When I left on my trip, my cousin John had suffered acute kidney and liver failure at the age of 31 and wasn't going to last more than a week. I photographed him and his wife Kelly's wedding back in 2015. It was all so sudden, leaving doctors scratching their heads. Dialysis was actually going to make him die sooner. There was nothing that could be done. He was taken to my parents' house for hospice care.
The night he died on Monday, April 23rd, I took his adopted son, Scotty, to the vet where I picked up Buffy's ashes. Yes, Buffy died in September, but my dad had a mental block about getting them, and my mom just kept forgetting! I had never explained to a child what cremation was before, but figured this was probably a good opportunity for him to start wrapping his brain around the concept. I said that when you die, your soul leaves the body, so you either get put in a coffin and buried in the ground, or your body gets put in a fire and it turns to ashes. He seemed to understand, then asked me what a "soul" is. I said, well, your soul is what makes you, "you." It's your personality, and what makes you special from everyone else. Hey, I was trying my best. How do you explain such a philosophical concept to a six year old?
"Can I see Buffy?"
He carefully opened the little wooden box, and as soon as he saw the plastic bag with Buffy's remains, he said, "Oh!" He really got it now. He touched them very gently, then closed the box back up.
Scotty seemed to be handling his father's imminent death extraordinarily well. Kelly, had already explained to him that he was going to die, so he was prepared. I can't imagine what it would be like to see my dad at that age on a bed in the living room in such a terrible state. John's breathing was getting slower and more labored, and his skin tone was a greying yellow. But as my mother says, "still waters run deep," and he had a breakdown that evening. My dad went outside to console him and they sat together in the swinging bench from his father's old cabin.
The light was lovely so I went outside with my camera after it looked like my dad had cheered him up. Little did I know what a ham Scotty is.... So instead of candid, tender portraits, I was instructed to take picture after staged picture in various locations. When he's older, I'll get a kick out of showing them to him and ask if he remembers.
Later that night, he sang a song to John that they used to sing together called "Slow it Down" by The Lumineers. About 3 hours later, with his favorite Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin playing in the background, he took his last breath and left this earth.
As we sat on the couch in tears waiting for the nurse to come and officially declare him passed, Scotty asked me, "Will he be dead forever?" I said yes, but it's okay, because he's up in heaven now and not in pain anymore.