4th stage of cancer, there is no 5th phase

I love the light at the end of summer: long shadows, deep green and subtle softness that let the photographed skin shine. The end of August, it’s time to photograph all the ideas I collect in my notebook throughout the year. The end of summer is also a time of special intimacy, which appears every time I look at my beloved person through the camera mirrors. Photography is for me a companion of closeness. And my father was the main character of my photo series in recent years.

The beginning of June we got the diagnosis: the fourth stage of cancer, there is no fifth. A vision of the last common moments appeared before us.

Illness can be a humiliating and meaningless act, but it can also be a study of love and reconciliation with our own mortality. It may be an attempt to look at this tragic but unavoidable phenomenon reasonably and without fear. So much in theory. In practice, I wanted to find a way to learn to perceive beauty in these extremely difficult moments.

Creativity has always been my way to carefully look at the world from other points of view that is necessary for gaining knowledge. That is why I decided to use art and embroidering to think about what is happening around me. I involved my relatives in this process. My mother helped me measure, cut the fabric and sew it on the machine, later my son and husband helped me with making up the pattern, arranging the space for embroidering (they would often hide me from my dad so that he would not discover the surprise). I gave him a scarf a few days after shaving his head, as “new hair”. Dad wore it, he always had it with him.

The act of embroidering itself was related to taming the disease and learning to accept the emotions. I knew that I could not overcome death, I can only ensure that the circumstances of dying  – loneliness, suffering, social exclusion were as painless as possible. I had to learn in a short time to treat illness and dying as a part of my life, to be able to approach both processes carefully and finally be able to appreciate the beauty of the last moments with each other. Experiencing dad’s disease is also looking at a beautiful mother who is in a hurry to prepare a house and bake a cake for the return of her beloved husband from the hospital. It is also the last eaten puff, coffee, read book, return to your favorite song. These little things acquire an extraordinary significance in its finality.

Dad would be a man with the appearance of an Indian: hazel, deep-set eyes, a curved nose, long black hair, and the back like loaves of bread. Cochise nickname stuck to him in his youth, and with age only got stronger. He was an Indian to me since childhood. The loss of hair caused by the effects of chemotherapy was therefore not only a change in appearance for him, but it was a loss of a piece of identity. This is why the main motive of the headscarf is feathers from the plume, which among the Indians had religious significance, it was even a magical protective talisman.

I put it on his head after death while preparing and washing the body (it is worth tying a scarf on the jaw before the body cools down so that it does not fall down, so that the face is not open).

The headscarf was cremated with him. The very process of creating a headscarf and its presence in our reality was a symbol of the struggle for a good life with illness and dying.


The story and photographic documentation of making of the headscarf for ailing father, which eventually became a symbol of learning what a good dying is.

translation: Ewa Warlewska

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