I have never really been great with letting go of things, I am my father’s daughter.
Dad was a bit of a pack rat, though he had not amassed a hoarder-sized collection of stuff, he had still managed to hang on to almost everything he could that was a part of our history.
He was the family treasurer of baby teeth, hospitals tags, first hair-cuts, report cards, art projects, school awards, trophies and most especially all family photography.
Dad was also a photographer. If you have any memory of Donald Ray Hutcheson, it will probably have involved a camera. He fell in love with photography just out of high school and even began developing his own photos at home using the bathroom as his darkroom. Throughout the years, his passion for photography never waned. He never left the house without his camera bag. He was always ready for that next opportunity to do what he loved and to capture a moment that he was inspired by.
He was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s at age 53. We had all noticed as a family that things seemed very off about him. He couldn’t remember words in sentences, he couldn’t complete projects or hold down a job. He repeatedly would mention to me, “BooBoo, there is something wrong with my camera, it just isn’t working right.” And his photography began to lose focus. All of the shots were turning out blurry and without the usual composition that I had grown accustomed to seeing in his work. We didn’t realize we were looking at the first stage of Alzheimer’s through his camera lenses.
Once we had the diagnosis, we began fumbling through the stages of the disease. And since the divorce of our parents in the early 1990s, I was the most capable of my siblings to be able to care for Dad.
Though I had assistance from my boyfriend at the time and family members with taking care of Dad, as his personal Caregiver, I felt all range of emotions and the weight of my responsibilities to a fault of extreme loneliness.
We watched him fade away by August of 2010 and we were left with a monumental hole in our hearts. All of Dad’s personal effects were now my possessions and I coveted them as if they were my plunder of war. Somehow, I felt like if I could cling to his things, maybe I could stuff that hole in my heart. Just the thought of having to go through his boxes and categorize his treasures as something worthy of passing on to other family members, donating to charity or throwing out made my heart burst open with refreshed pain.
One bite of the elephant at a time. And it has taken time. I have slowly relinquished my hold on Dad’s things. And with each anxiety-infused ride to the local Good Will, I feel my Dad patting me on the back and I feel a little lighter with the unload. Last fall, I knew that a corner had been turned and a certain level of forgiveness had been reached when I decided to pass on the 15 boxes of photographs, negatives, slides and all related gear to my sister.
In all fairness, she has always deserved to have this collection. Jessica is the photographer of the 4 of us and will be able to honor our family and appreciate the photos more than I could. She will take them out and lovingly hold them and help us all to remember. She takes after Dad like that and I know that he always loved that about her.
Even though he may not be around physically to help with life lessons, Dad is still teaching me how to let go and to relish in the grace that comes along with it.