Dying Beautifully by Jason Houston

Issue 18

On January 16th, 2009 my friend Billie Best called me. Her husband, Chet Cahill, had been diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal cancer six months before and was dying. She told me it was beautiful there and I should come photograph. I cleared my day, grabbed a camera and a lens, and a half hour later I was quietly photographing while she tended to him in the hospital bed they set up by the windows in the front room of their farm house. That evening, at 5:10 pm, Chet died. Billie and Chet had committed themselves to accepting death and approaching the entire process consciously and with the same open examination and deliberate planning we give to other important events in our lives such as births and marriages. These images, presented chronologically, were made that last morning and the following five days after his death.

Billie and Chet had agreed she would retain possession of his body until he was cremated. In what she saw as a jokester's final jab at the sort of bureaucracy he'd fought against his whole life, he died ten minuets after the medical examiner's office hours ended on Friday before the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, delaying the necessary paperwork for days. Billie kept Chet in a back room, windows open the cold Massachusetts January air, until cremation could be cleared for the following Wednesday. Friends and family came and went, bringing food, gifts, and token reminders of their relationship with Chet, turning a weekend of waiting into a celebratory send-off.

Her experiences, drawn primarily from journal writing and poetry she did throughout Chet's illness, and the complete series of Jason's images were made into a one woman show performed throughout Western Massachusetts and in Boston and published in the book, "Dying Beautifully" available at http://www.dyingbeautifully.org.

Jason Houston lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.
To view more of Jason's work, please visit his website.