Frank Burnside (photo); Terry Hourigan (text)
Editor’s Note: We received this submission last week, as we were still coming to terms with the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. His death and our collective loss gave some urgency to publishing this photo and essay, which touch upon that which we see–and that which is hidden–when we look at one another.
About the artist:
“Frank Burnside is a photographer and a later-life friend who was downing milk and cookies in nursery school when I was a full-blown adult in first grade,” writes Terry Hourigan. “Through the years he has created a library of nature still lifes. I get to see them often and choose one from time to time, keeping it on file so that it may someday serve to express an inexplicable emotion in a story. The ferns immediately struck me as a metaphor for being close but not truly seen; for being a chameleon–camouflaged from both friend and foe.”
About the artwork:
“How many times have I stood next to someone who gave up a few signs and shared little, and camouflaged or diverted or joked so expertly that I thought he might be just like me–someone with connections and support? ‘See you next week,’ we’d say to one another. To take a broader view beyond suicide, my heart goes to dying alone. Dying solitary, in no one’s company, is a thought I can’t abide. I once worked in EMS in New York City. Occasionally a call came to meet the medical examiner at an apartment, where someone who’d lived there alone would be pronounced dead. If there were a pet who now was orphaned, it focused the nature of the loss and, for me, amplified an unremitting pain for those who have no one. Since then I have had to face the prospect of my own death twice, and as a nurse I have had almost twenty years working in home hospice–yet nothing I experienced there can compare to the weight of these lonely deaths, which have given me some of the worst nights I have spent, before or since.
Robin Williams once said:
I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not.
The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.
I would dread facing that choice.”
2 thoughts on “Alone”
I keep coming back again and again to this striking photograph, and the Editor’s Note — “that which we see and that which is hidden.” I have had a difficult week in dealing with illness in my family and our responses to it. This has helped me stay focused on remembering what is hidden and not getting side-tracked by the behavior that is seen. I recommend this website to my friends often for its shared wisdom.
At a time of sadness over Robin William’s unexpected death, it is comforting to know that within the medical community are professionals who feel as deeply as sensitively as this nurse/writer. Thank you for sharing your understanding of complex emotions, and for the beautiful photo of the ferns expressing the subtle dark side of life.