Photographs of hospice patients taken by Roger Wyan, a Merced photographer who teaches photography at UC Merced, are on display at Fresno's Mullins Studio Gallery. The project, done in partnership with Hinds Hospice, took several years to complete and documents the last days of about a dozen hospice patients. We conducted an video interview with Wyan a few weeks ago:
The interviews include Merced resident Chuck Ferris, who died in 2008. We interviewed Ferris for another story back in 2007. He was an interesting dude, and his interview sticks out in my mind because, at the end of our meeting, he rolled his wheelchair over to his keyboard and started improvising a song about "a dog named Blue." (You can watch his interview in video below. The song begins around 3:55).
In my Sunday Spotlight column I write about a compelling photography exhibit at Mullins Studio gallery (at Broadway Studios in Fresno) titled "Portraits of Life." It was created by Hinds Hospice as a way to educate the public about this important organization.
Roger Wyan, a UC Merced photography instructor and a longtime photojournalist for various newspapers, worked with Hospice staff members to photograph 11 patients and their families. Written text and audio interviews complement the photos, adding to the project's vision that while the last days of life represent a final chapter, they're representative of a much greater swath of a person's life.
You can listen to the project's audio interview with Charles "Chuck" Ferris, pictured above, at this link: chuckferris.mp3
CHARLES "CHUCK" FERRIS
Aug 2, 1924 - July 1, 2008
"I'm Chuck Ferris. I'm a retired school teacher. I'm 83. I was wounded in WWII. I'm divorced and have two daughters, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. I live in a retirement inn and you can call that an old folks home. I have a wooden leg, a glass eye, stints in my veins, crowns on my remaining teeth and an artificial hip. I use a wheelchair to get around. However, I still have my hair and my sense of humor. Life is worth living. In the time it took to read this the universe has still grown larger. What is important is still a mystery."
"I feel complete. I don't feel that things are left unsaid. I'm comfortable. I've had the best and worst that life can offer and I'm content with that. I've been a hero and a pariah. I'm satisfied that it's all right - it's okay to check out now. It's funny to know that I'm in a hospice program; my doctor says that I have a limited time to live. I don't feel that; it's just another adventure today."
"I went into the army in '43. The Germans had left landmines on the street. There was a civilian lady shouting and yelling and I looked up and I put my right foot on a landmine. I looked down just in time to see it blow up in my face and mangle my foot so badly they had to amputate it right there at the field hospital. And that changed my life."
"Being in hospice is a funny thing. They tell me I'm dying and I'm not. I'm here. I'm alive. I have pain in my belly but I've had that before. ... but since I got talking with you folks and got wired for sound I forgot about the pain."
"About the good times. I enjoyed flying. I took a lesson and I'm afraid of heights. In an airplane I'm only as high as the floor of the plane. I can't go near a balcony and look down without getting vertigo. But when I fly I can fly and look down and I'm comfortable with that when I can see all around."
"One of the things I invented as an art form was mud puddle art. I'd take my wheelchair and swirl and turn in the mud and make art forms and then take photos of them. I play accompaniment on the harmonica."
"I have lots more to share, but I don't know how to get at it. Maybe what I need is a daily television show where I go on and sit and talk and cry."
Excerpted from a May 30, 2008 interview
Interviewer: Kathleen Stefani
January 5, 1995 - September 19, 2008
Annie Mays (A'Nissa's mother): "She is very beautiful, I'll say that first. She's very beautiful and outgoing. ...just very lovable."
"She's never been a baby. I mean she was never a baby. Never wanted me to hold her, you know? She was always very independent, loved to do her own things, loved to go to yard sales, all that. That's her favorite. She wanted to do everything herself. I tried to teach her how to tie her shoe, "I got it, Mommy, I got it. I'll tie it." I tried to teach her how to read. "I know these words, my teacher taught me already."
"Favorite thing to do though that we haven't done in a long time is yard sales. Anytime - somebody's birthday, Christmas, whatever, she's gonna get them a gift. And she also enjoyed school a lot."
"She loves dancing. She's dancing while in her bed ... she used to be a very good dancer before she got sick. She loved to dance, watch videos or whatever. So now she'll hear a song and get ready to dance ... it's a dance called "getting crunk" and it's a lot of movement with you hands. So she's dancing and we're laughing, and I'm like, "Oh, you're feeling good today, A'Nissa, 'cuz you're dancing," and she'll start laughing and cover her face. Trying to act like she's shy, but she's not a shy person at all. So she keeps us laughing that way."
"If she wasn't fighting this illness ... I see her growing up to be a beautiful young lady and going to college and graduating and maybe a prom. I don't know if I'm gonna make it to see a prom or anything like that - everything's kind of on hold."
"A'Nissa's message? I haven't figured that out yet but I'm thinking maybe spend all the time you need with your children."
"We have to just put it in God's hands and leave it alone. And that's how I look at it with A'Nissa. I just sit back and wait 'til He tells me what's really gonna happen."
"I just don't want her to be in any pain. I can't deal with her being in pain. It's like I don't have any control; I can't fix this. The main thing that's frustrating is that I can't control anything that's going on with her."
"The Make-a-Wish Foundation redid her room. She loves Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell is everywhere. That's A'Nissa."
Excerpted from a July 25, 2008 interview
Interviewer: Wendy Thomas
April 21, 1919 - February 19, 2008
"I've been around. I'm enjoying a good life. I'm enjoying the most beautiful daughter in the whole world. She takes care of me and the only person around, and if I need a drink of water she runs to get it or whatever; but you know kids some of them don't even know you're alive."
"But it's Ok. I was raised with no parent anyway. When I was six years old I lost both father and mother so I had no love from nobody. I had a couple of brothers that I don't know. Some people from Los Angeles adopted them; that's all I know."
"I ran away when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I came to pick cotton in Firebaugh; in them days they were paying ¼ cent a pound. There's about 80 to 90 pounds in a 9 foot sack."
"I remember in the '30's when they take you to work to pick cotton you were nothing but a hand and you had a sack, a 9 foot or 10 foot sack. Pick cotton and take it up the rack and dump it. In them days you go pick cotton and there are 200 - 300 people in one field of 10 to 15 acres picked by hand. The poor people had to struggle to have a job. We always found a way to live. I picked just about everything - apricots, peaches, peas, everything."
"My wife, she used to work in a jewelry store in Guadalajara, Mexico, that's where I met her. Then from there I started going back and forth, back and forth till she told me why I didn't buy anything, I never bought nothing. I just go and see her. I guess she has the same memories as I have because we've been married fifty years."
"But I didn't speak English, what's why I went to the army. I think I came out pretty good. I was in Rome, way up north in Italy. I was in North Africa. I was in Casa Blanca, Iran, Algeria. I was in Panteleria in 1944. That was the best island you've even seen. Take about an hour, hour and a half to go around the whole island in the jeep"
"Well, when you get to my age you don't remember everything you know. People ask me about my friends and I have a dear friend on my mind every time he died. My buddy Richard Loner. We rode together in the same company and he never did spoke Spanish at all, like me and other guys there. Loner, nice fella; nice fella for a gringo you know. We were together in the service in Africa. We were over there in '43 together for a long time. He's passed away now, he was one of the best guys you'd ever known."Excerpted from a January 30, 2008 interview
Interviewer: Kathleen Stefani