Stages: An 18 Month Journey with my Mom and iPhone By Justin Press

Stages: An 18 Month Journey with my Mom and iPhone

By Justin Press

The old adage is that the best camera is the one you have with you and with that said, no doubt your phone is your realistic constant companion. Yes, I know many take a small bag with them and carry a smaller kit but your day to day, a phone and in this case the iPhone 8+ became my mind’s eye.

My mum recently passed due to complications from dementia and a broken hip, the former for anyone over 80 is a hard road to navigate, add dementia into the mix and it’s nothing more than a waiting game. For the last 18 months she was under my care and the several facilities that took her in I decided to document her journey because I felt it was important to explain this disease to others and to help me better understand the hardship and what my mum and I were embarking on.

She was a child of the Battle of Britain as her family lived in Birmingham and the West Midlands where the Luftwaffe decimated the countryside going after manufacturing and munitions. So basically my mother was as tough as a bloody coffin nail. We knew something was amiss several years back, we thought it was isolation since my father passed or just normal aging, little did we know it was her mind and memories going, dementia was a foreign term to our family. Her sister suffered the same fate, but in typical English manner, it was all stiff upper lip and onward thru the fog.

Though in no exact order these images help tell when she was just new to the idea of dementia and then as time progressed and she regressed, the narrative is apparent. The hospital shots are after her fall and broken hip, post surgery and then a short stint in rehab which proved futile and eventually not eating, depression and other infections spread eventually stealing her from us. When she fell, which she had repeated times, and her hip was diagnosed I knew the end was going to come swiftly. Walking was her last freedom as her mind was no longer her own, and when that freedom became nothing more than a wheelchair and a bed, I could tell that she wanted nothing more of this life.

At first I thought these images painful but the more I look at them and examine them they tell the story that many will face in their own family and maybe even themselves might be headed towards sadly so I feel it’s okay to peel back the curtain and address this issue thru the lens.

The iPhone 8+ let me be stealth and unobtrusive while giving me just enough of a quality image to hold the story together. Thank you Steve and Brandon for letting me take a few people on this journey.

*Ive included one when of her first passport phot when she was young and radiant and having a ball living in post-war London. Also, my wife is in several shots and she proved so essential to making my mother find some comfort.

Best, Justin

Justin Press

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48 Comments

  1. Having gone through something somewhat similar your post evoked many of my own memories. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you. The pictures of her hands reminds me of the images I took when my mother got old, and whens she was dying. So much beauty in old people’s hands.

  3. Wow…what a deep post. Really touched my heart, these images put the finishing touch on the whole thing. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey in your life. It’s important we document these times no matter how sad they may be. Sorry for your loss, glad you’re in our community 🙂

    • Brandon, thank you so much for your kind words and allowing me to be a part of this wonderful community. Always, Justin

  4. Merci pour cette histoire extrêmement touchante et personnelle… que beaucoup d’entre nous ont traversé.
    Je ne suis pas un fan de l’iPhone en photo… mais vous avez réussi à le mettre au service de votre histoire et de vos émotions… Bravo!
    Que votre maman repose en paix au paradis des mamans… ;( 😉

  5. Wow, speechless. I went through that exact circumstance and the images rang very close to home. Sorry you had to go through it along with your mum. It is very tough. Thank you for posting this Mr.Huff.

  6. Justin,

    Your artistic spirit as a photographer is only matched by your loyalty and strength as a son. Thanks for the inspiration and beautiful images.

    Gene Fama

  7. Thank you everyone for your kind words regarding this photo essay. As I wrote I thought the idea of releasing the images of such private matters would conflict with my mum’s quiet demeanor but after she passed away I knew it was imperative to be able to share these with others so that if anything they realize that they are not alone in dealing with this disease as a caregiver, family member, friend or even someone in the throes of it personally. I worry for my own mind and plan on taking some tests to see if detection is available. This is part of a larger project I am working on called You Bastard which refers to the first thing that came out of my mother’s mouth when she understood I was taking over her life’s care. She knew that her independence was going to become as foggy as her memory and she lashed out. I was hit, slapped, cursed, had vases thrown at me, all the usual anger reactions. But as soon as you understand that this person before you is not who they were you just tend to roll with it and learn that life with them becomes an a life in improv. Thank you all again, your words were so generous.

  8. This is the essence of photography. Such emotional storytelling. Probably the best images I’ve seen on this site and not a single mention of megapixels, bokeh, or gear.

    • Hello. My mum was 87 just a few weeks shy of her 88th at her passing. She was living in The Villages, Florida prior to me bringing her to Texas. My father and her had a lovely house in the active retirement community but when he passed in 2008 I thought she’d leave but she had her life there but over time the isolation and lack of making new friends and her typical English manner wore her down, plus she was being over-prescribed by a doctor and that is a whole other matter, areas like that are a Pharm company’s hard target. I brought her to Fort Worth in Dec 2016 and she eventually moved about several facilities due to being a flight risk and I was always searching for places that offered more stimuli. If she just suffered from dementia she could have lived longer but when she feel and broke her hip, it was the clock tolling. With dementia since the idea of progression is non-existent so rehab was not working for her because unlike you and I who understand that on this day we made 10 more steps in our therapy she just feels pain.

  9. Thanks Justin, for sharing your last 18 months with your mother. Enjoy the beautiful memories for they will never fade.

    • Greg, what a beautiful and heart wrenching article. We are so much closer than we know due to our similar experience and our idea to document this in order to help not only ourselves but hopefully others. Godspeed to your father and your family.

  10. Dear Justin,
    I’m so sorry for your mom.
    Thanks a lot for sharing these precious and very private pictures.
    I’m glad you also included her first passport photo.
    You had a very beautiful mother.

    R.I.P

    • Harvey, thank you my friend. I am looking at broadening the reach of this item and I thank you for the suggestion.

  11. Fout years ago I did the same. Making a picture story of my Dad fading away in the elderlyhome in just a period of nine months. Only I never did publish, hesitating about this. But the pictures tell more than words can do.

    Is did use my HTC phone. So he did not notice taking the pictures. A simple camera, but the pictures are really dramatic.

    • Ronald, why not embrace those images and his story and release them now, they will still have a resonance and help his name live on just in a different manner. My word I am sure my mum is looking down and going “oh hell what is all the fuss about? Plus i look dreadful”

  12. My late mom forbade photos of her terminal illness.
    I am glad I did not..take any photos.
    Nicer to look as Mom before, vibrant, exciting and full of life.
    The photos here done with passion and are good.

  13. Justin, I commend you and Renee for taking charge with caring for your mum during a very difficult and heartbreaking time of the life cycle. It’s a privilege, never a sacrifice to rise to the challenge. Some people, just can’t do it, while others regret not trying after it’s too late and they are gone. Peace to you and those with no regrets and no complaints for accepting the most honorable role as caretaker for your mum. Hugs

  14. What an amazing thing to do, and to expose such sensitive and personal part of your life Justin. This series of life’s moments far eclipses talk about photo gear, sensor image noise, hdr, etc. I would hope your images inspire more photographers to focus on taking photos in order to preserve their personal life’s moments and share with the rest of us via such websites as this one offered by Steve. (I hope Steve does not mind me saying this).

    • Eli. Thank you thank you and thank you. I hope that for all the fervor over equipment and I think Steve would agree that the end result is all that it all boils down to. Did our gear provide an image that can move people, even if just for a moment.

  15. Really great work, Justin! This is photography to the fullest!
    Both my wife and me have lost our parents. We recognize a lot in your pictures from their last months. It pulls me back to that kind of protest that I feel, how I find it utterly unfair that so many have to fight their toughest battle a the end of their life. Yet everyone’s situation is different, which makes is so worth while documenting it – for personal reasons as well as for providing a testimony. I’m sure it can be comforting for many.
    There’s a big matter of taking the shots without being intrusive. I agree that the iPhone is the right tool.
    The use of the equipment is on itself totally irrelevant in this. Your pictures prove that the story is the one and only thing that matters. How superior a picture gets, when it’s showing real life, instead of showing “posing people”! Many will be reluctant to take such pictures, the more to show them. I find it very brave from your part. And the quality of your work (great timing and framing – and pp – are still essential parameters!) proves that it is incredibly valuable indeed to do so.
    I’m thankful for you, posting this report, Jurgen. And for Steve, having created a platform that makes this possible.

    • Dirk I am blessed beyond belief with your sentiments. Anyone that comes to Steve’s site is very studied in the art of photos and your words really lift me. My thoughts to you and your wife for your losses. Many of these pictures were just to capture for private reasons and to share with my brother who lived on the other side of the country. But the more I got into them I knew that I had a greater responsibility. I miss my mom’s smile and when I dressed up for Halloween as a horse (her fav animal) I knew those had to be documented because she was confused but truly happy. My mind alone was not enough, I needed a black & white remembrance piece.

  16. Absolutely amazing photo’s Justin! She was lucky to have you as a son and your wife by her side. At some point, we will all face our “end” whether it’s from dementia or some other disease, the outcome will be the same. This is a bit like looking in the mirror to me as we are all united in the ending…..

    • John, thank you so much for your lovely words. I hope it helps us all give thought to our own lives and those we love be it our spouses, children and family/friends.

  17. Love this! She must have been a good mom to raise such a great son! The pictures do tell the story.

    • Michele, thank you. The irony of all of this is that my mum and I were a bit hard headed and we were estranged for a while prior to this, the woman could hold a grudge. At first I took it on because it was what my father would have expected of me and I adored the man. But after we got settled I learned how much i Loved my mother, she instilled all that I love into my being: travel, film, music, reading. When she passed a massive part of me went with her. But honestly at first it was nails.

  18. Jesus, those eyes on the passport. Now she’s that beauty for ever. Regards.

    • Phillips you’re telling me. From 1945 to 1965 she made a good living modeling and her eyes I am sure destroyed many a man, thankfully my father held on for dear life. But yes her passport photo is pure golden age Hollywood.

  19. A very touching photo story! I am always taken aback about the quality phone-cameras produce these days. The compact consumer camera is surely doomed…

  20. Such a compelling documentation of the dementia journey. My Dad is also a sufferer but I’ve never been brave enough to record those final precious moments. Your work has inspired me to do just that – thank you for sharing.

  21. Thank you so much for sharing this highly personal journey. I truly appreciated your doing so. And thank you for your expressive and articulate photography.

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