Recording a dying man's farewell to his family
By JASON PLOTKIN, York Daily Record
Oct. 17, 2017
DALLASTOWN, Pa. (AP) — When Penny and Adam found out his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer gave him only eight months to live, the duo pushed up their wedding.
He wanted to leave a message for his wife and kids. Something private. Not journalism. But he needed a journalist to help.
Adam Trout died last Wednesday.
I had spent the previous Sunday with Adam in his Dallastown living room as he struggled to say goodbye to his wife and children.
I was alone with him as he tried to make sense of what to say to an autistic son, a 10-year-old daughter and Penny, a woman he had married five months earlier.
It's interesting and heartbreaking how I end up in other people's lives.
Back in May, I was taking photos and putting together a video about Adam and Penny - The duo had met online and fell for each other quickly. They even talked marriage early on.
But then came the bad news.
Adam was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given eight months to live.
So instead of waiting for a year or two, Penny and Adam decided to get married and celebrate their love by living out the rest of their days together as man and wife. YDR reporter Mike Argento was writing a column about them and brought me in to document their story with photos and video.
When I met Penny, she seemed familiar. Not enough to ask her about it, but enough that when I ran into her half-brother at their wedding, it clicked. In one of those strange six-degrees-of-separation-by-marriage, Penny and I were connected through my wife's family. We had met at a birthday party, but neither of us remembered until she was in the middle of having her wedding photos taken.
Penny and I became Facebook friends, and I followed the progress of their relationship and the decline of Adam's health over the next few months.
Then came the phone conversation.
Adam was worse and Penny wanted to record him offering personal messages for his kids and her. She asked if I could help by making the video for them.
At first, I couldn't understand why she reached out to me.
She explained that he was nervous and was trying so hard to say the right thing, but rambled and was unclear about what he wanted to say. The last time he found clarity was when I had interviewed him.
I wanted to say yes right away, but it's not always that simple.
Ethically, journalists are supposed to be independent of the subjects we cover. We don't get involved personally.
But this wasn't just any story or any request.
I reached out for guidance.
My news director, Randy Parker, said we absolutely could help Penny and Adam, but we should be transparent about the process.
You see, I am with people at the highest and lowest parts of their lives. This creates an emotional bond with me as a person who has given them a voice and shares their story with others who will celebrate or mourn with them.
I consider it an honor when people allow me into their lives, but I need to look at them with clear eyes and tell their personal story from a professional vantage point. As a journalist, I need to keep the lines clear and maintain my perspective as the messenger.
It's not the first time I've received a personal request from someone whose story I have told. Some I've been able to help out. Others, I couldn't. There have been times when public figures asked me to take photos for them, but in order to further cover them as a journalist, I had to decline. Each request has been handled with thought, conversation and consideration.
Penny's request ended with me in Adam's living room while Penny sat outside. It did not take me long to realize why Penny reached out to me.
It was to edit Adam.
He struggled with his words -- because of his emotions and because of how the cancer was affecting his brain. He would start a sentence, take a long pause, forget where he was and forget where he started. They couldn't just record him on an iPhone and give the video to his kids. They needed me to pull things together and make what he was saying make sense.
For the next hour, he talked and I listened. All the while, my camera was on him.
I would ask him questions.
Keep him focused.
Get him water.
By the end, I felt like I had enough to work with. Penny came back in the house and I went on my way.
Three days later, Adam was gone.
To be honest, I was shaken by how soon he passed after I had seen him three days earlier. Adam was responsive and seemed strong for someone with his diagnosis. Penny told me she believed his time with me was his last rally before death.
In the days since, I've put together the videos for his son and daughter. They are short, but emotional. I sent them to Penny to make sure they were OK and she's expressed to me how much it means to her to see and hear him again.
I could not have been more relieved to read that from her.
I was happy to help.
It's a rare gift I rarely get to give.
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com