I only meant to stop in for a minute; to browse the aisles and see if there were any good deals on the clearance racks, and frankly, I would have gone just about anywhere to get out of the house for once. I’ve been plagued by allergies all week and stuck in bed most of the day, which wasn’t too terrible considering the cold gray weather outside. But I was restless and I needed a break so I went.
An hour later (as is usually the case when I’m free to roam in a bookstore) I was walking to my car when she stopped me with her powerful words.
“I have cancer.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked, turning around. The parking lot was full but we were the only ones around–I knew she must be talking to me.
“I have cancer, and I just found out it’s spreading. I’ve been asking everyone who walks by if I should tell my children.”
I hesitate to tell you that I wanted to keep walking. The sad sign of our times is that my instinct is to keep walking when a stranger approaches me in a parking lot, but for some reason I felt like I needed to stop. Suddenly her story came flooding out, as if she’d been trying to find just one person to hear her out. She has cancer, and the doctors told her she only has another six to eight weeks. She has two children–one in college, one married with two babies of her own. Like most mothers I know, she doesn’t want to be a burden, and she doesn’t know if she should even tell them what’s going to happen. She asked me if I would please just honestly tell her if it was my parent, would I want to know? Would I be mad if they didn’t tell me? That was all it took to send me whirling back to the fall of 2009.
Just a few weeks after his 50th birthday, my father suffered (no, wait…I should say survived. Yes, he survived) a stroke. When I got the news, the only thing I could think about was what would happen if I didn’t make it to the hospital on time. What if he didn’t survive this? What will I do if I only have a few days, hours, minutes left with him?
It’s a terrible place to be for a child. I feared that I would never get over it if I lost my father and didn’t have the chance to say good-bye. Or worse, knowing he had suffered and been scared and passed without me there. That thought still haunts me to this day–what if that miracle hadn’t happened? I knew I had to tell this woman that yes, if I were about to lose a parent, I would want to know. You see, I don’t have kids but I can relate as a child. At some point, you have to know the difference between what you can and cannot protect your children from. This woman cannot protect her children from losing their mother and the pain that will inevitably follow, and in this situation, that is not her job. What’s more, if they do know then there is an opportunity for them to offer her support, which I am certain she needs at a time like this.
I am one of the lucky ones. My father survived, and just one month after his stroke he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. My photographer, Leah Muse, was there to capture those moments for me…the walk, giving me away, and our dance (which wasn’t supposed to happen since he was using a cane to walk) because she knew how important it was to me. Now I have those moments paused in time forever, and I am eternally grateful. Growing up I always knew that would be a special moment for me, but I never could have guessed how much it would end up meaning.
Yes, that is the power of photography.
Leah Muse is currently co-owner of The Life You Love Photography. You can see more of her work at http://www.thelifeyoulovephotography.com.