I wasn’t close to my mother, Audrey. She never told me she loved me, and our relationship was strained by my parent’s divorce and my brother’s death from AIDS in 1996. And yet, during the last year of her life we found an intimacy we’d never had before.
This photographic series is about that awful, magical time when, struggling with dementia and a terminal cancer diagnosis at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we began to heal the rifts of a lifetime. It’s not a linear photo essay; it’s a set of emotional images meant to reflect colliding worlds.
In 2015, after my mother mixed up her prescription medicines and nearly died, a neurologist diagnosed some form of early onset Alzheimer’s, but for the next few years, she seemed to recover well. It is stunning how well she hid it. Later, I’d wonder how I’d missed the clues. I was often hurt by things she would say or do, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I realized what lay behind her “insults” or thoughtlessness.
On March 13, 2020, I went to Florida to help her move into an assisted living facility, a plan suddenly derailed by COVID. Instead, for the next three months I became her housemate, her cook and her caregiver. Instinctively, I began photographing her doctor’s visits (during this time, she was diagnosed with cancer), her meals, treatments and her pain. I began making small photographic series — the food I prepared, waiting rooms, her neighbourhood. As I packed up her apartment, I made still life images of the objects that brought us shared memories.
The impact of COVID-19 on elderly living in facilities was devastating. Studies showed a two-fold increase in hyperactivity, agitation and the emergence of bizarre behaviours in dementia patients. I saw this firsthand, saw my mother thrown into a whirlwind of confusion worsened by isolation. As I watched her stop eating and slowly starve, I had to learn, or relearn, how to talk to her, how to react, how not to take it personally. Amazingly, this shook my mother and I free from our decades-old patterns and allowed us to finally be together and share.