There’s something that has been haunting me for a while.
Few weeks ago, the father of a four years old child’s suffering from a terminal neuroblastoma – Jessica Whelan – published a photograph of her daughter at the peak of her suffering. Taken in a moment of helplessness, the photo was subsequently used to raise awareness about cancer and to fund a campaign in order to bring Jessica as much comfort as possible.
As a doctor, suffering and death are not strangers to me (even if – as a psychiatrist – death is a rare occurence in my practice). I’ve seen pictures of people feeling seriously ill or even dying, but I often felt a sense of discomfort: in too many cases through the image of a dying person I saw the suffering of the photographer rather than the subject’s and I am sligthly disturbed by the (completely understandable) intrusion of the author’s ego (his need of processing, a bit of exhibitionism, his cry for help) into such a personal space.
Not this time.
There is a sense of absolute pureness that made me connect with her struggle, singlehandedly wiping away any possible resistance on my side. The power of this photograph trascends its formal purpose: it doesn’t raise awareness on cancer, it doesn’t show a family’s suffering, it doesn’t teach anything. This picture takes me where I don’t want to be and keeps me there, asking questions for which there is no answer and feeling a pain I don’t want to feel. And despite all my efforts, I cannot escape.
This is the power of a perfect picture, one I should aspire to take once in my life and one I hope I’ll never have the chance to take.
Jessica died earlier today and her picture is still walking with me – it will for a long time.