I think most photographers, or creatives in general, have something that keeps them going. A force to keep them motivated. Something to remind them why they’re doing what they’re doing. Sometimes these things are seeing your calendar filled, money in the bank account or making your kids proud. Honestly, I had never put much thought into it. I was doing it because I liked it. Then, in December 2014 I got a call from my Grandma and her words crushed me… “the doctors wonder if I’m ever going to bring Poppa home from here.” I was shopping in HomeSense in Guelph, and my heart dropped to my stomach and my eyes welled up with tears. I’ve never left so many unnecessary purchases in a store so fast. I sat in my car and I cried. I cried because I knew what that meant, he wasn’t coming home and it was only a matter of time.
My Poppa has been sick as long as I can remember. We always joked that he had more plastic parts in him than real parts. I remember when I was 7 years old dancing around on my Grandmas pink carpet and baking chocolate chip cookies with her while my Poppa sat in his recliner in the living room listening to classical music with his eyes closed and making ridiculous hand signals like he was a composer right in front of the symphony with them. He came into the kitchen, still making hand motions and lifted up his shirt just slightly because he always knew the fact that he lost his belly button in a surgery made me HOWL with laughter. A few years l began to take an interest in my Poppas camera. Poppa was a photographer who was also in the Air Force. He travelled around the world, and while serving our country, still made time to capture memories so his grandkids could see them one day. He also ran the Cinesphere in OntarioPlace before they shut it down. He was always incredibly proud to show me his photographs, even if it was just from the community centre buffet dinner and poker night.
Poppa was at the small, community hospital in the city where they lived. This hospital wasn’t made for emergency, dire situations so when my Grandma told me that’s where he was I wasn’t too concerned. I mean, we just went out shopping and for lunch the week before – so it couldn’t be that bad right? It took everything I had in my body to hold back the tears forming when I walked in that room. Poppa was a vegetable. I will NEVER forget that. I could tell he so badly was trying to form words. He was looking at me but he couldn’t say anything. My Grandma was so frustrated trying to communicate with him, but I didn’t know what to say to make it better. When I walked out of that hospital, I broke down in the parking lot, and it hit me, the man who ultimately peaked my interest in photography wasn’t here anymore. He was here, but he wasn’t here.
Just about a week later, my Mom got a late night phone call from my Aunt. As soon as I heard her say “what hospital?” I knew what the issue was. I grabbed my stuff and ran out of the house as fast as I could. I didn’t bother to ask what hospital he was at, I just needed to start going. I was living in Cambridge at the time and I knew he would be in London, so I started heading that way. For you non-Ontario folks, there’s pretty well only one way to get to London and it’s a long 1.5 hour highway drive. On my way there I called every large hospital in London to finally find what one he was at, and I adjusted my GPS from there. I ran up to the neurosurgery floor as fast as I could and the whole family was there. This was it. I knew this was it. All 10 of us went into a meeting with the neuro doctor and decided what was best. Poppa always told us he did not, under any circumstances, want to live on machines or live in a home. He wanted his house and his independence. A DNR was signed and I’ll never forget the next conversation. When we went back in the room, Poppas eyes were ever so slightly opened and I knew that he could tell something was wrong because the only time the whole family is together is Christmas.
Grandma: “ok Bill. They’re going to do a surgery on your brain and make you feel better ok? It’s going to get you better.”
Poppa: (under mumbled words of course) “I don’t want to get better.”
My heart sank into my stomach again. We all knew that but I think it was harder hearing it. I stayed at the hospital until about 4am that night to make sure the surgery went ok, and then we took my Grandma home.
5 days later, December 13th, 2014, nothing was getting better. Grandma and I talked to the ICU doctor and confirmed that Poppa would in fact be living on machines for the rest of his life. Grandma looked me in the eyes and said “Do you hate me?”. 2 hours later, Poppa had passed.
Today I was listening to a country mix on YouTube, and Cole Swindells “You Should Be Here” came on, and I’ll be honest, I absolutely cried. My Poppa should be here. He should be here. I wish he didn’t have to miss the amount of success I have had moving here. My Grandma wrote me a card when I moved here that include the words “Poppa would be proud of you.” I wish he didn’t have to miss this. I selfishly, very selfishly, want him here. I want to be proud of my work when I show it to him, I want to talk lenses and cameras and gear neither of us needed. I want to show him all the crazy technology. I want to hear him say “good job kid, take care.” Like always.
Poppa, here’s to you. I hope you're enjoying dirty martinis with extra olives, I hope you've reunited with Pebbles, and I hope you're listening to all the classical music your heart desires. You are absolutely my inspiration, my “why”, my motivation. I love you and miss you every single day.