This image is bittersweet, to me, as it was the last photo we ever had together as a family, and was one of the last times I ever saw my father. My father and I had never gotten along, but at the time of the picture, we'd achieved an uneasy truce, as my mother had been diagnosed as having only a few months left to live, from heart problems. We all bonded together to face this sadness, but even in the face of the tragedy, there was so much barely-hidden rage! My father was already planning for life after my mother, contacting an ex-girlfriend and secretly planning a move out of the area, to live with her; my older brother, who had never moved out of my parents' home, was facing the anxieties to having to take care of himself; my younger brother was hiding a relapse into drug addiction; I was dealing with my own demons of failed relationships, and a life that had become mundane. Only my mother seemed serene, drawing upon her faith, and stating, unequivocally, that God was saving a place in Heaven for her. Everything seemed headed for an inevitable conclusion.

Then, in October, my father had a massive heart attack, and died! It was a situation none of us had planned on, and changed the dynamics of our family, completely! As my father's indiscretions became known, my mother decided she was still needed, and willed herself to stay alive for two years, trying her best to ease our family's burdens. My older brother took upon himself the mantle of head of the family, and matured into a responsible individual. My younger brother did not get off drugs, but continued a downward spiral that he couldn't pull out of until after my mother's death, in 1994; with my father's death, however, he felt no need to hide his addiction, and we all received an education we didn't expect on PCP abuse! As for me...I began a re-evaluation of my relationship with my father, and, in a broader sense, with my family, and my life. I realized I was responsible for a lot of the bad blood, but that I had also blamed myself for a lot of things I had no control over. Did this knowledge make me a better person? Not really. But it allowed me to begin a long journey of self-realization that continues today, and will never end. I see so much of my father's good and bad traits in me, and know, now, that as much as I tried to divorce myself from him, he is always a part of me. So when I view this picture, I see it as a beginning, as well as an end.

submitted by Benjamin Burgraff
South Carolina, USA
March 2001

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