Becoming Mr. Buckley
a photo essay
a photo essay
I first met my father-in-law, John Edward Buckley, shortly after I began dating his daughter, Julie. I remember telling Julie very soon after I met him that her father had a great face for photos, and over the next few years I made many photos of “Jack”.
In late 2015, Jack was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in a fairly advanced stage, an illness complicated by COPD and diabetes.
In the spring of 2016, Jack was hospitalized after a fall at home. The yellow wrist band indicates Jack was designated a “Fall Risk”. Jack hated that.
This is around the time I started using my camera to document Jack’s life.
Staff at the hospital consistently addressed Jack as Mr. Buckley.
“No, ” Jack would explain, “Mr. Buckley died in 1956. I’m Jack.” Even later, when Jack lost his voice, if a nurse or doctor addressed him as Mr Buckley, Jack would shake his head no, on more than one occasion turning to me to explain to the staff who Mr. Buckley was.
Jack’s father, Mr. Walter Buckley, is above in black and white.
After a short stay in hospital, Jack returned home to enjoy spring.
But as summer turned to fall, Jack was losing weight and getting weaker.
Jack’s wife Carole died in 1999, and between 1999 and December 2016 Jack never took his ring off – not to shower, sleep, or for any other reason.
Jack was granted a pass to go home for Christmas Eve and and Christmas Day. He eagerly anticipated the holiday and started marking the days on a calendar when he would get to go home.
But he returned to the hospital Christmas Eve.
Jack began to lose his voice and sleep more, but even before that he started leaving notes to himself.
This one reads “Julie downstairs. Holly on way.”
Jack took a bad spell on New Years Day, and the family was called in overnight.
Jack never mentioned it, but the next day he added “Not going home this time” to his notes.
But for the next couple of weeks Jack started to get stronger. He was eating more some days than he had for whole weeks in the previous two months, and even started to regain his voice some.
About two weeks after the night the family was called in, the ever optimistic and eternally stubborn Jack told Julie “Remember the night they called the family in? I showed them. I got stronger.”
But he was still losing weight.
Like anyone, Jack had good days, bad days… angry days… but he was far too stubborn in his good nature to let it last for long.
On January 18th, after more than a month in hospital, Jack moved to Bobby’s Hospice.
I think Jack was happier that night than he’d been in months. He eagerly showed me his private room, including electric lazy-boy chair, a TV he could tune to classic country 24/7, and a picture window overlooking Our Lady of Assumption church.
The next morning, Jack died.
Jack was just 12 when he watched his father, Mr. Buckley, die of lung related illness. Jack once told me that for the last few weeks of his father’s life, his father would only take a little bread with molasses and some whiskey.
I wonder if Jack had such reverence for the name Mr. Buckley because he recognized the brave struggle his father must’ve put up before his own passing.
I honored Jack’s wish that he not be called Mr. Buckley while he was living, but for me, there will forever be two Mr. Buckleys.