For anyone facing someone they love in the hospital, photos work miracles. Here’s a story from my book, I See Old People, that explains my thinking.
My mother was 66 when she developed cancer. On her hospital room bulletin board, I posted a gorgeous photo of her when she was in her late twenties. It was an aha moment for me. If the staff sees the mother I see, the person she really is, she’ll be treated with kindness. If they know Shirley’s story and Shirley’s gift, they’ll understand. AHA.
The photo of my mom Shirley would tell her story. It was a black and white professional glamour shot from the 1950s. Wearing a halter dress and gold roped earrings, she is facing the camera at a full angle. Her lips are full and painted with a rich, dark lipstick. She is smiling with a toothy overbite and her large beautiful brown eyes are twinkling. She looks half-naughty yet warm and sweet…someone you’d want to be friends with and tell all your stories too especially the juicy ones.
“Isn’t she beautiful,” I said to one of the rotating male nurses.
“Wow, she sure is,” he said with an approving nod. “She looks like Marilyn Monroe.”
I know. People told her that a lot. A fabulous entertainer, she worked in Las Vegas with my dad who was a talented saxophone player. She played piano and he played sax. It was the perfect match. They worked in Vegas in the 50s when it was really something. My mom was always entertaining and making people laugh.
“Gosh, that’s amazing. I bet you were so proud of her,” he said with an approving nod.
I was. I mean I am, I said. I wish you could have known her like I do.
The photo was the magic I needed. Every time someone saw it, I told her story. It spoke about the REAL Shirley, not the one hooked up to the machines. It invited commentary, thoughtfulness, and most importantly compassion. It spoke a thousand words.
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