Heater, Mother of Lance

One of the million, billion grains of sand in the desert

Portraits before and after death.

“This somber series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died is a challenging and poignant study. The work by German photographer Walter Schels and his partner Beate Lakotta, who recorded interviews with the subjects in their final days, reveals much about dying – and living.”

These photos are simultaneously haunting and beautiful, and I’ve been riveted for the last half hour. Having looked at every photo I feel like I need to get up, walk outside and let the sun hit my face for a while. Be sure to read the text accompanying the photos.

(via The Morning News)

EDITED TO ADD:

Just got this email from Mimi in Oakland:

Heather,

Those images nauseated me and I should have never looked at them. While I respect your right to post whatever you want on your website, that you closed comments irritates me.

I’m disappointed in you; I think you’re a great big chicken shit for doing that. Why not let people respond? What were you afraid of? You obviously knew you’d get a response so why close the door to them?

I had no idea that link would inspire this kind of response, but there you go. Chicken shit I am not, so what did you think of those photos?

1,078 Comments
  • eric

    2008/04/01 at 12:12 pm

    I thought they were inspiring. Live your life, people.

  • Nichole

    2008/04/01 at 12:14 pm

    I thought they were amazing and beautiful. People who are not comfortable with death are not comfortable with the way they are living their life. Death is a part of life.

  • moderndayhermit

    2008/04/01 at 12:15 pm

    Amazing

  • rebecca

    2008/04/01 at 12:15 pm

    wow! People are nuts. It’s not like you didn’t say what the post was about. I loved those pictures and felt really peaceful after looking at all of them.

  • CurlyHairDay

    2008/04/01 at 12:15 pm

    I think Mimi must have clicked on the wrong link. . .like, say, “Mastheads.” I too would be distressed if I thought Dooce’s mastheads had left us for the plane of higher consciousness.

    That site is mesmerizing and fascinating.

  • Anonymous

    2008/04/01 at 12:16 pm

    I think we need more things like this regarding death. It is not scary and a part of this living process. Can’t really get away from it really.

    Why open comments if it just makes space for attacks. Chicken sh!t or boundary setter? I’d not open my comments if I got the response you get daily.

    ~GoGo

  • dug

    2008/04/01 at 12:16 pm

    haunting. and maybe nauseating. but so? what did someone clicking on a link to pictures described as “somber series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died” expect? kids on a playground?

    anyway. haunting. but not in a bad way.

  • Anonymous

    2008/04/01 at 12:16 pm

    i kept hoping they wouldnt die in the next photo

  • Cheryl

    2008/04/01 at 12:17 pm

    I thought they were going to be disturbing, but they actually were peaceful. You almost never see death represented like that. Its either fictionalized or brushed under the carpet (like no longer allowing pictures of the coffins of soldiers who die in Iraq). I doubt I’d have ever come across these on my own, so thanks.

  • Muriel

    2008/04/01 at 12:17 pm

    I loved it, and plan on sharing it with everyone I know. Thanks for the link, Heather.

  • MeandMyG9

    2008/04/01 at 12:17 pm

    Couldn’t bring myself to look. My wife and I had the honor of caring for my Mother in her last months. I am a chicken shit.

  • JLP

    2008/04/01 at 12:17 pm

    I am neither offended nor shocked by those photos. But I recently watched my father-in-law die in a hospital bed after a short battle with lung cancer. I guess if you’ve never experienced that, it might be shocking. It’s amazing how quickly the face changes once a person has passed and the oxygen and blood are no longer circulating. I mean, it’s literally within minutes that the face becomes that sunken shell as in many of these photos.

    Interesting series.

  • Jack

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    Mimi needs to learn how to not click the next button…that way she wouldn’t have been nauseated…and I actually found the images of the people after death were less horrifying than I assumed they would be. Kudos Dooce!

  • Hey You (thehuckablog.com)

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    I understand that you do not open comments to keep out the crazies, but that does not make you chicken shit. It is not like you did not say in the post what the link was. AS far as the photography…NMS, but I can appreciate the poignancy of it.

  • slodwick

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    Chicken shit would be me, actually. Based on Heather’s description, I know better than to even click that link.

    (Gosh – imagine what the internet would be like if people actually thought before following links, and then took responsibility for their own reactions? The mind positively boggles.)

  • Vikki

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    I found the photographs fascinating and touching. Death is so very much a part of life – most people just choose to ignore that fact.

  • Heidi

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    I think this is your blog and you have every right to do whatever you want – as do the people who view it.

  • dooce

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    wow. anonymous at #8, that comment was really powerful.

  • Shannon/jodfoster

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    I think these photos are absolutely beautiful and breathtaking. What an amazing project and how amazing were those that agreed to take part in it. I think their families have something very poignant and beautiful to hold on to.

    p.s. my captcha is Stern cheese. That’s my least favorite kind.

  • Jady

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    My parent’s friend took pictures of my sister at her memorial service…I gotta say they were haunting as well, although it seems such a private thing to take photographs of.

    She died of an eating disorder, so the pictures just look…strange. She was constantly in motion, twitching, hands shaking, etc. She never looked quite so calm and still.

    It wasn’t disturbing so much as surreal.

  • Elaine

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    I have never been one to handle death well, but these people shared their stories and I got the impression that they were at peace after the hardest and last fights of their lives.

  • Erin

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    Stunning and moving and wonderfully human. Being nauseated by death is a very immature reaction.

  • Fabgirl

    2008/04/01 at 12:18 pm

    As squeamish as I am, I clicked on the link and found that it was indeed very haunting and yet, very peaceful. Much better to see death in a dignified manner than splashed across the news with blood and destruction. You plainly stated that it was pics before and after death, so I’m afraid it’s up to your readers to make their own decision.
    P.S. Well said, Eric.

  • Karen

    2008/04/01 at 12:19 pm

    Dear Mimi in Oakland:

    Stick up your ass. Pull it out.

    Cheers!

  • Spring

    2008/04/01 at 12:19 pm

    I’m not sure why, but I honestly didn’t expect the death portraits to be as beautiful as they are. I suppose that says much about my conception of death and the afterlife. And now I’m wondering if that conception has changed, ever so slightly, after seeing these photographs.

  • francesca

    2008/04/01 at 12:19 pm

    I thought these were beautifully done, and found the comments from the subjects thought-provoking. You provided us with a descripton…if readers are nauseated or find this so offensive, certainly nobody is going to force their fingers to click on the link.

  • Beth

    2008/04/01 at 12:19 pm

    I’m glad you posted it. I was moved by every story – some made me giggle, some made me sadder than others, and I had the same reaction – gonna go take pictures of the daffodils in the garden.

    People don’t have to click on things just because they’re there! Esp after reading the description. WTF?

  • Shannon

    2008/04/01 at 12:19 pm

    I thought the photos were amazing. Some were incredible; you could see the stress and worry in people’s faces while they were alive, and after they died it was just.. gone.

    And Mimi needs a thorough thumping. What part of “photos before and after death” was unclear? And aside from that, if you didn’t like the photos, surely it would make more sense to send your comments to the Guardian, who actually posted them?

  • Celia

    2008/04/01 at 12:19 pm

    Powerful and moving… the photos made me appreciate being alive. Thanks, Heather.

  • Chanel

    2008/04/01 at 12:20 pm

    Haunting for sure, but they definitely draw you in with a strange fascination.

  • Sarah

    2008/04/01 at 12:20 pm

    Why would anyone think they are nauseating? I thought they were beautiful. You don’t see death in that point-of-view very often.

    They were hard to look at since I’m taking care of 2 terminal people right now but I can look past that.

  • Jane

    2008/04/01 at 12:20 pm

    Absolutely, Nichole. I found them beautiful, sad, peaceful and uniquely stirring.

  • gesikah

    2008/04/01 at 12:20 pm

    Seriously? Is Mimi from Oakland English-challenged? It says right there “Portraits before and after death.”

    Personally, I only clicked through a couple, not because they were grotesque or exploitive, but having lost someone very close last year after a too-long and painful struggle with bladder cancer, they were just this side of too painful right now.

  • Sher

    2008/04/01 at 12:21 pm

    A bit scary~ A realization that not everyone is ready to meet their maker even when they are in their 80’s.

    I know the quickness of death too well as indicated on the time frames between the first and second photos.

    My Mom, diagnosed with colon cancer, died 9 weeks later. I also had a 9 week old daughter when she died. Her first Grandchild.

    I remember her saying to me as she lay dying, “I just want to change her diapers and all these people keep pushing me out of the way”. She died March 30, 2001.

  • Catriona

    2008/04/01 at 12:21 pm

    How beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Angela

    2008/04/01 at 12:21 pm

    Speaking as a photographer myself, the best photographs stir up emotions. if you open your mind a little bit you might be surprised at what you find. Those portraits were moving and beautifully made.

  • Anon

    2008/04/01 at 12:21 pm

    i’ve never seen a dead person (though i’ve been touched by death many times) and i was a bit afraid to look, but i’m so glad i did. these were beautiful and so much more peaceful than i expected.

  • Nikki

    2008/04/01 at 12:22 pm

    My good friend is a hospice nurse. She often says there is no difference between her work and the work of a labor and delivery nurse; one helps to birth babies and the other helps to birth souls – both of which require great courage. She likes to imagine that those souls are a messy, squirming, crying blob which are handed to their creator who knows and loves them.

    There is great and haunting beauty in these images, and death deserves as much dignity, celebration, and love as any other significant transition in life. These photos help to bring that about. Thank you for sharing.

  • mrshaley

    2008/04/01 at 12:22 pm

    The text describing the subjects of the photos shows that those who are not happy/satisfied/fulfilled by the way they lived their lives will not be peace when those lives are over. I hope that lesson is apparent, even when the photos themselves are disturbing.

  • Slonik

    2008/04/01 at 12:22 pm

    All I can say is, I am glad I was not looking at these by myself.

  • Jenica

    2008/04/01 at 12:22 pm

    memento mori.

  • Cristen

    2008/04/01 at 12:22 pm

    That was a really interesting photo essay; thanks for telling us about it. Just because you didn’t want to deal with your usual 1000 or so comments doesn’t mean you’re chicken shit–that was a ridiculous denouncement on Mimi’s part.

  • jayrose

    2008/04/01 at 12:22 pm

    i lost my sister at 24 this past fall. it’s inspiring to see what these people are thinking in the process leading up to their imminent deaths. a vision of strength in each of them, the photographs are riveting. but i was oddly jealous, they had the time leading up to to verbalize and reflect. she was plucked out of the night by a man backing up a one way street.

  • Flyingwaitress

    2008/04/01 at 12:23 pm

    I will visit my mother today who is dying. It is hard to see her – but after looking at those pictures, I would rather see her dying today, then wait until she is without life. The death pictures were very beautiful but empty. I need to see her as much as I can while she still has life filling her.

    Seeing those pictures also reinforced how quick life is. I think I needed to see them, because I was regretting giving up my stable job to take a big risk. Now I don’t regret it anymore.

    Thank you.

  • sheryl

    2008/04/01 at 12:23 pm

    wow. the photos were beautiful. evocative.
    thank you for sharing them.

  • Leslie

    2008/04/01 at 12:23 pm

    I’m almost scared that they were here watching over my shoulder. Beautiful. Powerful. Wow.

  • David

    2008/04/01 at 12:23 pm

    I thougt it was awesome for you to bring this very moving work to our attention.

    Thank you very much.

  • Patti

    2008/04/01 at 12:23 pm

    You did state clearly what they were about. I thought they were beautiful. That so many of them were so young, that was sad.

    I wonder if Mimi is nauseated by the deaths, or by the images of old people – wasn’t it that movie Logan’s Run, where nobody aged? We’re so inundated with images of young pretty people, maybe that was the shock.

  • Super Woman

    2008/04/01 at 12:23 pm

    Incredibly touching and poignant. It was calming to read the stories of those who had accepted their imminent death, but heart-wrenching to read the stories of those who were terrified of it or felt cheated by it.

    I’ve always believed in living your life the way you dream of living it, every single day. Life is too unpredictable to save all the best stuff for retirement. I’m fortunate that my husband feels the same, because we don’t put off good things if we can afford not to.

  • lindsay

    2008/04/01 at 12:24 pm

    my mom just passed away a month and a half ago from cancer. i was always afraid to take photos of her during her last few months. i now wish i had in some ways, those photos were so peaceful.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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