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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Argus Paul Estabrook

SPE Member since 2020
Member Chapter: Southwest

This Is Not An Exit

The phone rang. I remember thinking something was already wrong. Because of our time difference, Mom never called me in the evenings unless there was an emergency. In a desperate tone, she told me that my father had suddenly been hospitalized.

It was pancreatic cancer. Growing undiagnosed it had already entered Stage 4 and was considered extremely aggressive. With a heavy heart, I quit my job in Seoul and 36 hours later found myself on a flight home to America.

I was shocked and confused to see my father in this unexpected weakened state. Trying to make sense of the situation, I immediately began making a record. The need to preserve his remaining life was overwhelming and became my way of resisting the inevitable. Each click felt like I could stop time, no matter how painful, if only for a moment. Photography also helped me see the day to day struggles of my mother. Her anguish equaled his own, their hearts and minds tied together. After his passing, a sense of hopelessness took hold of her, making it difficult to speak her feelings. Seeking a way to facilitate delicate but necessary conversations, I showed her my images and listened to her words. Writing them down as we looked over the photographs started a journey of reflection for both of us.

The resulting document is one of vision and voice. Bound together through a personal process of grief, I hope they've created an emotional map, one that reveals our connectedness to each other while also furthering an understanding for all those navigating the loss of a loved one.

Sometimes I feel like I am in a bad dream

Everything is aimless and hopeless. I have lost my direction and I don't know where to go

Your dad was suddenly lying there in a hospital room. The man I loved

I just wanted to share his pain. If I could take all of his pain, I would

Gently touching his skin, I could feel his lumps. His body was changing so we had to change, too

Even though he was sick, he wanted to be a man and do things on his own

He accepted he was dying and often asked me to read the bible to him. He never did before

I was hopeful that he could be with me for 4 months or more. The doctor said it could be less

His pants were so big... I was always beside him. We were always together

He was a very good man and he tried his best to give me a good life. He always listened to me

I didn't want to hear his life was going to end soon

Taking care of him had been a full-time job but if I had one more chance, I'd do it all over again

Every night I prayed to cure his disease, to cure his cancer. I was hoping for a miracle

I was so relieved when the reverend came. Together we prayed for comfort and forgiveness

The storm hit us quick. Lots of thundering. Just like my heart. Thundering

He only made it 3 weeks. It was hard to accept that he had died that fast

I thought God was telling me that everything was going to be okay

I'm trying to find hope but inside still echoes emptiness

I want a way out of my emptiness

I think I'll feel this way for a long time

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