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
A beautiful tribute, Steve. With your usual sense of humor and sense of awe.
As you know, I’ve lost three people very close to me in the past 6 months. (None to Covid, FWIW.) It never gets any easier, but each teaches us a little more about how precious, fragile and short life is.
Blessings to your family. I’m glad you got the chance to say one final goodbye.
David H. Hagen
So sorry for your loss, Stephen. Being the youngest of seven siblings, I was just thinking I’d better try preparing my heart for times such as this. But can one ever be prepared for it? I don’t think so.
May God bless you and your family with peace through this time.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Steve. We’ve all had it tough this year, it seems.
Stephen M. Miller
We only think we’ve prepared for it. All we can do is react, it seems. And hurt.
But in the middle of it all, God is there. We see him in many ways and places, I think.
I sure hope we’re not imagining him. Sometimes in lonely moments, it can feel like we do. A wise man once said to Jesus: “I believe. Help me when I can’t” (Mark 9:24 Casual English Bible).
I am so sorry for your loss — it’s been heck of a year for all. Our only comfort is the Lord. Mom passed in April, I sold the house and moved into a small condo June 23 with too much furniture, a mailbox that doesn’t work, no underwear or t-shirts to be found, and toilet paper that was packed somewhere. I just found the plates, a dumpster on the other side of the condos. I am going to throw out more of my things like cds and cassettes — my classical music – no room!!!! Thank the Lord for my cloud Lol. I thought my condo (1200 square feet) was big enough. I could of saved a lot of money If I just threw more things away, but they were precious things — memories of better days, something to hold on to as we go through this Pandemic in isolation. I have moms purse that I clutch to and have a good cry. I had to give up moms cat because she went crazy during the move and bit and injured two of my friends. Thank God for my niece who has helped me. Someday we will all embrace each other again and mourn and even rejoice to feel alive.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks Wayne. I’ll make you a deal. You hang in there and I’ll hang in there. Peace to you, Wayne.
My deepest sympathy…thank you for sharing such an intimate moment with your readers. Your brother would be proud of your loving tribute.
Stephen M. Miller
Thank you, Rosemary. This kind of stuff is hard to write and it runs against the writer’s grain to share it. But I think this kind of thing is some of the most important work I do in life.
Sometimes I feel that writing a short email to someone in pain can be more worthwhile than spending a year writing a book. It would be just like God to arrange something like that.
He throws curve balls. Always has.
Sorry for your lost steve, may your brother rest In peace. May the lord, cover you and your family with much Love In these trying times. I will keep you and your family In prayer.
God bless you always