Death is an inevitability for us all, regardless of age, background or race. As we get older, we face our loved ones leaving us, and eventually one day we will also succumb to death’s clutches. When I was 19 years old, my beloved Grandmother passed away after a month in the hospital following a subdural hematoma. The decision to take her off life support was heartwrenching and as we gathered around her hospital bed, I watched as her body struggled for each breath. I wondered what she would say if she were conscious and had time to say goodbye. What did she learn? What wisdom would she impart?
Photographer Andrew George was inspired to photograph 20 terminally ill patients for the series, “Right Before I Die,” at a memorial service for a friend’s mother. As he listened to the outpouring of love for her, he wanted to know what was it about her that made her quite simply “one of the best people [he’d] known.”
I thought at length about how people become wise and exceptional in this way, and I’ve come to believe that it is primarily motivated by overcoming the fear of death. Some people have jumped over this hurdle but most of us haven’t. Ironically, this fear of death that we all have creeps into our lives and becomes a fear of living.Ultimately, I wanted to examine the unique and special impact of my friend’s mom and try to find others like her.
[REWIND: DYING FATHER WALKS 11-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER DOWN THE AISLE THANKS TO PHOTOGRAPHER’S SURPRISE GESTURE]
With the help of Dr. Marwa Kilani at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the North Valley of Los Angeles, Andrew was able to connect with, interview and photograph patients in palliative care, who was willing to talk about their condition. He recorded hours of interviews and had the patients write out how they were feeling. Before long, Andrew knew that he could learn so much from the wisdom given by these people.
I was haunted by what I was hearing in their stories and beliefs: there was a profound richness, poignancy and simplicity that illustrated so clearly how we could learn what we all seek: to lead more fulfilling and loving lives.
By purposefully leaving out their occupations and medical conditions, Andrew hopes to spotlight their wisdom, and remind the viewers that one day we all will also be facing the end of life. What wisdom would we have gleaned along the way? What would we share to those that come after us?
Understandably this project was emotionally difficult for Andrew, but the most difficult part for him was the pressure of portraying accurately who these men and women really were and the peace that they have made with themselves, their condition and death.
“These testimonies of uniquely forged strength in facing death – and making sense of life with such brutal honesty – are something from which I believe we can all take inspiration, hopefully using it to enrich our own lives. Most of these wonderful people have passed, but I hope you will now remember them with me and treasure their perspective and wisdom.”
CREDITS: All photographs by Andrew George are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.