We often look at photojournalists and think, how could you do what they do. How could you stand around taking photos while people are suffering or could benefit from your help? On the other hand, we rarely think about transfering that realm into something tragic that happens in our own eyes, but that is exactly what Abe did.
On the afternoon of December 9th, Abe called the paramedics and his mom was taken to the hospital for trouble breathing. He documented the ambulances at the house and he stated that "at first we thought it was just a cold or pneumonia. She had already had difficulties breathing but this wasn’t our first trip to the hospital. I took the initial photos of the emergency vehicles arriving on Monday 12/9/13 because over the years I have shared intimate details about my life on Facebook as a way to cope." His mom was then put in the ICU and after a few days transferred to a regular unit on December 12th for doing better. "She was moved back to the ICU the next day and I knew something wasn’t right," Abe said. Later on the 13th when he was visiting she forgot his name, and she slowly declined and Abe was made medical power of attorney (POA) on December 14th. After being made POA, on the 14th Abe had to authorize putting his mom in a medical induced coma and on a ventilator to help her body rest and fight the infection. Abe then started to document the process with his mother in the only true way he knew how, photos.
On December 17th they made the decision they would take his mother off life support later in the evening. There would be no CPR or life saving measures. Abe removed his moms earrings and cried. Her rings were taken off and they braided her hair to donate it to locks of love. They sat with her and at 7:02pm they removed the ventilator. She quietly passed at 7:34pm.
The entire time Abe's mom was in the hospital, her oxygen levels were low and continued to decline. The doctors didn't know why she wasn't responding to treatments. It wasn't till Abe saw the death certificate that the official cause was pneumonia and COPD from being obese. In situations like these we always wonder what we could have done differently. I spoke with Abe about the process and asked what he would have changed with his documentation. He explained "I would have taken photos of my mom from the very beginning. I would have shared more of her day to day status on Facebook so others could follow and I would have an outlet to cope. I would have photographed her awake and smiling when she could. I would have photographed my dad sitting in the chair who refused to leave her side the entire nine days." While going through the process Abe got sick and ended up having a panic attack on the way to the hospital one day. For the most part as far as emotions went, he said "I separated myself from the situation by suppressing all emotions while photographing. I worked as if it was any other job that needed a story to be told. Later, after I took the last photos of my mom being placed into the hearse I was able to break down. I sobbed uncontrollably and let it all out."
When I asked Abe why he decided to document his mothers hospital stay was that he got "the initial idea in [his] brain to photograph [his] mom in the hospital from Jared Polin of Fro Knows Photo. For years [he has] listened to his podcast and followed his work. He went through this same process with his own mother and [Abe] believe that memory made it “ok” to photograph [his] own mom." He edited the photos right away and posted them to a separate section on his website titled 'mom.' Often we document the good in our life but we forget how much pain and suffering we go through. Sometimes it's sad but it's a natural process. After this experience Abe insisted "photograph everyone you care about and don’t dare put down the camera until you tell the entire story. Don’t sugar coat the truth; be honest, be open, be real." If you're going to document life, document it all.
View the rest of Abe's photos of his mother here. If you'd like to send him condolences, feel free to email him, email@example.com.