Eleven years ago, when I was twenty-five, my father was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. He was given three to six months to live. Immediately, my father asked me to photograph himself and my mother together.  

To my knowledge there was no other portrait of my parents together taken. Sure, there are meaningful snapshots, but nothing taken with great purpose and intention. There was one portrait of us as a family – a Sears Portrait Studio style photo that was so ubiquitous in the 80’s and 90’s. Emotionally, that photo represented the stress of all of us wearing our Sunday best and staring at the camera lens. It didn’t at all represent who our family actually was.  

This request was precious and Poignant.

It’s easy to imagine it would’ve been a mournful and painful event. However, I believe it was affirming and even celebratory. They’d fought like hell for all the love they’d created over nearly 25 years. That deserved to be honored, memorialized and celebrated.

Sometimes it takes a life altering event to see the value in the legacy we leave behind in photo.  

I humbly walked them around the two acre world my father had designed over 30 years in southern Virginia. I photographed them in moments of connection. He put his arms around my mother and held her tight. Finally, I sat them at the base of an apple tree he’d planted years ago and my mother leaned into his still strong & unwavering body. Daisy, the dog, took at seat by their side, beaming. Skedaddle, the cat, made an appearance too. We laughed. That was the final photograph.  

That was my parents and my home. Then; before all the rest would inevitably come. This is the last memory of my father before his Paul Bunyan like stature melted away. Though my relationship with my father had been complex, to say the least, I see the best of him in this moment.  The man who created the beauty in the world he sat in and loved my mother deeply. My mother, steadfastly by his side and unrelentingly hopeful.

Father hugs mother in family portrait
My father had a way of enveloping his loved ones in embraces.

As an adult child, this photo of my parents means everything to me and I only wish I had more moments like this of my family to display in my home and be reminded of who we were at our best. 

My father did not like having his photo taken.  He was a deeply private man, loathing of all things showy and self-important. Photo sessions fell under this category in his mind and also under the category of frivolity which went untolerated in our home. It took the looming end for him to see that is was never about ego or narcissism, but about leaving a part of himself behind and for us to have. This was about us, as a family, having a visual connection to the best parts of ourselves. It was about always being able to say, “I love you.” even when he couldn’t be there.  This was a remarkable act of selflessness on his part.

As his child, I’m grateful that he chose to let go of his discomfort and lean into what he loved, literally. Now, I have this piece of him with me always. 

Kristen Kidd Photography is a family portrait photography studio in the North Wales suburb of Philadelphia, Pa. We specializes in helping two-legged and four-legged families stop and reconnect with the love in their lives through fun and unique photo experiences and custom designed wall art collections.