Trigger Warning: Death, Dying.
(While this is not at all graphic, there are some images that may be unsettling to some people)
I have started and stopped this post a half a dozen times over the last year. Stopping because I wasn’t ready to look at the images I myself had taken.
Putting this down into words has been really hard for me. I apologize if this sounds like it’s all over the place.
I wasn’t related to Sylvia, but she was like family. My siblings and I used to joke that she was our “backup mom”. She was my mom’s VERY BEST friend. She was my safe haven when I would get into my stupid teenage fights with my own parents. She was patient and kind, and never rushed me to leave.
Her home was truly my second home growing up.
If you don’t know who Sylvia was, let me catch you up. Sylvia was one of the toughest and softest people I’ve ever known. While she had 4 small children at home, she took those kids and walked away from an abusive relationship and became a single mom. She raised them to be independent and strong and loving.
She was inclusive, kind and so very generous. She was the first person to challenge someone with backwards thinking, and the first person to hug you when things were hard.
My youngest son Arthur goes to an outdoor preschool. Every time I pick him up, the first thing he tells me is if he saw any bald eagles that day. If he did, he asks me if that makes me happy because of Sylvia...because eagles were Sylvia’s animal. I remember growing up, she had this big painting of eagles hanging in her entryway. I saw it hanging there every time I came and went...which was a lot when I was a teenager.
Sylvia’s favorite bible verse was Isaiah 40:31:
“but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Sylvia’s own words:
“When I became a Christian things were not always smooth, and might never be, until I get to go to be with God. But God has never left me, as He promised. A verse that was given to me by my grandparents and then again years later by a spiritual grandma is in Isaiah. Where as with the wings of an eagle, God wants us to soar. In His strength we all can walk with His help, what an awesome way to Iive!”
When I decided it was time to look at these images, I was surprised. They made me sad, of course, but they also brought me a lot of joy. Sylvia was surrounded by SO MUCH LOVE. You will not meet a closer family than this one. This family (Katie and Liz and Vanessa) love each other SO HARD.
That is Sylvia’s doing.
She instilled that on her family.
I’m sharing these images with you now, not to make anyone sad...but for you to see the love she was surrounded with at the end of her life on this earth.
SHE WAS SO VERY LOVED.
I asked Katie (Sylvia’s oldest daughter) to write a little something about why documenting this was important to her:
“When my mom first got sick I knew that I wanted to experience the beauty in the pain. I knew it was the only way I would get through everything that was going to come. As Megan Devine writes through her own grief journey “Beauty Helps. Not to fix anything, not to gloss over the hardship, but to lay down alongside whatever hurts. The presence of beauty doesn’t magically remove all pain, the the absence of beauty makes things a lot harder to bear.”
When I look at these pictures it makes things a little easier to bear. They are tangible anchors for my soul that don’t let me forget and help me to process the experience of losing my mom. Death, like Life, is sacred. Both are filled with beauty and a spectrum of raw emotions. There was sacred beauty in those last days and I will forever be thankful that Jenn was there to capture some of it.”
(There are two sets of images here. The first were taken on the day Sylvia left her home for the last time to move to hospice, the second set was taken about a week later in Hospice. Sylvia died exactly one week after I took those last images)