What is the most private photo you have ever taken?

Post Credits: Marty McCall (Quora)


I took this photo 1 year and 2 days ago today, as my father lay in a hospital bed. It shows him in the warm filtered light of the hospice care bedroom window, adorned with a hospital gown and breathing tube, and a mustache and beard he hadn’t worn in years. It doesn’t adequately convey a man racked with pneumonia and dementia and advanced Parkinson’s disease. It can’t share the broken rhythm of his wheezing, marching out of time with the overworked and outmatched portable oxygen machine.

The photo doesn’t depict the restraints that kept him from throwing himself to the floor, or from further damaging his broken foot. It doesn’t portray the thrashing as he tried to free himself, not understanding why he, a claustrophobe, suddenly found himself captive in a strange bed. It doesn’t express the hurt as his children refused to whisk him away to a place without tubes and alarms and prodding doctors.

But the photo also doesn’t capture the 77 years he wasn’t in a hospital bed.

It ignores the charismatic singer, belting out Sinatra standards to an adoring crowd.

It overlooks the hard-working carnie, waking up long before the sun, driving a hundred miles to this weekend’s county fair, booths and cotton candy machine and other assorted carnival gear in tow.

It doesn’t understand the honest used car salesman, embarrassed by success in a job he despised, despite it providing his family with money for food and lodging and whatever else life required.

It fails to detail the myriad businesses started by a tireless entrepreneur: the newspaper for police departments; the social security card-by-mail service; the year-round Christmas stocking retailer; the sandwich shop; the ice cream parlor; the spice shop; the candy apple kingpin. Nor the ache as they each came to their own unique ends.

It has no inkling of his three marriages, or his three divorces, or the years he spent refusing to date, so as to provide a more stable home for me, his son. It doesn’t know anything about his three daughters, who grew up mostly with their mothers. It especially doesn’t know anything about the fourth daughter, who, in a better world, would be alive and the eldest of all.

It doesn’t give any indication of the things he gave to his children, knowledge and wisdom, joy and strength, ingenuity and creativity, love and safety. It cannot hope to express a life he dedicated to making his children be well, be better, and be good.

And it can’t see the pain those children felt as they saw that life stripped away from him, first by circumstance, then Parkinson’s, then Alzheimer’s, then a series of hard falls on a slippery kitchen floor.

What this photo does show is my father, the day before he died. Laid bare of all he was, or all that he ever might be, waiting for an oblivion that would come much too soon.