At a time of year when many cultures are celebrating death, Echo photographer Eve Jeffery, a.k.a. the Tree Faerie, has won an art competition on that very subject.
Ms Jeffery, who moonlights as an ends of life photographer – births and deaths – was asked by the widow of local fellow Greg McQueen to enter a photo she took at the time of Greg’s passing, into the annual Palliative Care Australia (PCA) art competition.
Angela McQueen and her family said goodbye to Greg when he flew away on St Patrick’s Day in 2016. Angela asked Eve to come and take photos during the final days. ‘For me it wasn’t a question of why, but rather why not?’ Angela said. ‘We have photos and memories of every other stage of our lives so why not the end as well.’
Mrs McQueen said the experience was amazing. ‘We didn’t even really feel there was a photographer there. It was all very natural and easy. Some people weren’t into it which was fine. I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’
Palliative Care… It’s more than you think!
The 2020 PCA art completions’s theme was ‘Palliative Care… It’s more than you think!’ aimed to challenge common misconceptions about palliative care.
Artists were encouraged to think beyond the care provided at the very end of life, and instead focus on how palliative care can improve quality of life, helping people participate in activities that are important to them, and creating opportunities for love, laughter, creativity, and fulfilment.
Chosen from 288 entries, the Tree Faerie’s photo showed Greg eating a chocolate éclair. ‘Greg knew he was living his last few days,’ said Ms Jeffery. ‘Everyone was doing their best to give him what he wanted and needed, and what he wanted right then was a chocolate éclair. So someone was dispatched to the bakery and got the biggest one they could. He really enjoyed that pastry. As it turned out it was his last supper, he was gone less than 24 hours later.’
The family’s wishes
Greg died at home which was he and his family’s wish. ‘His dying became part of their life,’ said Ms Jeffery. ‘It wasn’t shoved out of sight. It was a terrible and wonderful time, and it was an honour to be present. I will always be grateful to the McQueens for including me in their family at that time.
‘I believe we need to learn from a very young age that the end of life is a very important part of being alive – I believe we need to demystify death and dispel some of the fears. It happens to us all and we need to embrace that, and live better lives because of it, and not shuffle it off into hidden places.’
Ms Jeffery said that there are many who may be shocked to see the photos and to see them available to the public.
‘This is exactly the reason they should be public,’ she said. ‘Dying is not offensive, it’s a fact. Greg, before he died, and Angela, since he has passed, both have given me their blessing to use the photos in this way – to educate people and help bring death out of the shadows in the process.’
Mrs McQueen says she still looks at the photos and remembers a time of deep, raw emotions. ‘I am so thankful to have them and be able to look back at what was a very full-on time with memories of how beautiful that time was. It was a section of time in our family where we made some amazing memories and shared laughs and tears. A very special bond was formed between us all.’
To see more of the PCA art completions’s ‘Palliative Care… It’s more than you think!’ artworks, visit: dyingtotalk.org.au.