Virginia Beahan’s photographs tell a story that is at once demanding, joyous, surprising, and painful. In the fall of 2002, Beahan and her husband helped her 88-year-old mother sell her house in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and moved her to their home in rural New Hampshire. In failing health, her mother’s doctors believed she would die within the coming months. She soon recovered, however, and for the first time in many decades, Beahan and her mother began to spend their days together, learning to accommodate each other’s needs and lives. Suffering from the early stages of dementia, losing her memory and her ability to process information, her mother could never be left alone. Accustomed to a busy schedule of teaching, traveling, and making photographs, Beahan felt trapped by these unexpected circumstances. Turning to her camera to bring structure and familiarity to a new routine, Beahan created a remarkable document of her family as it navigated what might otherwise be heartbreaking circumstances.
"In a reversal of roles, I took care of her, and we were constant companions. She went with me everywhere: lectures and concerts at Dartmouth College where I teach, dinners with neighbors, swimming at the local pond. As her health failed she spent more time sleeping, but she still enjoyed forays into the outdoors, basking in the warm sunshine and the fragrance of the garden. Five years later, my mother died at home when she was 93 years old. Although this was an emotional and difficult time, I have photographs that celebrate the beauty and fragility of these intimate moments with the people we love and in the places we call home."
Beginning with portraits of her mother and daughter, Beahan soon expanded her subjects to include her husband, brother, cousins, and family friends — the people who surrounded her mother and her family throughout this time. Beahan’s photographs face a difficult situation with directness and compassion, without flinching from her mother’s condition or succumbing to sentimentality. They reveal a painful transition that every family faces, yet one that is rarely shared with the outside world. Beahan captured the end of her mother’s life with openness and generosity, and a belief in the fundamental strength that binds together those we love and hold dear.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website