Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be on a mentoring day with a photographer whose work I love and admire. One of the other delegates was a girl new to the world of photography…. a girl who had cut her teeth in the world of fashion.
She was amazed! Coming from such a cut-throat world she could not believe that she had been thrown into this creative whirlpool where ideas were openly discussed and secrets willingly shared. She subsequently commented ….
‘Why are all photographers so amazing?!’.
And they are! Every photographer I have the pleasure of knowing is amazing – totally mad – but absolutely amazing.
And I have a theory on this.
Photographers are always looking for the positive. No matter how rubbish the moment they will always seek out the best. Even if the sky is black and the heavens are doing their very worst and the rain in hammering down so hard that you can’t hear yourself think – if it is your wedding day – they will be there looking for the best location. The best light. The best side. The best moment to press the shutter. Somewhere deep in all our psyches I think we understand that there has to be ‘a best’ …..you just have to look for it
Even in the worst moment, somehow we will find the good.
But once upon on a time, on one single occasion, I really didn’t think there could ever be a ‘best’.
It was a 21st Birthday. In Southam, Warwickshire
I was the photographer for the event. And everyone was there. Family. Friends. Colleagues. There was even a bar named in honour of the birthday boy. But – as his friends and colleagues gathered to mark the occasion…..I cried. I cried a lot.
Private JJ ‘Doc’ Doherty of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment had been killed in action.
The year before – just two days after his 20th birthday.
Sure enough there were balloons. And cards. A good friends to be there – right next to you.
But I’m a Mum too – and I know that this is no 21st that any mother should ever have to organise for her son
JJ’s Mum and me….and her beautiful, solid, Irish family….. have shared quite a few tears together since that day.
Joyce – an engineer….and about as feisty, spirited and determined as you are ever likely to meet – insisted that her planned marriage to JJ’s Dad, Jeff, would still go ahead, just as JJ had wanted. Somehow her wedding photographer had got to cover this wedding and not fall to bits.
(And – trust me – when a Bride walks down the aisle – not with a bevy of Bridesmaids – but with her sons uniformed Battalion walking behind her – that is a stuggle)
The wedding photographer struggled with the fact that – in the absence of JJ, who should have been Best Man – his little brother and his best friend were ‘standing in’.
She sobbed as the bride laid flowers on her sons grave
And wondered how – as a species – we can put each other through this. And why?
How could there ever be a ‘finding the best’ moment?
But yes….there was. And there have been. And not just one – but many. And there continue to be.
The Daily Telegraph wrote an article on Joyce last year. The headline was a direct quote from Joyce herself……. ‘People deal with grief very differently’.
She was also quoted as saying something else – something that will bring a lump to the throat of every mother out there because of the raw, stark truth of it and the fact that every one of you will know exactly what part of a broken heart these words would escape from :-
‘Had JJ been my only child, I would have gone to the grave with him. But I have three other children; I didn’t want them to think I died on the day JJ did’
And she really didn’t. This amazing, fiesty, huge-hearted lady rallied the troops (literally) and with her equally amazing family set up JJ’s Memorial Fund which to date has raised well over £100,000 for injured paratroopers and their families.
There have been amazing moments along the way.
There have been bike rides and there have been band nights.
There was the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ challenge with it’s vomit-inducing array of bugs.
There was the phone call asking if I could go to Colchester to photograph the now slightly infamous calender.
You want me? To go to Colchester? To photograph the Parachute Regiment?
Would you mind if I just think about that for a moment?
(said no female photographer ever)
Every female friend I’ve ever had – and some I didn’t even know I’d got – were scrambling to be first in the queue to come and help!
Surely I needed help with SOMETHING?!!
(Sorry Girls – but I managed without you. It was tough but – hey – one of has to do it !)
And then there are the stretcher runs.
Just as JJ instructed….. should the worst ever happen
(He also left instructions that his two best friends – also Paratroopers – attend his funeral dressed as women. That happened too!)
So, every year since 2008, his Battalion gather at his grave and then race a 2 mile loop around the streets of Southam carrying the 200lb ‘stretcher’.
And every year the good people of Southam are there to cheer them on – regardless of the rain – quietly remembering one of their own.
And the Photographer still cries.
Because now JJ’s Little Brother – the little boy with the Best Man at his Mum and Dad’s wedding – is taller than his Mum. And JJ would have been proud of what his family have achieved.
So – as we approach this Remembrance Sunday – we should all be reminded that is not just those brave servicemen and women that we should be remembering
It is their families too. These ‘ordinary’ Mums. And Dads. And Brothers and Sisters. Aunties, Uncles, Grandparents – who are also asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.
And also the comrades of those who have fallen because – even seven years later – I still see the grief etched in every face when I look through the lens.
Forever Brothers in Arms.
The full Daily Telegraph article can be found at People Deal With Grief Very Differently (there is a 10 minute video link attached to this article. If you intend to watch it can I respectfully suggest you have a very large box of tissues to hand)
Details of JJ’s Memorial Fund can be found at www.jjsmemorialfund.org