"We cried when we first saw our hand portrait.

We held hands and hugged a lot until he died a month later. The photograph sits in my living room where I can see it everyday. I show that photograph to everyone, it warms my heart to do so. It is the one thing that I cherish most; it keeps Ray here. You do a very special service Mary. I will cherish your gift for the rest of my life."

Sheila

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Photographs by Mary Landberg

Hospice Portraits Blog

Sisters

Sisters

Anne and Donna have been sisters for seventy-six years. I offered a hand portrait to them after I photographed Anne and her husband Howard, who was in his last days. Howard was nearly comatose and hadn’t uttered an intelligible word in days. I had Anne and Donna sit near the window, knee-to-knee and face-to-face. Donna said nervously, “Thank you for …

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Love Letter

A Love Letter to Samantha

Samantha confessed that her biggest disappointment of her long life was that she never received a love letter. She said remorsefully, “It’s too late.” She was dying from ALS. I suggested that we write the perfect love letter. She liked the idea. Her hands were too tremulous to write, so I grabbed a pen and a note pad. I thought …

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Laurel

From Compassion to Rage and Back

I found Laurel in a run down foster home with too many residents and inadequate help. She was tucked away in a back bedroom no larger than a walk-in closet. She was lying on filthy sheets with several rings of dried urine; I could smell her bedsores from the doorway. Her caregivers were in the den eating fast food in their …

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Leroy

The Protector of the Underdog

Leroy was thrilled to learn that Cassius Clay was going to stop at his school en route to Rome for the 1960 Olympics. Leroy was a social science major at San Jose State University. He had a passion for boxing. Leroy couldn’t believe his eyes when he walked into the gym. The PE coach was pulling his classmates out of …

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More Conversations

More Conversations

Everybody is going to die. There are a lot of people in denial about this. Somehow people think that they can avoid death, like its optional. A lot of physicians share the same mindset, and I don’t blame them, entirely. Up until most recently, the North American medical school culture taught their medical students that death was the enemy. They …

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Social Withdrawal

Social Withdrawal

Janet was crushed when her husband Will didn’t want to go to church anymore. Janet took it personally, so did many people at their church. For decades he was known at his church as the “Beacon of Will.”  He loved to organize social events to “bring good folks together.” He was delightful; he had that special quality that put people instantly …

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Attachment

Attachment

Laurie and I stood expectantly on opposite sides of the bed where her husband Don was living the last hour of his life. He was dying from metastatic prostate cancer. He had been at the nursing nursing home for the last three weeks. Laurie and Don had been married for “forty-seven glorious years.” We each placed our hands on Don’s …

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Storytelling

Storytelling

Sandy spent the last three nights in the ancient high back armchair next to her mother’s bed. Sandy’s vigil was taking a significant toll on her on many levels. I met her on the morning of the fourth day. It looked like Sandy was holding her breath in-between inhalations. Sandy’s furrowed brow, rigid posture and the bloodshot sorrow in her …

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Snow

Shoveling Snow

Today while visiting John, who was dying from pancreatic cancer, I observed a very common contest of wills between siblings about destiny vs. coincidence. A very spirited debate emerged from idle chat about the snowy weather outside. John’s sister Karen said matter-of-fact, “If I didn’t hurt my back shoveling snow three years ago, the doctors wouldn’t have found the tumor …

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Earl

Car Part Metaphors

Earl’s friends said he could fix anything with a Swiss army knife, a couple large paperclips and some WD40 (which he always had tucked in one of his large pockets of his overalls.) He was MacGyver personified. He loved to tinker with old cars. He had a little shop on his property where he spent all of his waking hours. …

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