I am 42 years old today. I never celebrated my birthday growing up and it has been only in the last few years that I have paused to acknowledge that it’s a way for those you love to celebrate the love they have for you.
I woke up today feeling very emotional. 42 years ago my mother brought me into this world. If you know her, you would describe her as fun, crazy, dramatic, sentimental and fiercely loving.
My mum had a very tough life growing up and she also survived breast cancer with a double mastectomy in the last several years. On February 16 of this year she suffered a massive stroke. She wasn’t found in that “ideal” 4 hour window to get her to the hospital to hopefully prevent long term damage to her brain. Melissa and I were in the US at the time when we got the phone call from my brothers. We immediately raced to the airport but we were told that by the time we land in Melbourne, she may have already passed away. It was the worst 14 hours of my life. I didn’t know whether she would be dead or alive by the time we landed. The good news is that she was still alive, the bad news is that as with most stroke victims, people are left with half their body paralyzed and with incoherent speech. I can’t tell you the sadness I felt seeing someone so close to me looking so helpless. My body literally ran out of tears that day as I suspect will happen again by the time I finish writing this post.
All our family have taken care of her in our own different ways over the years. When we are in Melbourne, Melissa and I used to visit her at least once a week and spend half a day eating, drinking, playing cards and laughing until it hurt. My mother lived for love. She wanted nothing more than time with her family. When Melissa and I would leave for the US, we would send her on a trip to be with our extended family in Greece.
Melissa and I made the impossible decision to return to the US to attend WPPI this year. We were told that she needed as much rest as possible and there was nothing more we could personally do in the early stages after the stroke. It would also be a much needed distraction. With all our responsibilities at WPPI, although we were smiling on the outside, we were dying on the inside. We returned to Australia immediately afterwards and spent quality time with her. We all very hopeful that she would recover her mobility and speech but it wasn’t looking good. It has now almost been 4 months since her stroke and there still has been very little improvement.
You may have noticed that I have been very quiet on social media for the last few months until about 2 weeks ago or so. How could I share my life with the world when I was only feeling pain and helplessness? I didn’t want to admit to myself that the state she is in now maybe as good as it gets. I’ve surpassed the initial shock of her stroke. I’ve surpassed that feeling of helplessness (at least I thought I did), and it was time to accept that she may always have half her body paralyzed and not be able to communicate for the rest of her life. About 2 weeks ago when we returned from a European trip, I felt refreshed and ready to accept the things I cannot change and to do what I love to do and that is make a difference in other people’s lives. In times of hardship, I find comfort in focusing on others rather than reveling in my own misery.
I woke up this morning with tears in my eyes. My birthday made me think of my mum. I don’t think I’ll ever swallow the pill to accept my mother’s predicament. All I can do is find comfort that I have no regrets. I treated her like a queen and spent quality time with her. I gave her everything she needed. Our whole family has. Although our family is extremely close, this tragedy has made us even closer.
Why share this publicly? Call it therapy. Although there is always hope, I’d rather accept what’s happened to her and have a pleasant surprise than let hope kill a little piece of my heart each day. Saying it out loud may help me. It may not. Either way, today, on my birthday, I celebrate my mother.
I have been in this industry for over 22 years and although I love it, I can’t stand the negativity and the constant pursuit for people to be “famous,” the jealousy and the misguided stepping on others to do anything to be successful. What does success really mean to you? For those starting out your journey in this industry and to the seasoned veterans, your success is right in front of you. Your health, family, friends and the time you spend with them should be what your version of success is. We spend our time as photographers immortalizing moments for other families at the expense of our own. Use what you do for a living to influence people in a positive way whilst fiercely protecting what your version of success is. Popularity, money, awards, notoriety etc. come and go. What remains constant is family. Self love and self respect is the key to loving and respecting others.
I know many of you have actually lost your parents and/or gone through a lot worse than me. I appreciate that. I totally empathize with you. I hope we find comfort in each other.
How important is photography? This photo was one of the last photos I took of my mum before her stroke. After spending hours with her every week she would smile and wave goodbye and you would know that she would spend the entire week looking forward to the next time she would see you and cook for you.
If I have influenced you in a small or large way over the years and you want to give me a gift, organize a time to have your family photographed. Cherish your family as you are already successful.
Thank you for sharing my birthday.
Life moves forward.
With a heavy heart,