The Spark That Changed My Life
I’ve been asked-‘how in the world does a nurse practitioner become a photographer and writer? I also hear, 'What exactly do you do again?’ I get it. What I do is not ordinary. I have a hard time describing it sometimes.
The easy answer is that there was a 'spark', an 'ah ha moment', a flash of knowing that totally changed my life.
Before the Spark...
I’ve been a nurse for 37 years and nurse practitioner (NP) for over 16 years. I’m a family NP which means I see people of all ages. Most of my NP work has been with the elderly (geriatrics) and specifically in care of those with dementia. I’ve done house calls and also worked in clinics. While I always enjoyed my work, it just never felt complete for me. I wanted to do more, but I wasn't sure what the ‘more’ would be.
One day in clinic, I saw a husband and wife I knew fairly well. The wife had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease a few months before. She was so scared, and I was never quite sure what to say to her. It’s times like this when I remembered that the best thing I could offer was me- my time and my undivided attention. Our visits always ended with a hug. Actually, many of my visits ended with hugs. This was one of the best parts of my job.
On this day, she seemed to be a bit more at ease. Her husband, was however a little tearful. I could tell he was on the edge of crying. They came to ask me about hospice. The begin with telling me that they know it’s too early to think about hospice but if I could just her with a big request. She wanted me to set up visits with hospice so that when the time came that she would need it, her husband wouldn’t be burdened with choosing the right one for her.
Words can't describe how this conversation impacted me. I’m pretty sure I could visually see the love connection between this couple. I could certainly feel it! She was strong and certain about what she wanted for her husband. He reassured her that he would be fine and they didn't have to do the hospice referral now. He worried it would be too much for her. This is a visit where I put my laptop down, closed it and listened. I offered some suggestions and options, but mostly I listened, supported and was left almost breathless by this loving couple.
As I walked down the hall after this visit, it hit me. I needed to write a book and tell THESE stories. The stories of love and devotion that I was honored to hear and even be a part of every day are the ones that most of don’t get to hear about.
Years of Preparation
I have attended writing and publishing workshops and while I knew I would write something, I just wasn’t sure what. I tried to write about my own experiences as a Blue Star Mom and the time when my son was in Iraq at the age of 19. It’s been 10 years but to be honest, it’s still a bit raw for me. That’ll be my next project though. For now and on this day with that special couple, my vision was so clear. This was less than a year ago.
And About Photography?
Once I had this epiphany, I thought that I needed to have photos. I couldn’t imagine telling these beautiful stories of love and devotion without having images of the people in the stories. I've been a shutterbug since I was old enough to grab a camera. It's a gift to be able to see and intuit those moments between the moments that make a good photographer a great one. I'm not sure if my intuition helped me to be a better nurse or if nursing amplified my intuition, but I naturally assumed I would include my own photographs in the book.
I started the interviews and photo sessions and realized just how happy I was behind the camera. A photography business was born! I continue to practice and learn. One thing I learned is that while technology is important, a good eye, kind heart and big smile along with natural talent always trumps technical skill.
Elder Remembrance Photography
A year ago, I had the thought of writing the book thanks to that lovely couple and others who so freely shared their lives with me. I’ve since left my full time clinical work to write this book and do photography. Expected publication is Winter of 2017. The title I have picked is Love Still Lives Here and it’ll be filled with stories of love and devotion of people with dementia and their
families. While writing Love Still Lives Here, it became quite clear to me that our elderly and especially those with dementia are often neglected in family photos and portraits. The most recent photo many have are decades old. Time is valuable and short. We will never be younger than we are right now and right now is perfectly beautiful even if there are wrinkles or other concerns. I thought about the grandchildren who won't have photos of themselves with their grandparents. The opportunities to have multigenerational photos taken are few.
This is how a nurse becomes a writer and photographer! It’s not that crazy of an idea. I am a nurse practitioner and certified advanced practice holistic nurse. Would you believe that qualities of a good photographer are also qualities of a holistic nurse? We see with our eyes, listen with our hearts and are guided by intuition. We pay attention and use our intuition. Photography can be healing for the subject and in my case, the photographer as well. I have always loved photography but if I hadn’t been pulled to write and photograph Love Still Lives Here, I probably wouldn’t have considered a photography career.
Yet, what I experience from behind the camera is more fulfilling than most of my days as a nurse. What I experience visiting with those with dementia and their families is something I have difficulty expressing with words. Good thing I’ve got pictures to help get the message across! I’ve realized that dementia creates a spiritual crisis like no other disease process. Spirituality is a main theme of the book. You’ll see more about this in future blog posts.