Washingtonian Magazine asked me to shoot a portrait of a family that had suffered an unbelievable tragedy. Their son- a bright, happy, handsome and popular kid- took his own life after he sustained a concussion during a football game. The story itself (here) is an outstanding longform piece by writer Patrick Hruby.
I never really know which assignments will affect me more than others. Everyone’s pain and story is unique, but mostly a journalist is able to block the acute agonies of others so that they may do the stories justice, report with a clear mind and protect their own psyches to a certain extent. I practically walked into this loving family’s home on autopilot, being sensitive to the situation, but with my emotional defenses firmly in place. Mrs. Trenum showed me to her son’s room, the magazine’s requested location for the portrait, and left me and my assistant to set up. He had taken his life in that room, and it remained almost exactly as it had on the day he died- the bed was unmade, his clothes remained in the closet, mementos of his life adorned the walls and shelves. As we quietly set up the lights, the weight of it all came crashing down. Earlier in the year, I had suffered my own concussion and had dealt with weeks of headaches, confusion, memory loss and depression. This story reinforced how fragile we all are and just how delicate the human brain is. For many, including myself, youth comes with the blessing and the curse of a sense of immortality- that we are the stars of our own tales and nothing too bad can happen to us. This year in particular I’ve observed through my own experiences and the tragedies of others the degree to which it is all so fleeting and tenuous. That I have my health and I have people in my life who I care for and who care for me is an unbelievable streak of good fortune. Some would call it a blessing. My heart aches for the Trenum family, but I must thank them for indirectly reminding me to never take life, love and health for granted.