Hospice Photography – Preserving Moments of Love Forever
I am a hospice nurse and photographer. Over three hundred and fifty hospice families have given me permission to bring my camera into a most sacred and vulnerable time in their lives. I offer free portraiture to the dying and their loved ones. I personally gift families with matted prints and images on CD. I strive to capture that unwavering expression of love and connection that endures between people living with terminal illness. I don’t typically photograph faces. I photograph hands holding each other in tender embrace. Remarkably, no two hand portraits are exactly alike.
The hand portrait journey started about four years ago when I was silently holding hands with Franklin, a peaceful ninety-four year old WWII veteran dying from Alzheimer’s disease. He was quietly finishing up the last hour of his life in his barren little room at a nursing home. The old-fashioned rotary phone at his bedside rang. I took one of my hands from Franklin’s and quietly said hello into the receiver. It was his beloved grandson John. When I told John I thought his grandfather would most likely die within the hour, he sobbed, “Oh how I wish I could hold his hand just one more time, I miss him so much.” I shared with John that I was holding his grandfather’s hand so I offered the idea of snapping a photo of our hands with my phone and texting it to him. He eagerly agreed. Within seconds, the photo of our hands arrived on John’s phone, two thousand miles away. I heard John burst into joyous tears, “He looks so peaceful and he isn’t alone. That is all I could wish for.” He said, “You’ve captured his true essence, he was strong and kind.”
From that day forward, I started carrying a camera in my hospice bag along with my stethoscope. I became profoundly aware of the great similarity in the dying process regardless of economic status, age, cause or place of death. The loving way people touch each other is universal.
If the moment feels appropriate during a nursing visit, I gently offer the idea of a hand portrait. Nearly 100% of families say yes without hesitation. Most portraits are spontaneous and commonly taken in the last days of life. All family members sign a consent. I also gladly accept portrait requests from the ICU and NICU at our local hospital and from the other three hospices in my community.
During the three minute process of taking a few photographs, I am consistently humbled to witness, and can actually feel in my heart, the true essence of loving connection between people as they sweetly adore their dying beloveds for the portrait. Families sink into the purity of their love for each other for my camera to capture.
Many people tell me their photographs are their most cherished objects and the images enable their love for each other to live beyond the last breath. Taking the portraits frequently moves me to tears and has motivated me to live and love deeper.
Processing, printing and packaging the photographs for mailing takes less an hour of my time and costs me under $10. The response to the hand portraits has been absolutely priceless. In giving this gift, I receive tremendous joy and satisfaction that I am able to capture a moment of genuine love and preserve it forever. It feels like a superpower! It is my hope that other hospice workers across the country follow suit.
I am now embarking on my next decade of hospice nursing as a national end of life educator. I have recently published a book of over one hundred hospice portraits: Enduring Love – Inspiring Stories of Love and Wisdom at the End of Life. Each portrait is accompanied by conversations with the dying, their advice for living, and the wisdom their illnesses have gifted them. Also included are grand love stories, glimpses into hospice care, and the truth of what death and dying looks like. I’m touring the country with the messages in Enduring Love and speaking to as many people as possible to help ease the fear of death, encourage conversation for best end of life planning, and to inspire people to live fully while they are alive. I would be delighted to come to your community and share the wisdom I have gathered.
To learn more about hospice portraits, my new book, or my speaking availability, please visit: