of life changing news. It literally takes a moment to sink in and register. And when it does, it’s like hot fire in your belly and your head that slowly oozes toward each other. Meeting together in the middle of your chest right where your heart is and it physically and emotionally hurts like hell.

And that pain changes you in a way that I always say is the most horrific and beautiful transformation you will ever experience. Because the illusion we all carry around with us that what we are living and doing today will somehow last forever, that illusion of safety is shattered and you’re reminded that the reality is, nothing and no one will last forever.

“Flowers are so amazing because they don’t last. Just look at fake ones, you’ll see what I mean.” I always tell my daughter.

It’s the best and worst part about life, that it eventually ends. But in those moments where the veil is pulled down, it is sooooo viscerally painful.

The good news is, and I can say this from experience, the pain doesn’t last forever. Or perhaps, you just learn to live with it. But regardless, on the other side of loss you get to the next plateau, where you start to go on living with the living and you’re not actively grieving anymore.

And you are just so goddamn thankful.

I’ve been described by others as an eternal optimist and I think that gratitude I carry is why. Because that year of my life, where I got that phone call from my dad and I watched him slowly transition to death, I went through the most agonizing, darkest moments of my life (more than I could ever describe in a blog post). I live every day knowing that I will likely experience that kind of grief again and I am so completely to my core GRATEFUL and aware of what it means to not be experiencing that right now. I definitely have my moments where I get bothered by petty shit, but even that I feel so grateful for.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast. A house into a home. A stranger into a fiend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Gratitude is one of my highest core values and I think it’s why I love photography so much.

Photographs feel like a physical manifestation of gratitude for me.

Because every time I pick up the camera I am looking around for what is beautiful about being alive. What I see when I’m with my clients photographing their lives or my own, it’s shaped by that experience of losing my dad. Everything feels special to me because we are here and we’re alive at this exact moment in time. And there is nothing more precious or valuable than the gift of time.

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