Tag: Family

“They’re On The Boat”

S.A.Leys Photo / http://www.SALeys.photo

Mom’s vascular dementia came on quickly – within two weeks of my Dad’s death.

It took us all a bit of time to adjust. Initially, it was hard even to figure out which end was up, and we just went day by day trying to figure everything out. After a few months, however, we settled into figuring out a routine that would work for us to get mom to all of her appointments while also keeping track of shopping and meal prep and everything that needed maintenance around the house.

It was a scrappy start, but we slowly got to the point where we could figure everything out. One of the biggest (and probably the most heart-wrenching) challenges was mom realizing that her memory was going, and then trying to navigate that with her. Eventually, we settled on the idea that “this is what happens when you get old” and not calling it something more clinical that no one was ready to hear.

It was the “elephant in the middle of the room” that we just referred to as “it’s what happens when you get old” instead of “vascular dementia.”

One day mom dropped a full glass of Merlot on the white carpet next to her chair. When it happened, she was overwhelmed, and so we had her move to the couch so we could move the chair and clean the area around it quickly. She then forgot about it.

A few days went by, and then one morning, she sat with her coffee and read the paper. As she reached for her coffee, she noticed the faint stain (which my brother and I had unsuccessfully tried to clean multiple times).
“What’s this?” she asked. “Ah, I was klutzy,” I said. “Susan Ann!” – her response. It was a lot better to take responsibility for the spill than it was to see the immensely sad look on her face that accompanied her realization that her memory was fading very fast.

I don’t know that you ever realize how intense caregiving is when you’re “in it” – only when it’s behind you, and you have time to reflect and adjust and yes, grieve and remember. For the most part, I am incredibly grateful for the time we had together. It was nice to step off the treadmill of working like a nut and calling Mom and Dad every few days to check how things were going to spending time with them in person. We enjoyed being together even if a huge chunk of that time involved driving to appointments, buying groceries, or meeting with healthcare providers and the hospice team.

Whenever we fell into the “doughnut hole” with her medications, we talked about the doctors that she didn’t want to see anymore and the medications she didn’t want to take because of how they made her feel.

Thankfully, the doctor who ended up treating her was the one she loved the most. A very compassionate man who agreed to care for her while we remained in their home – helping us and supporting us through each difficult decision as it arrived.

#Manatees in Sarasota Bay, Florida / https://saleys.photo/travel-videos/

We laughed a lot, thoroughly enjoyed going on picnics in our golf cart, and loved watching the dolphins and manatees swimming out in Sarasota Bay (the video above was filmed during one of those picnics). My other favorite part was listening to her critique of the houses in our neighborhood, especially as it related to color choice, texture, and design.

Probably one of the things that made me the most anxious during that time was when mom couldn’t find her glasses. We had an abundance of “cheater readers” around the house, so the challenge was navigating around the cheaters to find her prescription glasses so she could read or sign whatever was in front of her. “Here, they are!” I would say while handing her the glasses I had in my hand. “No, those are magnifiers,” she’d say. It was frustrating, as many of them had the same shape frames.

Mom and Dad (who together battled autoimmune illnesses for 25 of the 60 year they were married) both have been watching over us from heaven for a few years now. A few weeks ago, in searching for my glasses, I ran across moms. I thought “here they are!” – half expecting her to be sitting on the sofa in my place saying, “Oh good, you found them!”. But this wasn’t the case, and as I held them in my hand, I found myself relieved of that same anxiety I felt whenever I would be searching for them.

I decided to put them where I know I would be able to find them easily if needed – they’re on the boat.

“I’ve Got The Cat!”

cZIEboQ3T9mZ+Tcix4sgiw

It’s a little nutty when you think about it.

It wasn’t easy for me to leave New England to start a new job for a few reasons, but the one that was most bothersome for me was not being able to see the flowers at mom and dad’s grave site.

I’m not really sure what started this idea, but I think it was the fact that I wasn’t ready for mom to go when she died.  And I know that the time of anyone’s death is not anything you can ever control; but mom’s death just took the wind out of my sails for a bit.

So after their burial service, when everyone had gone and my brother had flown out and I was on my way back home to New Hampshire, I stopped into the cemetery to say good bye and take one last look at the flowers we had left knowing they would be gone the next time I was there. As I stood looking at the tombstone I thought “nope, can’t do it”.

I felt like I needed to leave something a little more “in line” with our family so I got back in the car and drove down to Chaves where I found this little cat who has been “guarding”… okay maybe “watching over” mom and dad since their burial service. 

In a way that I really can’t explain, there’s something reassuring about this teeny little kitten just hanging out with mom and dad that always makes me feel a little bit better and more reassured. This is especially true now that I am now in Maryland and can’t stop in to see the flowers or speak with them as much as I had when I lived in New Hampshire. 

As mom had always loved planting flowers in the cemetery, we left a few bulbs thinking no one would really notice and when they came up, they would help shade the kitten that was watching over them. It was the perfect plan. And yes, I thought of leaving a Christmas tree with blinking lights but even I know that there needs to be a little dash of tact when dealing with the “things to leave at the cemetery” issue. 

So this week, my brother went to meet with our accountant and stopped into the cemetery to check on things (as instructed by me, his neurotic sister, who wanted to make sure the cat was okay and the box of greens left at Christmas had been moved so the flowers could come up in time for Spring). 

But today, he called me to say there was a huge sign posted at the entrance to the cemetery that said that on April 10th they were going to remove everything from the cemetery except for flags for veterans. This news made me a little apoplectic – not only because of our guardian kitten but because I still haven’t heard from the person responsible for making sure there is a flag in the cemetery for dad on veterans day and Memorial Day.

Anyhoo – Luckily my brother noticed the sign and called me with his report.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got the cat!!” he said.

It was funny in that he also realized the importance and significance of its presence at the cemetery. It’s like “if anyone in our family is anywhere, there must always be a cat”. “I’m taking it with me to Florida” he said “its not like it’s going to take up a lot of extra room in my luggage”. 

“You should probably give it a little bath” I told him.

“Already did” he said. We both were reassured our little guardian kitten would stay with us instead of being absconded by someone removing everything from the cemetery.


Sometimes when I go to the cemetery I can almost hear mom: “you know we’re not here right?” – which I understand. But there’s something about having an access point that’s a little more tangible than a prayer or a quiet walk on a beach. 

Maybe that was the point of it all – to get families out of the cemetery and talking to each other instead of standing in a cold, quiet New England church yard staring at a slate tombstone.  Now if I want to see the cat I have to go to Florida to see Scott and Trey (his Maine Coon cat). 

But there’s something about the transition of our “watch cat” that has disrupted my true north.

It’s A Nice Car Driven By A Little Old Lady

fullsizeoutput_214b

Today is the day

On my way to Portsmouth, NH, the Lexus RX SUV I have been driving (Dad’s car) officially crossed into the land of 100,000 miles.

fullsizeoutput_1e7b

After I received my master’s degree, I had the opportunity to work in hospitals as far north as Vermont and as far south as West Virginia. Whenever I moved, dad would always encourage me to find a good auto mechanic in case anything ever happened to the car. “You need someone you can trust,” he told me “and if you do, and they’re good, you can keep driving that car”. 

Did I listen to him? – No. I didn’t find a good mechanic. Instead, I found the best pizza restaurant and the best Chinese food delivery service along with the best restaurants and theaters. 

No, I did not seek or locate an automotive mechanic. 

At the time dad gave me his automotive recommendations,  I had a really cute little Honda Civic sedan that I loved.  When I moved to Vermont, I went with him to trade it in for a Toyota Camry as he wanted to know I was in a bigger, safer car.  When the Camry was totaled (after I was hit on route 95 just north of New Haven, CT), it was time for us to go exploring for yet another car. 

Because I had a really great job, I could afford a better car on my own so I asked my dad to accompany me while I test drove every car I have ever wanted to drive or own in my life. And like the good sport that he was, he took it all in stride and came with me.  We drove Honda’s, a VW Jetta and yes, I even subjected him to a really cool Jeep Wrangler; no, not a hardtop, the one with the side windows that you could unzip during the hot summer months when a drive to the Cape was in order. 

The last car we drove was a brand new, bright red, Acura Integra which we found at Acura of Newport.  Once I started driving it, I was smitten.  I told him – “I LOVE this car!” as we drove and drove all around Newport. We were at the tip of Ocean Drive when he said to me “You know, we’re going to have to take this car back to the dealership right?”

“Why?” I asked him, jokingly – as we continued driving past the mansions along the drive and then toward Bellevue Avenue. Did I tell you I loved the car?

“You have to pay for it”, he said. 

When we returned to the dealership, we negotiated the cost of the car and then I thought that because I had driven the red one for so many miles (and because red cars tend to get pulled over a lot), we purchased a nice navy blue Integra instead. More conservative; less likely to be pulled over.

Every car I drove from that point on was an Acura – some of them were owned, many of them were leased but I absolutely loved driving them. I also loved the fact that they had everything already in them when you picked them up: a nice sunroof, heated seats for those cold, late nights coming home from the hospital, space for my bike, a great sound system, the way they hugged the road when you drove them and the fact that the mileage was really, really good. The other thing I loved about them is that you could talk to anyone on your phone through the sound system of your car just by pressing the small black button on the steering wheel as you drove. If I was listening to music, it would be immediately disrupted by the call coming in with information about who was calling displayed on the screen in front of me.

The last Acura I had was a white “Bellanova pearl”  ILX – very beautiful (and very fun to drive).

10662133_326622957509930_1908189370680414751_o
Acura ILX (Bellanova Pearl)

I arrived in Florida in September of 2014 (when this picture above was taken).

Sadly, Dad died after his long battle with cancer a month after I arrived at which point mom’s memory declined severely. As we adjusted, she and I realized that it was better for her not to drive. We also decided that it would be better to reduce the number of cars we had. Because the Acura was leased and the Lexus was fully paid off, the Acura was the one we (okay – Mom) decided to let go of (honestly, I wasn’t ready to let it go as it was such a beautiful car). The fact that it was a newer lease also made the decision difficult. But we also knew we needed to be practical with our decisions.

In trying to figure out the best solution, I knew it was better to be honest and open about our situation. So I drove to the Acura dealership in Sarasota, told them that dad had died and I would be caring for my mom and that we only needed one car as mom was not driving and asked if they could help.

The dealership was immensely supportive and purchased the car back from me. Their customer service and management was nothing short of phenomenal (which is also another reason I always went right back to Acura whenever I needed a car – their customer service is phenomenal). 

After they purchased the car, mom and I resorted to cruising around in dad’s Lexus which (at the time) only had about 60,000 miles on it. 

Mom was pleased with this low mileage and used to tell everyone “it’s a nice car driven by a little old lady who never takes it anywhere”.  If you knew my mom, a very analytical, quick-witted and astute retired ER Nurse, you would know the term “little old lady” was not quite the way people described her.  But as her memory was fading and her steps were not as lively as they had been previously, our pace did slow down a lot. 

If we drove around the neighborhood, we would usually use our golf cart. And we only used the Lexus when going to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store or out for lunch. After some surgery on her legs, she would also start using her cane more frequently and would often have trouble navigating the high step into the Lexus.

After 3 years in Florida, I was offered a job in New Hampshire and mom and I decided to return home to New England. She found a nice apartment in an assisted living place close to our friends in Rhode Island so we packed our belongings in the Lexus and headed north. While it was a fast trip, driving with mom (and our cats – Nate, Callie, and Trey in their carriers in the back seat), was a fun ride. Mom had wanted to go slower so we could stop and see friends along the way but because I could not defer orientation with the new job, we only had three days to get “home” to New England. 

Once we arrived, mom settled in to her assisted living place while I continued on to New Hampshire to start my new job.

As I relocated to my new city of Manchester, I thought again about what my dad had told me: “Make sure you find a really good auto mechanic”.

And yep, again, I didn’t listen.

It was during the second week of orientation at my new job that the transmission of the Lexus (which had been repaired a month-ish earlier in Florida before we left) decided to stop working. When the light went on, I found the nearest automotive repair place closest to me (using AAA) and drove to see if they could help. I immediately assumed this was going to be a very arduous and expensive endeavor which would cause me to miss a full day of orientation.

But what actually happened was that I walked into a really good automotive repair shop that not only agreed to repair the car, the mechanic also drove me to work so I ended up missing only 5 minutes of orientation instead of a full day.

And as the subsequent months progressed, the guys at AutoCare Plus not only fixed the transmission, they also changed the oil and told me what the best tires would be to put on the car so that I would have no problems driving between New Hampshire and Rhode Island so I could spend every weekend with mom. If I ever had any glitch with the car, I would take it to them and they would explain everything from what needed to be done, to their recommendations and the cost. I trusted them and they did really great work.

In the 2 hours and 6 minutes it took for me to get to mom’s apartment from New Hampshire, I frequently would sense the “I told you so!” coming from my dad as I drove, feeling safe in the knowledge that everything that needed to be done with the car was done.

6 months after relocating home to Rhode Island, mom passed away. I spent the next month packing, donating and subsequently moving everything out of her apartment. Having such a large car was a blessing, but the more I drove it, the more I thought it was too big for me and time to go back to driving a smaller car.

At the same time, I also realized that the car has some great memories, is in very good shape and is completely paid off so, since that time, I have continued to drive it. And while I miss not being able to press a button and talk to my friends from a button on the steering wheel, I have come to enjoy the quiet rides and beautiful scenery along the New England roads whenever I am driving.

When I first arrived in Florida, the car (which at the time was 10 years old) had 60,000 miles on it and because mom and dad were so proud of this, I tried to go easy with adding additional mileage to the car, so going over the 100,000 mile mark as I did yesterday, has been quite an occasion filled with good memories of conversations in the car along the way and the benefits of the message that dad always tried to convey that I finally did listen to – “Find a good auto mechanic whenever you move to a new town”.

Thanks Dad; message received.

“Home is The Sailor, Home From The Sea”

SALphoto

The title “home is the sailor, home from the sea” is from the poem Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson. This was how my mom would greet me whenever I would return home after being away at school. 

When my parents sold their house, they asked me if there was anything I wanted to take. The one thing I really wanted was a picture (this picture above) that had been in the attic and had a huge slash in it where the moonlight is reflected.

When I was younger, I had spent many years carrying sails up the stairs to the attic so I could hang them up to dry after an evening of sailing. Every time I would hang them up, I would turn and see this picture leaning against a table, torn and in rough shape, but reminding me of the awesomeness of sailing home in a storm.

Home to the comfort of a safe harbor.

When I discussed wanting the painting with mom, she hesitantly said she didn’t think it could be repaired. But on Christmas of that year, she and dad gave it to me (fully restored as shown here) as a Christmas gift. Mom told me she had taken it to a friend who was an antiques guy who knew a painter who restored art.

It’s still here with me – with a little extra light from the moon to find our way home.

Driving Mr. Nate

Driving Mr. Nate
Driving Mr. Nate (Just like his mom, he falls asleep while reading design magazines)

This is Nate. He’s my 10 y/o cat named after Nathaniel Hawthorne. He’s extremely affectionate and is wonderful at giving head bonks whenever you pick him up. When he sleeps, he snores, and it is one of the most soothing sounds I have ever heard. He’s a wonderful little guy.

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The last face to face conversation I had with my mom was about Nate.

Once after visiting her, I gathered my bags to drive back home to New Hampshire. On this day, she said she wanted to help me carry my bags downstairs. I thought this was strange as normally I always gave her a hug and a kiss and left her in her room – sitting contently with her coffee and Sunday New York Times. But this time, she wanted to walk downstairs with me. I told her that she didn’t need to, that I would carry my bags and Nate in his carrier, but she insisted. I told her “No I have it”, “No, I have Nate”, “No, you can’t carry that, it’s too heavy” (I know how I pack – mom not so much). But she continued to persist so I gave in and handed her my boat bag with the computer, some clothes, and food in it. It was the lightest of everything I had.

Once we were downstairs I reached for the boat bag she was carrying and said “Okay, I’ll take it” as I was going to carry everything to the car and say goodbye to her at the front door. But again she said, “no, I’ll wait here with Nate and the bags, you go get the car.” I was thinking “what the heck?” – never in my life did it occur to me that this would be the last time I would see her.

The worst part about the memory I have of this day was that throughout my 25-year career in healthcare, I saw this all the time! – People waiting for their loved ones to leave and then the next thing you knew, they would die. That there always seemed to be this strange dynamic with the way they interacted with each other that would make you (or them) think “wow, that was weird..” and then they’d be gone.

One time, during the early 1990’s ish, I was in my office at the addiction treatment center where I worked in Connecticut. The phone rang and it was one of my patients, William, calling to tell me he was going to be in the hospital for a few nights longer then he thought. He had an “opportunistic” infection. He was a most amazing and insightful young man who had developed an addiction to cocaine, which along with his anxiety and depression had compromised his AIDs – symptoms, care, and medications.

As I listened to him on the phone, I was amazed by how much he was telling me about what he wanted to accomplish once he had completed our program. “I want to be an AIDS educator,” he told me. “I think I can really help a lot of people and the thing that I really want to tell them is ‘don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you’.” I was inspired by our conversation and told him “don’t worry, just feel better and I’ll hold a place for you”.

The next morning I arrived at my office and listened to the voicemail from his nurse at the hospital who informed me he had died around 4:00am that morning.

I knew that dynamic – and missed it – again and again and again.

So on a bright, sunny Sunday morning in early February of this year, mom helped me load Nate and my bags into the car and watch as I wrapped the seatbelt through the handles on Nate’s carrier while I told her how quieter he was when he sat in the front seat next to me. I didn’t even think about how strange this all was – which still baffles me.

I gave her a hug and a kiss said goodbye and never saw her alive again.

“Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nate had not always come with me when I initially went to visit mom on the weekends but I when I started driving back and forth more frequently and staying a little longer, I decided not to leave him alone. So back and forth we drove to and from Rhode Island every weekend.

A few times mom would ask “why don’t you leave him here with me?” “Mom – I’ll be back next weekend,” I said.  I think for her it was like being able to visit with the grandkids and spoil him while the parents were away. But the more significant thing was the fact that she also had her cats, Callie and Trey staying with her. As the Assisted living facility where she was staying only allowed one pet, we had to negotiate for the other.

I said to mom “really, the last thing we need is for the med nurse to come in in the morning and see three cats… the goal here is not to get evicted”.

“They won’t evict me”. she said, defiantly.

But Nate always traveled with me, sitting in his carrier quietly as we’d listen to audiobooks while trying to avoid heavy traffic during the Sundays when the Patriots played.

And together we were all settling into our more comfortable routine and it seemed like mom was settling into being back on the island – her home and spending time with friends she had not seen in years.

I never expected her to leave so soon and I miss her every day.

This grief thing? – not a fan.

Why I Will Never Own A Gun

fullsizeoutput_e03

I don’t want to hear it anymore. 

I’ve seen post after post about gun rights. Who should own a gun and who shouldn’t. Here’s the thing: I will never, ever, ever own a gun.

Yeah, I know – you’ve owned guns because you’ve used them hunting in the state where you’re from. And that’s an acceptable reason to own and use a gun and yes, it’s your 2nd Amendment right and I support that.  Not a fan of automatic assault rifles that can shoot several bullets in a few seconds is all I’m sayin’

But as we sit on the eve of having anyone in the world able to create an unregistered weapon from a 3D printer recipe on the internet – whelp, that’s where I’m stepping off of this train of the second amendment debate.

Here’s the article about 3D guns

I grew up with guns (several of them) in our home. Every single day, I only had to look up at the wall in our family room to see my father’s very extensive collection of guns. From the early 1800’s on forward, he had several guns, pistols and rifles and swords. He hunted as a young boy, joined the Navy and knew (was taught by his dad and trained by the Navy) how to use his guns. The ammunition was kept separately and far away from the guns he had (Mom – an ER Nurse – made sure of this).

The picture above is a photo of my grandmother – she didn’t hunt. She was a fisherman who used a drop line to catch fish. See a fishing pole in this picture? – It’s because there isn’t one. The Northeast is known for fishing. Watch any fisherman head miles out into the North Atlantic during the late summer / early Fall months when hurricanes and strong Nor’easters are prevalent and you will know how tough fishing can be. In our family, our freezer was filled with frozen fish that helped keep food on our table through the winter months. Ask me to join you for a dinner consisting of bluefish or mackerel and I will politely turn you down because I have had far too much… okay, maybe Cod.

My grandmother’s mom died shortly after giving birth to her. A few years later, her father was struck and killed by a cable car when he was crossing the street, leaving my grandmother in the care of her older sister and her sister’s boyfriend.  They didn’t have an easy life. But my grandmother made it through to marry my grandfather and give birth to my mom and her brother (my uncle).

To this day, I have never met a woman as firmly grounded in her values as my grandmother. How do I know this? – Because I tried to buy a gun.

It didn’t go over well and it wasn’t even real.

Once when I was visiting my grandmother, she gave me some money and said to go to the little store down the street to get whatever I wanted. So off I went and walked down the street trying to decide what I was going to purchase.

Upon reviewing all of the toys available to me, I selected a very small, bright orange squirt gun. (Nope, not kidding, it was a squirt gun). It was about two inches long and seemed to hold a lot of water in it. It wasn’t even one of those semi-automatic super soaker squirt guns that you see today; it was an “old” one (yeah, you probably weren’t even born yet so just keep reading..). Happily, I walked home, ready to fill it and squirt people – aka my grandmother (who was taking care of me while my parents were away).

When she saw the gun I had purchased she became apoplectic. “Take it back!” she demanded. I couldn’t understand why. “Take it back!” she said again. “Little girls do not use guns!” (I was six or seven years old at the time).

I walked back to the store, sad and dejected because she did not approve of my hunter / gatherer & squirt decision. I traded it in and returned with a super ball which I played with outside until it was time for dinner.

Over dinner, my grandmother explained to me that yes, some people owned guns that they used for hunting but that I did not need one. She also explained that police officers carried guns to protect those of us in our community and again affirmed that I would never need a gun. If there was a conflict that needed to be resolved, she explained, then this was what our brains were for. That we used our ability to communicate with each other tactfully and in a way that reduced any potential for violence.

“Use your head”, she said “that’s what it’s for; to communicate with each other and resolve arguments and misunderstandings. And if you ever need help, ask us!”

To this day, I have never forgotten the conviction she had during that conversation. 3 degrees and 2 graduate certificates later, I know for sure that I have enough knowledge, conviction, empathy, tact and compassion to know that I have a keen ability to resolve a lot of different conflicts. Guns will not be playing a part in my life (at least not of my choosing anyway).


As much as I often miss my grandmother, I’m glad that she is not around to see what the internet and 3D printing have produced as it relates to guns.

And while I will never know if guns in the possession of someone else will ever affect my life or the lives of my family and friends, I have learned that there are just some things in life that you can’t predict or control.

After 9/11 and United 93 (the flight that crashed in Shanksville, PA), I also learned that you can’t predict what will happen if terrorists take over your flight and try to fly it into a building or something else.  And that you certainly can’t predict who will stand up and try to overpower them, even if there is the potential that they will also die.

But this is where my head goes whenever there are increasing discussions about guns and gun violence:

Sometimes when I’m sitting by myself at a gate in an airport waiting for a plane, I look around for “that guy” or “that girl”. The one I think looks like they have the ability to stand up, fight back and overpower the terrorists and try to save those who are on the plane. I look at their posture, stance and non-verbals – trying to find the heroes among us – the ones you don’t notice and don’t know who walk among us every day. To me, these are people who don’t need guns. They have a keen, MacGyver like sense to figure out what to do and how to do it, quietly and collaboratively in a tribal, patriotic “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” sort of way – no matter who they are, no matter where they’re from, no matter what their gender, religion, education, nationality, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation is.

They’re just caring, compassionate people looking to help those who need help even though they don’t know them and even though they may die themselves.

They may use guns for hunting or drop lines to fish and / or their brain to communicate. But what’s equally as important is what Martin Luther King once described as the “content of their character”.

The Thing About Selfies…

xp0xMC+%Slu+XlSxYNDnYw

This is the top of Cadillac Mountain in Maine. I recently took a trip there with a friend hoping to get away for a nice weekend, eat some lobster and take some great photos. The other part of this story was that my mom had died a few months prior to this and she and my dad had taken my brother and I here on a vacation when we were really little.

Years ago, we went everywhere on that trip to Maine, but the trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain was my favorite. I remember taking the trip to Acadia National Park but I was so young that there were other parts of the trip that I couldn’t remember so revisiting this area was a way to reconnect with that memory and that time so long ago.

As with any National Park, it’s not uncommon to meet families from all over the world taking selfies and pictures of each other. As I stood watching them, I remembered my parents with their camera, taking pictures of my brother and I. This was back before there were cell phones, video cameras, cassette players in your car. It was so long ago that the car was a station wagon that had paneling on the side. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

I think Johnson may have been President. Back when the Beatles were not yet famous.

You get it right? – it was a long, long time ago.

Anyhoo – as I stood there watching, at least 10 families were taking pictures which were mostly selfies – extending their arms straight out to capture the picture of everyone with them.

Watching them bugged the heck out of me. I thought about how many pictures we had of our family together that it suddenly became very important for me to make sure every family I ran into had the ability to acquire the same memories and family photo that I did – a picture of them together. (And I mean TOGETHER – not this extended from an arm lengths away crap).

So it became my mission to ask every family I saw with a camera “hey, can I take that picture for you?”. Every one of them agreed and handed me their camera or their cell phone. And I didn’t take just one picture, I took at least five. And then I would teach them my favorite photography term – “scrunch up!”. It felt so good to see them all smile and hug their children and each other.

Suddenly – taking a picture, a panoramic like the one above (which I eventually did take when I ran out of families..) was not as important to me as making sure they all had great memories of a wonderful day in one of our country’s most beautiful parks.

At one point, I ran into two girls, sisters I think, who had a camera that I couldn’t get to focus. The camera owner acknowledged she had been struggling with it and said “I’m having trouble with my lens, here use my phone.” She handed me her iPhone and I was able to get great shots of the two of them together. But then I looked at the phone and had no idea what the language was on the phone. 

So I asked them “what language is this?” and they said “Finnish!”. “Ahh, land of the happy people” I told them (suddenly not sure if it was Finland or Denmark), but they laughed and went on their way, walking down the trail to get a better view of the beautiful sunset.

Watching them walk away from me I realized that I haven’t taken enough vacations to our national parks. And I realized that there may be a difference between taking a selfie and being fully present and engaged in a photo together with the ones you love the most.

No comments