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Heavy, Beautiful Photos Document The Love of a Dying Young Mom

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Carolynne sits in bed with EJ before reading him to sleep. Every night that Carolynne is around to read to EJ “counts for everything,” Rich said.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Carolynne waves while watching EJ play at the beach on New Castle Island. Family trips inspired Carolynne to continue with her treatments in hopes of being around for another summer.

When Carolynne St. Pierre, a maternity nurse known for her keen wit, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer, she knew how she wanted to die. According to Oakland-based documentary photographer Preston Gannaway, St. Pierre wanted to leave this world surrounded by family. And until that time came, she was able to preserve her love and life in a record for her three children, Melissa, Brian, and EJ. With concern that EJ, who was 5-years-old at the time, wouldn’t remember his mother, St. Pierre made the decision to undergo painful treatments for as long as she could.

Armed with a camera and a sensitivity that earned her a Pulitzer Prize for the project, Gannaway began documenting the family in the spring of 2006. It began as a story about balancing family life and terminal illness for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire; after the piece ran, they all decided to continue. The photographs that comprise the series Remember Me, capture both moments mundane and intense, which while almost unbearably heavy, remain poignantly life-affirming. They reveal a family torn by tragedy but bonded by love.

St. Pierre died at home in February of 2007 at the age of 44, but her story lives on in these images. The complete series was shot over the course of two years, including a year after St. Pierre’s death.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Rich takes a moment to rest beside Carolynne at Concord Hospital. She was admitted in early January because of an infection in her salivary gland.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Carolynne watches EJ play in the window while Rich is away on a business trip. Carolynne says she worries about taking EJ outside alone because she no longer has the energy to keep up with him.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

At Waters Funeral Home, Richard Jacques shows Rich the selection of caskets. Rich started to make funeral arrangements shortly before Christmas when doctors predicted Carolynne might not make it to the end of the year. 

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Carolynne pauses to compose herself while recording a video for her children. Her sister Sara Matters and cousin Anna Stoessinger comfort her. Doctors had just told Carolynne she would only survive for a number of weeks or months.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

On the final day of her life, Carolynne is surrounded by family in her bedroom. Down the hall, Melissa gets ready for her state championship gymnastics meet. As Carolynne got sicker, Melissa spent more time away from home. She and her two younger brothers found their own ways to deal with their mother’s impending death. Melissa said later she didn’t believe her mother would die that day. Fearing that Carolynne was close to death, Rich debated but decided to let Melissa continue with her plans.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Rich kisses Carolynne the moment she passes away. Her family comforted her and held her during her final moments, as she had hoped for. 

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Exhausted from work and taking care of the kids, Rich says he just looks forward to going to bed at night.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

At EJ’s request, Rich brings the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets into the bathroom where EJ can see them.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Rich punishes Brian after they got into an argument while visiting Carolynne’s gravesite. As Brian gets into more and more trouble, Rich says he knows he cannot take care of all three kids.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Rich and EJ plant trees in the backyard to memorialize Carolynne.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

On the first day of school, the family walks EJ to Beaver Meadow Elementary School. One of Carolynne’s goals was to live long enough to see EJ start kindergarten. Because she wasn’t there, family members came to support him. With EJ from left to right is Carolynne’s mother Kathryn Seigle, Melissa, Carolynne’s sister Laura and her daughter Sofia, family friend Charity Ross, Rich, and Rich’s brother Joe St. Pierre.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Rich visits Brian at the end of his therapeutic wilderness program in North Carolina. As problems with Brian escalated at home, Rich decided to send him away for the summer. “There was a lot more peace in his eyes,” Rich said about seeing Brian at the end of the summer. During Brian’s graduation ceremony, he prepares to trust fall while Rich and field instructor Steve Austin get ready to catch him. 

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Sitting on a swing outside his new boarding school in South Carolina, Brian cries while saying goodbye to Rich. Brian told Rich he didn’t want him to leave. Rich tried to assure him that a year in therapeutic boarding school would make him stronger and help him deal with his grief.

This post was contributed by writer and photographer Melissa Breyer.

  • Damien Gaudet

    Incredibly moving images.

  • Stephanie Renee Frye

    Beautiful. Thanks for posting.

  • speechless.

  • Josephine Echon

    love while you still can

  • shahnyboy

    Felt this one in my heart. So achingly real.
    Hope Rich and his family is doing better.

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