Dec 13, 2013

The Whole Story - Photo by Paula Broom

Some photos fill me with awe due to their beauty, some amuse me and others like the one I am featuring today move me deeply. My emotions were raw the day I viewed this for the first time, but maybe because it was the 13th anniversary of my own father's death. Please read on to discover The Whole Story behind this very touching photo.

The Photograph

Holding My Father's Hand © Paula Broom
Holding My Father's Hand © Paula Broom

The Whole Story by Paula Broom

My father, Geoff Broom, was Devonian, a farmer, father of three grown children and grandfather of six. In his later years, when he retired from dairy farming, he reinvented himself to become a countryside steward under the auspices of Natural England and their EU environmental stewardship program for farmers. I was devoted to him, and it was unwittingly he who inspired me to pursue an environmental masters, which, in spite of everything, I very recently finished (after five long years!). I regret that I will never be able to pursue my dream of working creatively on an environmental project with my father, as I had long envisioned.
Dad's passing was such an awful, emotionally raw and surreal time for us all. The whole affair was doubly horrible as it stirred up, certainly for me, my husband and children, all the residual fear and emotions of my own bowel cancer in 2011 (right back when I started to use Instagram: you could say Instagram helped me though it somewhat - but that's another story.) Since I live in Australia, I had to head back to my home county of Devon in the UK. I had no idea that his passing would come so quickly, but I knew it was inevitable. Dad was only diagnosed with pancreatic cancer towards the very end of July - he died 26 days later, aged 75. I was lucky then to make his bedside for his last 5 days in a hospice.  Sadly the disease was so far gone at that stage that I can't say it was exactly quality time with him, but I got to hug him and hold his hand!

I can still hardly bear to look at this photo, or the others taken during that time - I have to scroll pretty fast through that part of my Instagram gallery: in a weird way my emotions are even more raw now than they were at the time . That is probably due to the shock subsiding somewhat, and the horrible reality of his absence sinking in. He was still just conscious when I took this photo, but only for a few more hours. It's funny: Dad was well known, both within and outside our family, for his huge hands (being a farmer and working the land all his life probably helped, I reckon) but I realized at his bedside that I didn't actually have a picture of them.  Sadly, he was extremely emaciated prior to passing away and this is evident in the photo.

I had a big response to this shot:  I am amazed at how much an image can say without words, as well as how much emotion they can evoke. I found some solace in photography at the time but it has really taken almost four months for me to get my mojo back. My main source of solace came from people, from family, especially my brothers, from  friends and surprisingly from strangers, genuinely outpouring their comfort and support for us during that time. Pancreatic cancer is one of the worse and I am relieved ultimately that my Dad didn't have to suffer for long. I am also aware that through this sad time, I have grown as a person and learned one of life's hard universal lessons. The people we love are not ours to keep, but are here for us to truly love and cherish for a short time. Death and dying, grief and sorrow are ultimately our collective destiny: unique to each of us, yet universal in nature. Our shared pain and empathy are part of what it means to be human, but while we may grieve in solitude, in sorrow we are never alone.

This photo was shot with the native camera of my iPhone 4S and edited in Snapseed, which tends to be my "go to" app for editing.

The Photographer

I'm a mother, environmentalist and an artist living in Sydney. I used to be a painter/sculptor but more or less gave that up to do something more meaningful; last month I finally completed the Masters in Environmental Management I've been pursuing part time for five long years. During that time I discovered the iPhone camera and Instagram and reinvented myself as an iPhoneographer. I've had a couple of nice accolades such as being chosen via Instagram to be in the Wall of Dreams of the Mobilepixation show in London last December and having one of my images picked, again from IG, for a mention in Dan Marcolina's Mobile Masters e-book early in the year. Also during this last year I started researching and teaching on an art and environment field trip course through the College of Fine Arts for my university.

So surprise, surprise, although I was going to give up art and change direction when I started my environmental learnings, it turns out that things have merely come full circle and I find all my interests converging. I had hoped to make some artwork with my father around his environmental stewardship on the farm but sadly I  missed out on that. I'd still like my artwork to engage more with the audience on ecology, the biosphere and life on earth in general - and I'm currently working on doing just that!

Find Paula:  Instagram #1 / Instagram #2 / Twitter / AMPt / Blog

Geri's Note

I don't normally comment on the posts in this series but I really connected with this story. As mentioned earlier, my own emotions were stirred partly because I just passed the 13th anniversary of my own father's death - he was also 75 and died of cancer too. I sat at his beside and held his hand and only wish I had a photo to help remember that moment. I want to thank Paula for trusting me with this story. I know how fragile we can be after experiencing a loss and I appreciate the confidence she showed in me in presenting her father's story in a way that hopefully honors him. 


  1. What a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute...I am deeply touched. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Sherri I was moved just as you were. Such a beautiful and gut-wrenching photo

  2. beautiful story and a beautiful photo. Thanks to Paula and to you for sharing it.


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