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National Geographic chooses Yelm Award-Winning Rory Sagner’s photo

A CHERISHED MEMORIAL: Yelm Photographer’s Mother’s end of life portrait
published in the National Geographic Your Shot story “When Death Comes.”
Photo Courtesy: Rory Sagner Photography

– Editor’s note:
After reading about Yelm-area photographer Rory Sagner’s impressive achievement of having her photo selected for publishing by National Geographic, I asked if she would share her touching story with Yelm Community Blog readers. Rory’s story is important in the simplicity expressed and is unabridged.
Click here for Rory’s photo selected by National Geographic.

– From the photographer:
“I’ve spent the better part of the last 5 years managing the affairs of and helping to care for my mother who had multiple health issues, all of which finally culminated in cancer, dementia and then her death just over a year ago. I’m sure many of this Blog’s readers have found themselves in, or currently are in a similar situation, so know firsthand how challenging it can be on every level. While I am a licensed CNA and have worked as such for many years, I’ve also been a photographer and artist for most of my life. Shortly after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, I took mom home on hospice and spent the last 13 months of her life with her. It was a time of wonder and incredible gifts, the greatest of them being an experience of unconditional love. However, it was also an incredibly difficult time in that her care was very demanding and the dementia in particular was a great challenge to deal with. Out of necessity nearly every aspect of my own life was put on hold during those 13 months including my photography business, however I found that actually taking photos was a way of not only maintaining my sanity in an incredibly trying situation, but gave both myself, my mom, and others a great deal of joy. I took photos of my mom with friends, family, caregivers, hospice staff….anyone and everyone, including portraits of her at various times during that period. Those photos not only served to give happiness, but also helped my mom remember who was who in the face of a rapidly escalating short term memory loss. Looking through a book of photographs with favorite quotes and poems that I’d made for her 82nd birthday was one of her absolute favorite daily activities. I added photos to that book, which I’d made in a ringed binder with that in mind, on a regular basis. The last photo I took of her, barely able to focus the camera through tears, was two days before she died. She was unconscious, but looked so incredibly beautiful to me.

I found out a short while ago that portrait was just published in the National Geographic story, “When Death Comes.” A few of you know, (but most probably do not), that after she died I literally could not rest until I had edited that particular photo and although greatly conflicted about it at the time, I surrendered to a compelling need to upload it to my National Geographic Your Shot gallery. Later on I came to understand why, and wrote about how I realized it was not only an attempt to hold onto her, but that it was not enough for only me to know that she was gone. She’d been such a huge part of my life that I needed to share my grief with the world. Now I am so glad that I followed that compulsion, not only because it’s been published, but more so because of all the people that it’s drawn into my life who are also trying to navigate the challenges of helping care for loved ones and overwhelming grief. In one case a woman wrote to me that after seeing that photo (and it’s commentary) it gave her permission and courage to photograph her own mother who was also dying from cancer…something they were both wanting, but afraid to do. Being able to help others through my work is the real treasure.

It is strange and yet so perfect that this is the first of my photos to be published in a National Geographic story, something I’ve been focusing on for some time now. Strange because the person who would be the most excited, and who I most wanted to call to tell about this news IS my mom, and perfect because it’s an incredible and wonderful memorial for her. I know she would be thrilled as she so loved my photography and was the biggest fan of my work. I cannot help but believe, that wherever she is now, she somehow knows and is beaming that “I’m so proud of you” smile.

The timing of this assignment/story felt very purposeful to me. My interaction with other National Geographic Your Shot photographers from around the world, all dealing with this sensitive subject, has been an incredible opportunity for healing, for me and for many others. The way the Your Shot Community came together, the honesty, openness, and the incredible input from the story’s two editors was amazing.

Click here for the link to the “When Death Comes” story. My photo of mom is near the end and there are many other awesome photos in the story worth your time. Mine was one of 29 photos selected for the final story out of what was originally 8067 submissions. Quite an honor.

This hotlinks to the photo in my NGYS gallery and you can see to the right under the photo the little ribbon symbol that shows it was published as well as the editor’s wonderful note in the black box above the photo.

This link is to a composite photo I did recently (for an assignment submission as well) which is also very meaningful to me and I hope will be to many others. It addresses the questions many of us have about what happens as one nears the end of life. In my NGYS gallery there are several other photos I took during my mom’s hospice and I invite you to explore and welcome your impressions and comments.

Lastly I want to thank everyone for the love, support, and encouragement during the time I was immersed in helping mom, and the support I’ve experienced in this community for my work in general.”

– Rory can be reached at rorys@cco.net
or though her sites:
National Geographic

Posted by Steve on April 30, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink

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  1. Rory is a wonderful photographer and has helped her mother in many ways. I am glad her photograph was chosen as it will help others.

    Comment by Judi Flanders on April 30, 2016 at 1:27 pm

  2. Thank You for touching my heart with your experience of your Beloved Mother. My mother was special to me too.

    Comment by Chris on June 7, 2016 at 10:00 pm

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