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?

  • I thought the pictures conveyed a sense of peace and dignity. In the end, that is all that we can hope for.

    To Mimi – sorry that you were disturbed, but you were WAY out of line in calling Heather names. Get a grip.

  • Death is beautiful, surely how one looks at death and faces it will tell you how they lived their entire life…thanks for the link.

  • I’m glad I looked at these. They are lovely, and terrible, and powerful in a way that only death can be. Thank you for showing this to us.

  • HDC

    A very poignant collection and tasteful in every way. If anyone can’t handle it, then they have much maturing to do.

  • Alex

    Thank you for sharing… it was beautiful in it’s own right. I think it really points out how beautiful life is and how it needs to be cherished. People insulted by REALITY need a reality check for themselves.

  • Aiki

    I couldn’t look. I’m a photographer and I still couldn’t look. I am terrified of death. 🙁

  • Nat W

    Not disturbing at all. Why are people so uncomfortable with death? I’d never seen my grandma look so peaceful than at her open-casket funeral.

  • Kris

    Note to Mimi:

    It’s not like Heather didn’t give you any warning. My kindergartener could understand what “portraits before and after death” means.

    You’re probably one of those people who sues companies because their coffee is too hot for you…or because their cheeseburgers made you fat.

    Sunshine and rainbows can be found on the Teletubbies site. Perhaps you should head over there.

  • Court

    I personally thought they were beautiful like many others have said. They were not what I expected and most of them looked peaceful…

    Thanks for sharing.

  • JessicaP

    everyone looked so serne, and dare I even say happy in Death. Makes me fear it a little less, now. But only a little. I hope when my time comes I’m as ready for it as the people in the portraits seemed to be.

  • Linda

    Sometimes it isn’t bad to take 1/2 hour out of your day to think about the life lessons that become so apparent when facing death. These pictures weren’t so much about death, but were about the lives of the people portrayed. They shared their stories and their thoughts with the world. This isn’t meant to be disturbing or nauseating, I think that this is a beautiful celebration of the lives of these people. Their images are depicted very tastefully and professionally and this lets some of their last words of wisdom live on, even after their passing.

    I love reading funny and happy stories every day, but again, this shows everyone that your site is about REAL life and unfortunately, death is a very large part of this real life. It would be beneficial to read these people’s brief stories and take a few minutes to appreciate the life that we’ve been given.

    Thank you for posting a site that I would definitely not have found on my own. It forced me out of my comfort zone, but I was riveted until I made it though the entire piece.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting, since I am not a fan of viewing dead people, even family – that I found it very calming. I too, was hoping that just one would not die. I loved the stories and found myself sad when I read about the lady who stated that she never wanted to live until she knew she was goin to die. Thanks for sharing.

  • Megan

    Amazing photographs. Thank you for finding the site and posting it. Mimi has no clue and obviously should not have viewed the site. The photos and the stories of the people are actually very inspiring. They make me realize how lucky I am to be alive and have friends and family that love me!

  • Jameykay

    As a photographer/photo student I am highly inspired by those images. They show such a bright side of the darkness through the use of life and death with photography. I think that series is brilliant. It didn’t make me nauseous, it made me want to cry. The images should inspire everyone to live their lives to the fullest because one could never know what will happen in the end.

  • Cindy

    I think they’re beautiful pictures. You described the link very accurately, so people who aren’t comfortable looking at the pictures of the deceased shouldn’t click on the link- it’s that simple.

    Working in long-term care, I’ve had the opportunity be around deceased residents on several occasions. Before experiencing it, I thought being alone in a room with a dead body would be a nightmare, but it isn’t frightening at all if it’s a person who died of natural causes. I was grateful to have a moment to pay my respects privately.

  • Erin

    I’m speechless…this is beautiful and chilling. Thank you for posting this.

  • Liz

    haunting and beautiful all at once and a reminder to get out there and live life now

    thanks Heather

  • I’m in awe of whoever took those photos. Not because they’ve got enough balls to actually do it, but to care enough about what people don’t usually see to make a project to make people wake up.

  • Amanda

    Wow Heather thank you so much for putting these up. I think seeing these pictures were the kick in the arse that I needed to re-arrange a few things in my life.

  • Mimi apparently didn’t understand what “dead” meant. Mimi – chill out!

    This was an awesome series of portraits and a good daily dose of reality check.

  • Lisa

    I’m a hospice nurse by way of the ICU, so I’ve seen my fair share of death in person…trust me when I say that while it is a very moving, individual, and even intimate experience to witness someone dying, “nauseating” is not a word that pops to mind.

    These pictures are beautiful and reminded me of my special patients/friends. Thank you!!

  • Erin

    It was hard to breathe while I was looking at the pictures. I’m not sure why, because I had a persistent feeling throughout that life is the illusion and what comes after is so much greater.

  • leslie

    I watched my father die of cancer almost two years ago. He was only 68 years old and he went very quickly. Within nine months of being diagnosed with bladder cancer, he was gone. He didn’t want to die and fought it until the very last week of his life. It was painful to watch the strongest man I ever knew cry and look at me like he was begging to live. When he died he looked like he was 80 years old. I thought I wouldn’t want to see him in his casket. I did not want to remember him that way but it was a comfort. I looked at the body in that casket and knew it was no longer my father. It was a confirmation of my faith. Our body is a vessel for our spirit and nothing confirms it more than to see the utter transformation of the human body from life to death. These images did not disturb me in any way, in fact, they again reaffirm my spiritual beliefs.

  • Anonymous

    I was afraid, yet felt compelled, to click on the link. Mimi, I found my mother, dead in her chair. I watched my aunt die. These were peaceful, poignant and fascinating portraits. The narratives were more heart-rending than the mere pictures. We shouldn’t fear death–only wasted lives. Thanks for sharing, Heather!

  • How can you deal with these nutty demanding people every day? I give you alot of credit.

    You said what they where about. Geez. Don’t you just want to fill their inbox with spam and poop?

    I opened the link and saw exactly what I expected. death. Great link by the way.


    Do Work !

  • Jaida

    Heather, along with your humor and insight, you always continue to inspire. To those who may be appalled to see these pictures, you don’t realize art really does imitate life. Art inspires, angers, and stirs our deepest emotions. If you still don’t get it after that, go live in a cave until you die.

    Keep up the great work my dear. I hope to meet your goofy butt some day.

  • I don’t get it. The only thing as natural as life is death. I don’t see what is so controversial about these photos. And to be nauseated by them; grow up.

  • I loved the pictures. Beautiful & very haunting!

    And it was nice, in the captions, to see a little humor to… “And I just bought a deep freezer. If I’d only known!” That’s something my family would say.

    Thansk for sharing.

  • Simon

    The pictures are beautiful. The distance between life and death can be as little as the difference between two clicks of a camera shutter.

    Get out there and do something before you hear the second click.

  • I think they were beautiful but then, I don’t have hang ups about death.

    Not that I want to experience it personally.

  • Karrie

    I feel bad saying I ‘enjoyed’ looking at pictures and reading about people who were sick and who died, but I really loved that you posted the link for it and I’m so glad I looked at it. I thought it was so interesting… more the interview part than the pictures, actually. Alot of them seemed so sad and so empty and really just mad about dying. I find that extremely interesting… something so many could learn from.
    I just can’t imagine having that feeling – the empty or the questioning… I feel sad for them

    Very interesting, Heather. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mer

    I think people surf the Internet at their own risk.

    Jason Kottke posted the same link and he didn’t have comments. Why are you obligated to open comments?

    Get over it, Mimi.

  • I like to cook; caring for others by preparing a meal to nourish their bodies means a lot to me. It really irritates me when someone can’t bear to look at raw meat, but has no problem eating a hamburger. Become a vegetarian; I promise I won’t make too much fun of you…

    Mimi’s e-mail pissed me off. She was specifically told what they were and STILL looked at them anyway. If a person cannot look at something natural like death, she probably doesn’t deserve the blessing of life.

  • The pictures reminded me so much of my grandfather. Reading through the comments, you certainly have a lot of loyal fans.

    Did you know what kind of comments you’ll receive when you enabled the comments section?

  • I think Mimi is terrified of death and needs a hug.

    The woman who felt rejected by life itself, so painful. I hope death has given her something she needed while in this life.

  • Not nauseating. Fascinating how people cease to look like themselves in death, as if the soul really does animate the face, even in photographic respose.

  • robinv

    Thanks for opening comments on this one.
    If someone is nauseated by death, I feel they not only fear death, but living also. It’s sad when someone can’t/won’t face the inevitable reality that we all die. I am happy to see that so many had a peaceful look on their faces. I saw that peace come over my father’s face the day he died. It was very comforting.
    Thanks for posting the link.

  • KittyJJ

    Just like the first commenter: beautiful and amazing, and incredibly moving.

    I would like to thank you for directing me towards those. I felt the photographer’s work was compassionate and important, in relation to a subject that is as inescapeable as it is often ignored.

  • Nikki

    They all look so peaceful…

  • Jordan

    I think these pictures are amazing and complex and powerful.

    They make me thankful for my healthy pregnancy and excited to meet the baby that is on the way into my life. At the same time they also make me feel sad and a little heartsick and lonely.

    I think provoking such complicated ideas and emotions is a sign of truly amazing art.

  • Sheri Bheri

    I have tears in my eyes, because that was so beautiful! And haunting.

    I think it was really tastefully done, and it’s not as if you tricked anyone into going to see disturbing photos of gruesome deaths.

    But I could see it being troublesome for someone who has cancer (or who loves someone who has cancer). I did have a moment of picturing my Mom (I can’t even say it) and it troubled me greatly (still does).

  • I found them to be hauntingly beautiful.

  • K

    It never fails to surprise me the way people take ownership of you and your website. It’s good they feel so invested, but it’s your perogative to open comments when you feel like it. The end.

    Anyway, thanks for the link.

  • sheeply

    These photos were surprisingly calming; not the contorted, painful vision we are subjected to in fiction and film. I only hope my passing and that of those I love is as peaceful as these pictures seem to portray.

    In reply to your email comment, a fear of death is no more than an uncertainty that one’s life is not real. Life without death is not real. Death is the one thing that brings any human being, irrespective of gender, religion, colour, creed, salary and social status, together. Live your life, and then die your death. Its the way things are meant to be.

  • i felt… bothered. though i think the idea can be poetically beautiful, sure, i still felt odd and undeserving of seeing the deceased that i didn’t personally know. if that makes sense?

  • i thought the photos shed a very dignified light on something that to many people, feels undignified. the photos made me very sad, but they were not grotesque or exploitative in any way. and yes, there was some kind of peace that seemed to be there in the death photos. and that was, in its own way, comforting.

  • In January 2006 my 34 year old cousin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In June 2006 she died. I wrote my masters thesis on the subject of death and grief that same year because the experience had such a profound effect on me. Part of Mimi’s “problem” is simply societal – Americans are less comfortable with death and dying than people in other countries, other cultures. When people die here they are whisked off and prepared by other people and then they reappear in a funeral home or church. Death and dying are taboo and they make people uncomfortable. When I looked at those pictures I saw my cousin’s face in every one of them. Thanks for posting them Heather.

    I took pictures of my cousin (at her mother’s request) in the hours after she had passed away. I haven’t seen them but I think maybe now I want to.

  • Angel in Kentucky

    My Mother died from cancer (at 61). I watched her breathe, and I watched it stop. Looking at those photos reminded me of those last moments with her, which I would NEVER change. As one hospice person said to me…..”How much closer can you get to Heaven’s Light, than to be with the one you love, while they are dying?” Profoundly HONEST.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Suzie

    I thought these were lovely. I know these particular photos were chosen to tell a story, but it was amazing to me that some of the more anxious people alive look so at peace dead.

    My own father lays dying as I type-and his dementia has stolen who it was we knew. The man that inhabits his body these days is someone none of us recognize-an angry destructive man my gentle and funny father would have hated.

    I’m hoping death brings back the gentle man he was-if even only to his face. These photos bring me that hope.

    Thank you for the link.

  • Death is as real and as perfect as life. It is exactly what it is supposed to be and it is an eventuality that we must all learn to live with. Living with an understanding and acceptance of death is a rich and powwerful thing. Embracing the fact that we will one day die should free us to live our lives in a manner in which we are able to find peace, beauty and purpose.

    The only regret for death should be for those who did not have the opportunity to live life as it should have been. Those from whom life was taken too quickly, or too violently, but when old age brings us to the end of a life well lived it is an accomplishment that should be met with joy and gratitude.

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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