Last year whilst on a trip to Bruges looking at all the usual historic sites, I kept seeing a little poster advert. It was entitled, ‘Right, before I die’ and suggested it was a photographic exhibition. The picture on the poster of an elderly lady along with the juxtaposition of the comma in the title had caught my attention and I was keen to see where this exhibition was. Finally on the last day, after we had visited an 11th century hospital building, the last historic site that our schedule allowed, I spotted the poster at the foot of a winding staircase. My curiosity led me up the stairs into a large attic room, where this exhibit stretched before us. Along the walls of this space was a series of 20 photographs, all taken of an individual that knew they were facing impending death. Accompanying each photograph was a narrative based on interviews with each person, reflecting on their thoughts about their life, and death, and dying, showing also their own handwritten notes. Given that a couple of months prior I had found out that my own Dad, so active and vital and full of health, was too facing a terminal diagnosis, I was intrigued to read every single account from every person that stretched across this main wall.
There was a very quiet, almost reverential feeling in this room as I took in these people, their faces, looking right into my eyes. I read about their lives, their hopes and fears realised, and tried to make some sense from it all.
I learnt later that this 2 year project was created by photographer and American artist Andrew George who spent time in a hospice to capture the pictures and stories. He summed it up best with his words:
‘I believe it takes real courage to accept that everything we see as so vital and integral to our lives will vanish. Some of us will have the fortitude to go beyond the fear of our mortality and confront this unknown journey bravely.’
For me I was struck by the themes of love that came through from their words, and for some regrets, for not loving enough. One lady, Sara, said:
‘I think growing up with love makes people give love back. And you have to give love to receive love, you have to be good, without expecting anything in return. You do it because it comes from within you to do it. I like to help people who are in need – if I see a person who needs help, I will do so even if I don’t know them, because I know they have a need I don’t….and they do. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong,’
What I took from this is that all we will remember is love.