murmureS des morts

A personal narrative of nostalgia: recollecting and exploring family, struggle, grief and love through loss.


 
 
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ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

1st January 2019

Today is the first day of the new year. It is a celebratory day of rebirth and renewal for many ... but for my family it has also become a day of loss and remembrance. My father passed away one year ago today. It is so hard for me to believe that it’s been one full year. It’s still so surreal and feels like we just lost him yesterday. Something inside me keeps waiting for him to return though I know the reality is that he won’t ever come back ... at least not in his physical form. Time has a funny way of shape-shifting. Usually it feels like time is blowing by, faster than I’d like. In this case, however, time has slowed down. Perhaps grief, sorrow, not wanting to let something or someone go, resistance of some sort - perhaps these things slow it down. I don’t know ... I don’t have the answers. Though it’s been a year, I’m really just beginning on my path of discovery about profound loss. © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 1st November 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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Then and Now: 50 “Fuckingly Good” Years

23rd December 2018

Today my mom and I celebrate what would have been my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary ... but having lost my dad on the 1st day of this year, this is now my mom’s 1st wedding anniversary as a widow. One year ago today we celebrated their 50th anniversary as a family, in our home - my father was already way past the point of having enough physical strength and mental capacity to leave the house. My sister picked up our family’s favorite sushi dinner and we feasted together around the dining room table with smiles, laughter and love, much like we did when I was a child. Last year on this day, I made this portrait of my parents holding their official wedding day picture. This isn’t exactly how I had envisioned making this portrait; however, due to his Parkinson’s medication which gave him dyskinesia, my father couldn’t hold still, much less enough to prevent motion blur of the framed photo ... therefore, after multiple attempts and ideas, we wedged my dad’s head between my mom’s arm and body to help stabilize him and she held onto his hand on the frame edge to control his shakes long enough for this image to be made. My favorite part of the night - actually everyone’s favorite part (especially my 13 year old nephew’s) - was when I asked my dad if he could say a few words about his 50 years with my mom, and he responded “fuckingly good!” In shock I asked him, “ Did you just say ‘fuckingly good’?" And he replied, “Yes, fuckingly good!" Then we all had a good long and hard laugh! ❤️ © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 23rd December 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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Papa and “Baby”

30th November 2018

Today is the last day of November and therefore the final day to celebrate National Family Caregivers Month. As a great finale, yesterday I gave an artist lecture at LA Mission College, sharing my street photography portfolio, protest work, subculture work, a few other smaller projects, and finishing with “Personality Crash,” the collaborative body of work with and about my father. As always, it was difficult to share this sensitive work, but once again I received such a warm and supportive response and had students coming up to me after the presentation to express how the work had impacted them personally. These conversations are everything. They are part of the reason my father and I made this work. “Personality Crash” is opening hearts and minds, and starting a healthy dialogue about individual (yet communal) experience with disease and loss. The work is bringing people together and creating connections. For all of this, I am incredibly grateful, I know my father would be very proud, and it is helping me move forward in my own grieving process.© Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” © 2017 Safi Alia Shabaik

Image Caption:
November 18th, 2017: Papa hangs out in his hospital bed in the den at home with his teddy bear named "Baby" © Safi Alia Shabaik

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ANGELIC

26th November 2018

We are nearing the end of November, which is National Family Caregivers Month, and with the recent holidays I’ve had a bit of a tough time. This is my year of “firsts” without my father here ... though I know I am not alone in struggling with grief and loss around the holidays. Just wanted to share an image from my collaborative body of work with my father about his struggle with disease which eventually took his life, “Personality Crash.” My heart has been heavy so I felt the need to honor him and recognize his strength (and the strength of my mom, sister and me) throughout the difficult process of his final months of survival. When this moment happened in real time, I was moved to make the image because my father looked so angelic and the scenario felt like an homage to Renaissance Art in some way. © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” © 2017 Safi Alia Shabaik

Image Caption:
November 1st, 2017: Papa sits next to the French doors leading to the backyard in his home prior to having a meal. He wears the recliner chair protective arm cover on his head. This is something he would do on occasion. © Safi Alia Shabaik

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SELF-REFLECTION / DYS-INTEGRATION

1st November 2018

My father passed away on the first day of this new year, 2018, after a 10-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease, the last two or so years of which were complicated by dementia. I was one of his primary caregivers throughout those last two years. In the last year of his life, on top of the Parkinson’s and dementia, he also suffered from sundowning. Around 2014, when he was still functional (with only minor symptoms of PD), he and I agreed that we’d collaborate on a documentary project about his struggle with and decline from disease. This work, titled “Personality Crash,” was recently featured in the New York Times. I bring all of this up right now because today is the first day of November and the first day of National Family Caregivers month. This month I celebrate all of the wonderful caregivers who assisted my mom and me over the course of caring for my dad in his final two years — Rosa, Tina, Orayne, Jomar, and Reyna — but mostly I celebrate my mom and me, and my sister (when she could), for being present with my dad through his decline up to the end. I’ve learned so much about my capacity to love and my threshold for anguish through this process. It might just have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I also celebrate all of the family members out there that are going through similar experiences of caregiving for a loved one. I see you, I hear you, and I admire your strength and love in the face of emotional devastation. It takes a certain type of person with true compassion and selflessness to give in this way.❤️ © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 19th June 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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VINTAGE 'MOBILE

10th September 2018

This past Saturday morning I was in DTLA walking down Broadway when I spotted this beautiful vintage car parked in front of an old dilapidated theater. I stopped to admire its design and brilliant blue paint job when I realized that this vintage ‘mobile was a GTO. That brought me a little wave of nostalgia which made me think of my dad. When my dad and mom met, my dad had a GTO. They would go on dates in that car as their relationship began and progressed, and even drive off into the sunset in that car on the day they wed (it was the late 60’s after all). I recently found a picture of my mom in her wedding dress actually sitting in the passenger seat of the GTO and my dad is behind the wheel ... I think this was that exact moment of them driving off into the sunset after being pronounced man and wife. This reflection made me smile.


This was not the only magic of this moment for me ... as I framed my shot and prepared to pressed the shutter, I knew I needed another element to complete it. I framed up and waited. There wasn’t a great deal of foot traffic in that area so I had to be patient. Just then, a small flock of pigeons off frame was rattled by something and immediately took flight. Fortunately one flew into my scene and completed my shot.


Recently I posted an image of a woman named “Mama” and her flock of pigeons and explained the significance of pigeons in my life ... also conjuring up memories of my father since we raised domesticated ones in a coop at home when I was young. A quick recap here: one evening a white pigeon landed on our front lawn and my father miraculously caught it with his bare hands. We ended up getting him a mate - a beautiful and regal all grey Fantail pigeon with a little tuft of feathers on the top of her head that curved back like a little crown. Through the years my sister, the neighborhood kids and I got an up close view of egg-laying to young hatching in the lives of domestic pigeons. I was fascinated by it all, especially the eggs hatching, and must have been six or seven at the time.

The beauty of this image for me is not necessarily the composition and the moment/capture with the bird - I might not typically pick this as “my best shot” or one to share - but the coming together of multiple elements relating to my father was truly something ... the pigeon, the GTO and the adventure. This moment was so steeped in nostalgia that I just really wanted to share.❤️ © Safi Alia Shabaik

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"MAMA" AND HER FLOCK

21st August 2018

A little over a week ago, while wandering off the Venice Boardwalk early one morning, I spotted a woman sitting outside on a stool engaging with a large flock of adoring pigeons. The pigeons were competing for space to perch on her arms and partake of her bread offerings which she held in her hands, calmly and lovingly. It was obvious to me that this was not a one-time feeding but a cultivated relationship among her and the birds. I approached her to inquire about this spectacular relationship and also to ask permission to make some portraits. She agreed to the photos, told me that people around there call her “Mama” and that she feeds those pigeons everyday. She started telling me their names and showed me three that were domestic - she could tell by their coloring, their ankle tags and also from the fact that they weren’t maimed (they had both legs and all of their toes). She pointed to others who were missing some and explained why. We continued to talk a bit longer as I made a few more portraits and then her feeding session with the birds had ended. 


I think I was drawn to her because in some strange way this scenario reminded me of my father. We raised domestic pigeons when I was young. There was a walk-in chicken wire coop in our backyard when we bought the house but we had never kept any birds. Then one evening a white pigeon landed on our front lawn and my father miraculously caught it with his bare hands. We ended up getting him a mate that week ... she was an all grey Fantail pigeon with a little tuft of feathers on the top of her head that curved back like a little crown. She was regal and beautiful. They bred plenty so my sister and I (and the other neighborhood kids) got to watch the rearing up close - from egg-laying to the young hatching. I must have been six or seven at the time. 


With the recent passing of my father, it is really nice when these memories flood in unexpectedly. And I thank “Mama” for reminding me of some of our first pets at the place I call “home” that would be my parents’ settlement for the majority of their 50 wonderful years together. ❤️ // Venice, CA © Safi Alia Shabaik

*PLEASE NOTE: CLICK ON AN IMAGE TILE IN THE GRID TO VIEW THE FULL FRAME IMAGES*

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81st Birthday

2nd March 2018

Yesterday was my father’s 81st birthday and the first one without him here. I anticipated that the day would be tough. It did start out rough for me ... hard to get out of bed and function because my grief was heavy ... so I stayed in bed and journaled for an hour. I told myself to just take the day little by little ... so by the afternoon I felt functional again. My dad loved sushi so my mom and I had planned on dining at his favorite sushi spot in our area. A day or two prior I had made a reservation for three. We took two framed pictures of my dad to fill the third spot at the table. I also brought candles (to my mom’s surprise) so we could properly celebrate his birthday. I lit one and put it on top of a piece of sushi and placed it as an offering to my father in the photos. We just let the candle burn down as we enjoyed the dishes we used to get together. We sang to him and blew out the candle together. It was a pleasant celebration and a yummy meal spent reminiscing about my dad. I miss him everyday. © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 1st March 2018 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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HEARTBREAK

2nd January 2018

From “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered From Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome.” © 2018 // The beautiful being that was my sweet Papa took his last breath last night. Words are not enough to express what I am feeling right now. I am simultaneously devastated and relieved (he no longer has to suffer from disease). He held on to celebrate his 50th anniversary with my mom, he stuck it out for the turn of the New Year to 2018 and he waited for my sister and nephews to arrive here so we could all be around him for his transition. 


Rest peacefully Papa. Love you more than you can ever know. Thank you for your endless love, dedication, generosity, strength, humor, and guidance throughout my life ... for your determination to fight in the face of ruthless disease ... for your fearlessness in allowing and grand support of my documenting your struggle and journey ... and for helping sculpt me into the person I am today. I will miss you for an eternity.

RIP Aly Hossni Abd el Kader Emara Shabaik
1st March 1937 - 1st January 2018
💔❤️💔

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LIFE LINES

11th December 2017

There have been several moments over the last week or two when I truly thought my dad was making his exit and taking his last breath. In those moments I tried to comfort him and let him know that we love him, that it’s okay for him to do what he needs to do and that we will be okay. Each time he pulled through and came back to us here. His grip on this world - his survival drive - is very strong and I am thankful for that. When I made this image initially in November, it spoke to me of his fragility in the aging process ... but now I see that it symbolizes the strength, endurance, perseverance and resilience of my father’s will to live. Even though his mind is caught between reality and hallucinations (from the sundowner’s and dementia), his body (whether rigid from the Parkinson’s or dyskinetic from the medicine) is still latched to this dimension and determined to stay for a little while. ❤️ © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 1st November 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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THE GREAT ESCAPE

10th December 2017

One day in early November, my father was convinced that we needed to go to “the place”. He kept insisting that I take him there but couldn’t tell me the name of it, its location or anything about it other than calling it “the place”. He was very passionate about going there so I promised him that the very next day I would take him there, but he would need to guide me as I drove. The next day, my mom and I packed a picnic lunch, got my dad in the car (no easy feat as he is basically wheelchair-bound now), piled in the car and took off. He led the way ... right on Ventura ... left on Fulton ... right on Moorpark ... and then he no longer knew where to go. Five minutes had passed. I drove to a park nearby where my parents had often brought us in my youth. We sat there in the car, parked under a tree, eating our picnic in the car. I knew there would be no real destination but I wanted to give my father this adventure as a gift and a scenery change from the monotony of his home-bound life. This adventure was worth the massive undertaking that it was just to see him perk up and feel a moment of freedom from this debilitating disease. I took a detour home - drove him along Mulholland - so he could see the pretty view and the valley from above. The things we do from a place of love. ❤️ © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 7th November 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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ENLIGHTENMENT

15th November 2017

I have only shared one post about my father’s condition publicly and the fact that I’ve been documenting him through his mental, physical and emotional changes. Now that more dementia has set in, I often wonder how cognizant he is about what is actually happening to him. There are fewer and fewer moments where his personality shines through (though we still do get glimpses of him) and increasing moments of confusion, hallucination, disorientation, and major disconnect from simple instruction and the tactile world around him. He has become my child that I protect and care for - I literally parent my parent. It is simultaneously endearing and heartbreaking, but through this journey I have learned the depths of my capacity to love as well as the profundity of my anguish. This image speaks to the loneliness of the disintegration of self and what I imagine it must feel like from his perspective. Made from a place of love and respect. ❤️ © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 18th June 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

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PERSONALITY CRASH

2nd October 2017

I haven’t ever posted about my father’s condition publicly or the fact that I’ve been documenting him through the mental, physical and emotional changes. It’s been a very difficult and heart-wrenching journey to watch someone you love become so incapacitated and dissolve into confusion and paralysis. Sadly I know I am not the first, the last, nor alone in this experience. Today he spent 20 minutes telling me about something called “Personality Crash” so this image has been titled as such. © Safi Alia Shabaik

Image from “Personality Crash: Portraits of My Father Who Suffered from Advanced Stages of Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Sundowner’s Syndrome” taken on 29th August 2017 © Safi Alia Shabaik

 
 

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