The Last Photograph


First-Place Article

I have a photograph of my dad and me. It was taken at my Eagle Scout court of honor the summer before last. It is the last picture taken of my father before he became a quadriplegic. The court of honor was on a Saturday night. My father and I stood next to each other, his arm around me, while my mom pressed the button capturing us on film.

The next week I went to the beach with my parents, two younger sisters, and my friend Matt. Loaded down with baskets and blankets we journeyed to the beach. We found a good spot where there were not too many people around. My friend and I dropped everything and made a mad dash for the ocean. The water was warm, and the sky was clear. The waves did not look at all threatening. Everything was fine. We were swimming, body surfing the waves, and having seaweed fights. We were walking back to find our spot when I saw my dad go into the water. I decided to go back in and join him for a little body surfing.

We were standing next to each other, talking and waiting for the next wave. When it came, we both took it. My friend Matt was off somewhere swimming. I pulled out of it before it got too shallow. “Dad, did you have a good ride?” No answer. I looked around and I could not see him. I thought he was under the water and was going to grab my legs or something. Then I saw him. “Dad! Dad!” He was floating on his stomach, only his shorts and back visible.

I fought through the water to get to him. I remember thinking that he had to be all right because nothing like this could happen to us. I reached him and struggled to turn him over onto his back so he could breathe. This whole time I had been yelling, “Dad! Dad!” over and over again. I got him turned over and as his eyes met mine, my whole body shook with fear. There was no expression on is face, but I saw terror and panic in his eyes. At that moment a wave struck us, sending me reeling and tearing him from my arms. I fought back to the surface, but my father was not in sight. I started screaming, “Matt, help me find my dad! Find my dad! Help me find my dad!” I knew we had to find him before another wave came. I knew his life was in our hands.

I had no feeling at this time. I just knew we had to find him. We spotted his swimming suit a little ways off. We struggled through the water to reach him. I could see a wave coming and I felt like I was in some dream where people are chasing you but your feet are stuck to the ground. We reached him just before a wave hit us. Turning him over, we each grabbed under an arm and began to drag him in. This whole time we had been yelling for help. Two men appeared and then a lifeguard, and they helped us drag him onto the shore. I noticed that he was very white and that his lips were blue. His eyes were open and focused right on me. The lifeguard kept asking him to blink if he heard him, but his eyes just stared into mine.

All of a sudden my stomach just dropped. I had this wrenching feeling and I felt sick. I have never been so scared. I knew he must have a broken neck or back. He had some blood on his forehead so I guessed it must be his neck. We got him onto the shore, and before I knew it we were surrounded by lifeguards. They backed me off and began to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

My mother had no idea of what was happening. I told Matt to run and get her. I did not want to leave my dad. I was walking around in a circle, sick with fear. I saw one of the lifeguards put her ear to his chest. They began to do CPR. They began to pound on his chest. I lost it. I knew he was dead. I knew that his heart had stopped. I started hollering, “No way, this can’t be happening! No way! No way!” A lifeguard came up to me and said, “You’re not going to help him by getting mad.” I knew he was right, but my staying calm would not help him either. Nothing I could do was going to help him.

By this time there was a huge crowd of people and more kept coming. I saw my mom running towards me. She did not know what had happened, but seeing all the people gathered she imagined the worst.

She was right; it was the worst. I ran to meet her. She was in hysterics, yelling at me to tell her what was wrong. Through the crowd she could see the lifeguards giving him CPR. She tried to go to him, but I held her back. She grabbed me and began sobbing.

A lifeguard came to us to tell us what was happening. By now the paramedics had arrived, and I saw them pull out electric shock devices, the kind you see in movies. He was dead, and they were trying to shock him back into life. All the strength went out of me and I almost fell to the ground. I could not watch anymore. I turned away. My mom still clung to me. She was talking and crying, but I couldn’t understand her.

One of the lifeguards came over to tell us that they got his heart beating. I felt no relief from this. By this time they had a tube in his mouth giving him oxygen because he was not breathing on his own. People were coming up to my mom and asking her if they could pray for him. I wanted to comfort her and act old and mature and tell her everything was going to be all right. But the only thing I could do was hold her and let her cry.

He lay there on the beach for about an hour with the lifeguards working on him. He was still unconscious, and his heart was very unstable. They slowly put him into the ambulance, and my mom got in also. I remember just standing there watching it drive away, wondering what our life was going to be like from then on.

He did have a broken neck and a severed spinal cord. The cord was severed so high that not only was he totally paralyzed from the neck down, but he was also unable to breathe on his own. At first some doctors told us that he would never be able to talk again or even come home to live. However, after six long, difficult months in a rehabilitation center, he was able to come home. Because of special equipment, he can breathe, talk, and even control a powered wheelchair. By sipping and puffing, he can make his chair do anything he wants.

He has been home for ten months now. It is great to be a family again. However, all of our lives have been affected by what has happened. We, as a family, are maintaining all of his care. I have had to assume many responsibilities. I do many things for him that he used to be able to do on his own.

Through all of this my dad has had the best attitude. He never seems mad or discouraged about what has happened, and he never complains about it. He just accepts it and lives his life to the best of his ability. He has been the ultimate example to me. If he can cope with this without getting discouraged and complaining, then it seems to me that all my problems are nothing.

My dad has accomplished many things in his life. At the time of his injury, he was president of our stake. I’m sure that it is a great comfort to him now that he has done so many things. This teaches me not to waste away a moment of my life. You never know what is going to happen to you. Also, before his accident, I was never sure what I was going to do with my life. Now, with all of the care I have rendered to him, I feel that I would like to become a doctor. This terrible accident has, in fact, affected me in a positive way.

I have another photograph of me and my dad. It was taken last summer outside in our front yard. I am standing next to him with my arm around him, and he is sitting in his wheelchair. As I compare the two pictures I can see the difference. It is not that he is in a wheelchair. Others probably couldn’t see the change, but to me, we are not the same people who were in a similar picture a year before. There has been a physical change, but the true change has occurred within. I deeply sense it whenever I look at the last photograph.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Michael Heinz