One of my first male friends I can remember having is Chris Sheehan. We met in the third grade and our friendship has endured. Chris is smart, hilarious, and loyal, and I love this kid like a brother. By some sort of small town mathematics, since I consider Chris a brother I consider his siblings like my family. I am not alone in my personal theory of relativity, and thousands of people feel connected to the Sheehan/Shaw family through a sibling, a parent, a cousin, or an uncle. The entire town calls Chris' dad Chief. Which only struck me as odd when my boyfriend asked why I kept calling him that. Aggravated I answered, 'because that's his name.'
So, when Chris' brother, Dan, and his wife, Natalie, also a Marshfield native, were suffering, Marshfield stepped up in a mighty way.
Fourteen years after a brain surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation and 24 years after her diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease, my mom is still here on earth with us. Which is a result of an incredibly strong heart muscle, Western medicine, some Girl From New Hampshire grit, and a genuine, deeply rooted lack of suffering. In spite of everything my mom could suffer about, my mother does not suffer. Suffering, she has inadvertently taught everyone around her, is a choice. Every day she gets up and she is inspired and motivated to accomplish any and all daily tasks. She lives in a nursing home among dedicated, incredible staff, and she attends crafts, bingo, trivia, happy hour (BYO chardonnay!), and choga (which if ya don't know, now ya know: is chair yoga)! My mom can barely open her eyes, cannot use her legs at all, and can use her arms less every year, but she does not even mention it.
And this is my MOM!! This is who I'm from! With all the pain and all the tears and all the anger, I feel like the luckiest person in the world! And everyone who works with her at the nursing home feels the same way. Watching someone who is motivated and inspired by her challenges, not defeated by them, is the greatest gift anyone could give this world.
Over the 24 years of watching my mom become trapped in her own body I have been through many stages of sadness, anger, and grief myself. A few years ago, taking a page from my mom's Do Not Suffer book, I had an idea how to get us back into the Mother Daughter Creative Duo we once were. I started to bring my camera and tripod into her nursing home and photographing the two of us together. She tried her hardest to open her eyes to look right at the camera like I asked her to, and she tried hard to make her face smile because when she's working alongside me creatively she's feeling her very best. I could tell she knew the pain and love and hardship I was trying to convey in the photographs, and like a soldier she became the subject of those photographs. My dad even posed for one with his prosthetic leg beside him. My parents are brave.
I don't want anyone to feel bad when they look at these photographs. I want you to see strength and love, grit and
family, loyalty and life. This is what
life looks like, too, sometimes. Right
there alongside the babies and the weddings and the young families. And
when it's all over, it was all beautiful, it was all perfect, and all we'll see