An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

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)


Just got this email from Mimi in Oakland:


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?

  • Jenny

    I found myself crying as I read the captions of these photographs. They are beautiful and touching.

    Photographs of the dead were a common happenstance in the early 19th century. The Wisconsin Death Trip book is a great example of this phenomenon.

    It’s amazing to me the commentary from the people who died. The range of emotions as humans reach the end of their mortal lives.

  • Jenn

    Nauseated? Wow. That’s a truly amazing reaction to something so beautiful and haunting.

    Thank you for sharing that.

  • Death is a natural occurrence of nature, whether it be a day for a mayfly or 85 years for a human. The pictures were haunting, but they also were beautiful. I felt that each was done is such a dignified way – to honor a person who might not have gotten the recognition in any other way or form in their lives.

  • Mark

    Heather good for you for posting. Never let cowards like Mimi get you down. They shoot off their mouths (fingers??) as they dont think that they will be called on. Keep up the great work, and let the Mimi’s of the world toil in their own obscurity.

  • I thought they were chillingly beautiful…although they were somewhat haunting to look at, it was an eerie yet incredible reminder of what every single one of us (even the chicken shits) will experience at some point.

    Not everything on the internet must contain hilarious pictures of cats with poor grammar to be considered great.

    (although it must be said I do enjoy my fair share of lolcats)

  • Mo

    Cheers, Heather. I enjoyed the photos. Death is a part of life, and one that most of us are not comfortable with. It’s nice to see it chronicled tastefully through photographs. Thanks for posting!

  • Jen

    I don’t get how these were nauseating to Mimi…I found them to be lovely and thought-provoking. I was interested to see how many of them were peaceful about their death, I hope I am that serene when my time comes.

    #38 (Nikki) – your friend is clearly an angel on earth. What a wonderful way to think about birth and death. Her patients are lucky to have her.

  • This is something that took my breath away. THank you, I am sharing it with everyone I know. I am a nurse and have seen so many people transition through these feelings and thoughts. I know one day I will too. It gives me strength and a sense of hauntedness at the same time.

  • Cristina

    Heather, one of the things I love about your blog is how one day you’ll have me cracking up out loud in the middle of the library, and the next day you’ll share with us something so touching and poignant that I’m crying at the end. Whether it’s a story about Chuck stepping in his own poop, your sweet monthly newsletters to Leta, or a visual meditation on life and death, your blog is my special daily escape from my usual stress and responsibilities.

    You are NOT chicken shit. You are generous, soulful and fucking hilarious.

    And thank you for posting that link. It was lovely and sad.

  • Rosemary

    @ #8 “i kept hoping they wouldnt die in the next photo”

    I too felt that way, I couldn’t bear to read about any of them, as it was breaking my heart anyway.

  • Marce

    Heavy stuff… makes me think that I better start living instead of just existing

  • Amk

    I was about to lose my @#$% (wait, why am I editing my profanity? Did I forget where I am?), let me rephrase that: I was about to lose my fucking shit when I read Mimi’s comment. I came here fully intending to go off on some ill-begotten tirade about how fucking tired I am of people not dealing with death and dying and our universal, unavoidable mortality and don’t even get me started about people who use hushed voices and “air quotes” when they say words like “cancer” and “met his greater reward”. But then I actually read all the comments and was like, whew, thank god (or Allah or Jah or my personal favorite deity: the toilet bowl). Not everyone is complete and total douche bag.

    Also, Mimi from Oakland, have you not noticed the fact that, mmm, every post on this particular site is closed to comments? Because when you’re the master of the universe, it gets hard to push the Moderate Comments button six thousand times an hour.

  • Vee

    The photographs are not disturbing, they’re beautiful and they’ve reminded me that no matter how difficult life can be at times, at the end of the road all we want is a little more time.

  • Eva

    So this woman reads your disclaimer, clicks anyway, and then is unhappy, so instead of taking responsibility for her own actions, she blames you for not giving her the opportunity to complain in public. I think it’s her that is the chicken, too chicken to observe the photos, too chicken not to observe the photos, and too chicken to accept that her choices are HER fault, not yours.

    BTW, I wonder if it’s only me that once in a while is not even sure myself what the warped spam blocker words are supposed to be saying..

  • JMB

    Beautiful link. Thank you for sharing. I was more interested in the stories than the pictures to be honest. They were much more touching.

  • i thought these photographs were very moving, and very sad. they reminded me of two people i love who died in the last 18 months, and how painful it was seeing their faces knowing they would never smile at me again.

    to those who have attacked mimi for her admittedly rude and uncharitable email to heather, i wonder if you have thought that maybe someone she loved died recently and she didn’t realize how the images might affect her. yes, she might have thought more carefully about clicking through, but i think we all know that death is one of those topics that bring out weird and powerful emotions. anyhow, just another perspective on the email…it’s so easy to judge without having any context.

    best to all and thanks to dooce for all the great posts.

  • Lar

    I didn’t click the link so I have no opinion on the photos, but I do have an opinion on Mimi in Oakland. I think Mimi doesn’t take the time to read through a post before she clicks a link all willy-nilly. If Mimi had *read* the post, she might have deduced that the link might be a little graphic.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  • Bene

    Incredibly beautiful and respectfully done work.

    Anyone who finds this nauseating needs to come to grips with their own mortality. I have found the efforts of morticians to alter the faces of the dead to be far more distasteful — the faces look so artificial and contorted. The photos show these people’s real last faces, and I would rather see the people I love this way than with the plastinated smile of the embalmed.

  • While I agree with the many who commented that you made it absolutely clear what the photos were and so Mimi’s email blast points towards her failing…I AM glad that comments were opened because I would not have looked at the photos had I not read all of the comments.

    I would not have looked out of a kind of fear…being in a difficult circumstance in my life, I thought I didn’t need to see “death”. However, I ultimately did look and while haunting and wishing that things could turn out differently for all of them, there is also that beauty in the stories, in the “process” – I don’t even have the words right now, but I AM glad I looked and I’m grateful for the post and the comments that “helped” me take the step to look.

  • Anonymous

    thanks for this.

    i think that any time is a good time to remember how much you have left to say to the people that you love.

    (even if you are crying in your cube…)

  • Angela


    I was sitting here finishing up some work and looking around my house at the sink of dishes waiting to be washed..
    the pile of laundry waiting to be folded…..
    all the discarded toys waiting to be placed back neatly in their baskets and on the book shelf…
    all the “work” that needs to be done…..endless.

    But now I’m packing up my 2 year old — who came in carrying her snow white princess dress calling for disneyland — and we’re heading off to the magic kingdom!

    I’m sure, given the choice, each of those precious sould would have chosen one more day of magic with mickey over a day of dishes.

    Thanks, Heather. You rock!

  • I love them. I found them thought-provoking and life-affirming. Thank you.

  • nikki (comment 38)…that was beautiful and made me feel like i was going to cry. i feel like i want to write that down to remember as words of comfort for the future. thank you.

  • Kathy

    Beautiful. Didn’t Morrie say, you’ve got to learn how to die in order to learn how to live?

    Makes me wish I had taken a photo of my father after he died. They look very peaceful and at rest.

  • Barstool Babe

    Thank you for linking to these photographs. They are powerful and thought provoking. Part of me is sadden by the passing of these strangers and yet part of me is gladden by their stories. My Aunt passed away one year ago and while she was sorry she didn’t get a “couple of more years,” she was contented that she got to die where she wanted to (at home) and how she wanted to. Damn, I miss her.

  • karen

    Wow. Sharing the moment of death with two family members in the past 2 years has taught me not to fear death, but to accept it as part of life and to bring grace to it. And to try harder to make the most of my life, to surround myself with wonderful people, and to try to make life better for those I can.

    Now to find my kleenex…

  • Michelle

    I found these pics touching, how most of them were at peace with their passing after battling illnesses.

    Don’t listen to all those people pissing you off – I’ve read your blog for years now and loved every minute of it. I could read about your Leta and Chuckles every day. I have a 3 year old and she mirrors Leta so I enjoy your posts about your frustrations. Makes me know that I am not alone in this job of motherhood.

  • Ely


    The amount of thoughts that are racing through my mind right now…ugh..just so many.

    but really…thanks for bring my attention to this

  • Christina

    Talk about chicken shit – it sounds like someone else is a little uncomfortable with the idea of death….how lame for her to send that comment…because after all everything you write and post should bear some stamp of approval from THEM right? NOT! (what do people think? hello, freedom of speech and expression people) I found the photo’s beautiful and peaceful. Being that I’ve buried 4 immediate family members over the last 6 years and been there every (or most) steps of the damn way I actually found the photo montage comforting and almost sweet.

    You know…now that I think about it – she’s probably just jealous that these people look better dead than she’ll ever look (or sound) alive….people have nerve.

  • Jesica

    I lost my grandmother last night. There is something inspiring about staring death in the face and choosing not to to wait until the last moments to cease the day.

    Thanks for the link to the beautiful pictures.

  • Lucy

    Mimi obviously has issues- mortality or literacy, I’m not sure, but issues.

    I thought the pictures were stunning- beautiful, calming, the truth we’ll all face someday.

  • I PAYED to view the photos. About a year and a half ago these portraits were exhibited in Lisbon, in the water museum.
    The portraits were hanged around the water depository, and you could sense the peacefulness walking in that place and seeing those pictures.

  • What would possess anyone to blame you when they clearly clicked on a well-described link themselves? Some people really need a lesson in responsibility. Personally, I found the photos to be incredibly beautiful. Because of this beautiful work, they will live on. I was amazed how young many of the subjects were. Scary.

  • I know I’m just another voice in the throng here, but I love these pictures. The stories behind them and the look of peace on some faces and frustration on others. I think to when my own mother died and these pictures, while making me sad, fill me with a sense of respect and I thank the person for taking them and taking the time to know these people as they died.

  • Amanda

    I expected to be more creeped out, and not to be able to get all the way through. Surprisingly, I found them facinating. The stories were sad, but the images were very powerful.

    Dealing with death can be a very difficult struggle, yet it is a part of our lives. I found the series intriguing

  • Laurah.

    I feel that the pictures and the stories that go along are helpful to some. I have personally dealt with many of my loved ones dying around me recently and I’m only 22 years old. Four “adults” and my best friend died in a timespan of one month just last year.
    This is your blog. You reserve the rights to post what you want and if you want the comments or not.

  • Heather B

    I have been a Medical Social Worker for 12 years. For 8 years I worked in long-term care and for a year I worked in hospice. These pictures were a reminder of how blessed I have been to be present in the lives of some amazing people and how honored I have been to be a part of their death.

    Thank you.

  • Lani

    The faint smile on Beate’s face in her second portrait gives me great hope that there is something better beyond all of this.

  • I will be standing in the sunshine next to you.

    This is why i love the internet. I would have never found that site on my own. I feel enlightened. thank you for sharing.

  • Pictures and sites, such as these, should be brought to our attention more often. These pictures and stories make us realize that we should not take life for granted, and I think that a lot of us do. Thank you!

  • Heartbreaking and beautiful. The sense of peace that emanates from the “after” photos is breathtaking. Thanks for sharing, Heather… I’m not sure I would’ve stumbled across them otherwise.

  • Sara

    These took my breath away.

    Our culture is so achingly death-denying. We’d be better off if we were reminded more often.

  • Stuckino

    The one certainty in life is death; it’s inevitable, we should embrace it. I work in an ICU and it’s sad to see so many patients and family members that extend their suffering because they are afraid to let go. The sadness of death is equaled by its beauty. It’s like reading the last page of a great novel…

  • Shannon

    I thought they were beautiful pictures. I held my dad’s hand when he died at age 55 of brain cancer, and it is true what they say after all of that suffering they truly are at peace.

  • kjc

    I’ve seen far more graphic “death” on TV… what was there to be nauseated by?

    By the way… My grandmother had tons of photos of various family members around the casket, before burial. Wake up Mimi this is nothing new.

  • Wendi

    I actually hated the pictures. Why can’t we spend more money on cancer research and treatment instead of this war? We could do so much more as a society. Please think about that when you vote in November.

  • Anonymous

    its not like you didn’t warn people about exactly what was in the pictures.

  • Paula

    I found these very moving, and am sending the link to some of my friends who I think would also understand the fragility of life that the pictures convey (to me anyway). I really connected with the person who said she had never really lived until she found out she was dying. That struck me to my heart, and I don’t want to say that at the end of my life. Time to evaluate what I am doing with my time here on earth.
    Thanks, Heather.

  • I thought the photos were amazing. What a great way to honor those who have passed on. Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in dying any time soon. When the time does come, I’m sure I’ll be fearful but when you think about it death really is a passage, much like being born. There should be a way to find some kind of joy or honor in people’s passing. I think the photos do that in a way.

  • Majik Man

    I kept telling myself that the second pictures were of them just sleeping. I am ignorant to the fact that someday, the oldest and greatest people in my life will die. I hate it.

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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