I COULDN’T TAKE THE PICTURE.
I’ve worked as a photojournalist. I’ve taken pictures of dead teenagers whose bodies were still trapped inside a car that a train mauled, shoved, and crushed 200 yards down a railroad track before braking to a stop.
I’ve taken pictures of a family standing beside the ruins of their burned house while firemen were still searching for the bodies of two boys—one with asthma who couldn’t get out past the smoke and one who went back in to get his brother.
But I couldn’t take the picture of my mother hovering over her dying son last week.
I saw the picture and recognized it immediately. This is THE picture of the sad story unfolding after my little brother’s heart attack. No other photo would tell the story as well, with such passion and grace. I was sure of that.
I was there at the hospital because I knew my brother was dying. His brain couldn’t survive the oxygen deprivation it experienced.
The minute we got word that the hospital would pull the ventilator at noon the next day, we rushed to pack and drive the 800 miles. Me. My wife. My grown daughter. My grown son.
We were the original Stephen M. Miller and Linda A. Miller family, reunited without the grandkids or the in-laws.
We drove all night. I nearly hit a deer, but missed it because my son sitting beside me said, “deer, Deer, DEER!” Each “deer” got progressively louder.
After I drove the first leg, my son took a turn. In the middle of the night I asked him to please stop chewing those fireballs. I needed sleep. He needed teeth.
He kept chewing them because he needed to stay awake. He has a two-year-old and a four-year-old. He comes to most any event tired even in daylight.
At the hospital, there must have been nearly 20 souls waiting to say goodbye to my brother.
The doc, a bit grumpy and later apologetic about it, let us go up only two at a time. The process lingered to the point that my daughter started weeping and pacing and worrying out loud that she might not get to see him before the doctor pulled the tubes.
We all saw him.
He labored to breathe on his own for most of another day after the breathing tubes came out. We all got to see that struggle, too.
Many of us kissed my brother and told him it was okay to go. I know he heard Psalm 23 from at least three Bible versions. No telling how many prayed the Lord’s Prayer with him.
As for me, I spent most of my moments with him laying my face against his and kissing him on the cheek and forehead and talking in whispers, just as I had done with our dad 19 years ago. I remember that like it was 19 seconds ago.
There are pictures I’ve taken that disgusted, that inspired, or that melted the hearts of people who saw them.
But the most powerful picture I’ve seen with my own eyes is the picture I didn’t take. I couldn’t.
When I stepped into that hospital room with just myself, Mom, and little brother, I wasn’t the photographer, the journalist, or the blogger.
I was living inside the story. The phone camera would stay in my pocket.
Mom was kissing one side of my brother’s face.
The other side waited for me.
Maybe that’s why the hospital allows only two at a time to visit the dying.
If that’s the reason, it’s a good one.
“If you’ve loved someone enough to mourn them when they’re gone,
God has blessed you.
Now he’ll comfort you.” —Jesus, Matthew 5:4 Casual English Bible