Patricia Richards

Dad: Diagnosis Cancer / My dad died two days after the Blue moon. He died too young and far too fast. Less than eleven weeks passed between diagnosis and death. Could the pull of the moon have made a difference, quickening his passing? I read about the Blue Moon in the newspaper. While reading I remembered lyrics from an old song, “Blue moon, I was you standing alone, without ad care in your heart, without a life of your own…”

When I first heard that song I couldn’t quite figure out it’s meaning – I assumed it was about love. The newspaper says a Blue Moon occurs when the moon is full twice in one month, at the beginning and at the end… cyclical like a woman’s time. The second full moon in the cycle is the one called “Blue”. It also said that Blue Moons are rather common – coming about once every twelve month. I wondered “if indeed a Blue Moon happens annually, why had it not impacted me before this particular passage?”

Dad used to say that it was good to learn something new everyday. Was that what this was “something new”? He used to tease me and remind me that everything in the world represented an “opportunity” and that I should always be ready for that… the “opportunity”. Then I wouldn’t miss it. As I watched the Blue Moon rise over the cemetery, which stood silently waiting across the street from the hospice where Dad lay, I thought about his words. “Everything represents an opportunity. Don’t ever turn one of those down, those ‘opportunities’. You never know, it could be the one you’re waiting for.” A big smile always followed his sage proclamations. I would have to remember that now that he was fading… being pulled away from us for an “opportunity” all his own.

We hadn’t known he was ill. Nor had he. In his whole lifetime he could not count the number of days he’d been ill on one hand. My Dad didn’t get sick. He was a doctor – of the old school – the kind that made house calls. As a child I’d been his companion on many of those – sitting alone in a strangers house while he treated a sick person down the hall. After he became ill he hated himself for not recognizing he had a problem. But he had no symptoms. Nothing bothered him. Nothing hurt him. Nothing stopped him. Then one day he couldn’t think of a word he wanted to use and it made him mad. When that happened again he went to his doctor.

My sister telephoned, “there’s something wrong with Dad” she sobbed. They found a tumor in his brain, and then they found another one… I cannot describe the horror that invaded and took control of my senses as she spoke. “The primary tumor has been found in his lung. CANCER DOESN’T RUN IN OUR FAMILY,” she wailed. “He wants you to come home. He wants you to hold his hand, tell him funny stories, and tap dance in front of him as long as you can. Will you come?”

And so I went with my children and my bag of tricks, my cameras, and my hope. But the Blue Moon came anyway. It will take a long time to sort out all that has been left behind and to print the photographs of a man I’ve been recording for more than forty years. I fear I will never feel quite the same way again about the color of the sky on a cloudless day, the readiness to accept every passing “opportunity”, or that darned old moon – Blue or otherwise. This much I know: my Dad died two days after the Blue Moon. I must go forward from here.

Patricia Richards lives in Plano, Texas. Her work is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Anon Carter Museum of Fine Art Huston and has been shown at Photographs Do Not Bend, SF Camerawork, Leeds Galley at the University of Texas at Austin, the Photographic Resource Center, and the Print Club. Richards’ images have been printed in New York Times Magazine, Photo Review, Oxford American, and in the Center’s magazine PHOTOGRAPHY Quarterly. She has extensive teaching experience and earned her MFA from the Southern Methodist University and her MS in education from the University of Southern California.