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Toronto Photographer – Please take pictures: A tribute to my mom

You’ve probably heard me say it countless times…”Take lots of pictures”. So often, we take for granted the time that we have with those that we hold dear, and the special moments we are afforded, clinging to the idea that we will have another chance on another day, at another time. “Later”, we say, or “next time…”. But what if there wasn’t a next time? Take lots of pictures, remember every moment, and don’t take the time you have for granted.

Me, the one who always preaches to clients to have themselves photographed often, the one who pleads with new moms to get into the picture even if they don’t look their best, the one who tells clients that regardless of whether you see ME for professional images, or whether you just get all snap-happy at home, or with a chain studio for those in-between moments, I feel the importance of my words even more today.  On Friday, October 14th, while holding her face cupped in my hands, my mother passed away. Her life slipped through my fingers, and all possibilities for future memories together were suddenly gone. Her life, at that moment, was now a set of memories captured in images, images that I rely on in these last few days to pull me through my sadness. They are all I have. They are all I can hold. I miss her with every fibre in me, and they are all that I have now. Please take pictures. Lots of them.

In the past few days, I have been scanning images, and combing through the images that my mother had boxed for me.  With them, I created a slideshow to honour her life at her funeral this weekend.  As a photographer who thinks in images, and who feels through images, it was truly cathartic for me to compile images from across her life, and to show her life through images.  Although I sat down to also write her obituary yesterday (very sobering indeed), the creation of the slideshow impacted me so much more.  The obituary was words on a page, a description of a life lived.  The images on the other hand, showed the love, the caring, the compassion, and the soulful being that was my mother.  Images of her holding me as a child, nurturing me, protecting me, loving me.  Those are what speak volumes, more than words can say.

Heather Rivlin Photography - take lots of pictures
My mother, Dale Hickman, circa 1960

My mother graduated from the Victoria Hospital School of Nursing in 1964.  She had lived in residence there, training while living in the  hospital in an era where nurses wore aprons and bibs, caps and capes.  She spent 43 years of her life dedicated to the medical profession, and even once retired, maintained her knowledge and interest in various fields of medicine.  This was both a gift for her, in that once she became ill, she could research and understand the disease she had acquired, but also a curse because she knew what to expect, what would happen, and  had a sobering reality of the limits of medicine.

My parents married in 1967, and my mother was a blushing bride.  I’ve always loved this image, and it will now hang in my home.

My parents wedding day - Heather Rivlin
Their wedding, September 02, 1967

My mother knew she was dying.  She experienced a rapid decline in her health at the end of  March 2010, following a significant emotional stressor which caused her to physically deteriorate.  From this point, she was never able to fully regain her previous level of health, and we all watched helplessly.   It is so typical of my mother, the feeler, to feel a pain so deeply as to experience physical manifestations of her pain and suffering.  Always the carer, the nurturer, the healer, she felt things more deeply than most.

My mother, in her youth, was a party animal (or so I am told by those whose lips have been sealed by promises made to my mother to never reveal her outrageous side to her children).  She enjoyed laughing, and was often seen smiling.  I loved her smile.  I never told her that.  I wish I had.

Take family photographs in the time that you have - Heather Rivlin
My mother, circa 1970. We have the same legs, the same hands, the same feet.

For those of you who have come to a presentation appointment with me, and saw an image where your child was laughing while looking off-camera, or where you only see their profile and have asked to have it discarded because “you can’t see her whole face”, or “she isn’t looking at the camera”, I wish to ask you a favour.  Please stop nit-picking about these details. Your child laughs and giggles and doesn’t stop to think about where the camera is, and that is the beauty of the moment – caught in their own glee.   Images like that often tell MORE of a story than the posed, contrived, look-at-the-camera-and-smile images, so please give them a second look.  Don’t just look at them, FEEL them.  This is one of my favourite images of my mother.  She was goofy, funny, and just downright adorable in this image.  It isn’t perfect technically.  It is out of focus, and she is obstructing her face due to intense giggling.  I noticed the technical after the emotional…what struck me first was her laughter, and I hope she laughed like this often.

Sometimes what doesn’t seem like the “perfect shot”, really is perfect.

My mother holding me around the time of my first birthday, circa 1976.  Only she could pull off a bikini so soon after delivering her second child.  We didn’t share that trait;)

Only my mother could pull of wearing a bikini within the year of having had her second baby


Christmas in our new home, around 1981.  This staircase was the background in many images from my childhood.  In fact, I was a flower girl descending those stairs a few years later when we had a family wedding in our home.  I also posed for prom photos on that staircase, and probably have an image of my husband and I there too….guaranteed.  It was “the photo spot”, second only to the backyard pool and gardens seen below.

Christmas in our new home, circa 1981

Hanging at the pool, circa 1984


I love this in her garden. Bliss.

My mother used to speak fondly of the days before my father decided to grow a beard.  Never a fan of the daily shaving routine, he quickly learned the joys of a covered face, and would often talk about the benefits of a beard in the winter.  My mother, on the other hand, would talk about the scratchy, wiry, abrasion-inducing kisses that my father would plant on her face.  For the record, it does scratch.  My mother convinced my dad (or in all fairness he may have come up with it on his own), to shave his face for my 22nd birthday.  I was dating my husband at the time, and he took this image.  I could hardly recognize my dad…it was funny.  My mother got a kick out of it, and I am sure tried to steal several beardless kisses that day.

My father, beardless for the first time in my life as a birthday present to me

My mother and I at my wedding in June 2000.  She was so proud of me.  I love this image…even though I have bangs and a whole lotta hair piled on my head.  It was down to my waist:)

On my wedding day with me, June 24th, 2000

Once my brother and I left home, my parents moved from their home in London, Ontario, to Kitchener Waterloo.  My mother, as always, created for herself a beautiful landscape, gardens, and waterfalls.  She was an avid gardener, a trait that has skipped me entirely, as my thumbs are anything but green.  But, as my mom and I would agree, I can’t garden, but I can take a mean photograph!  Thanks mom.  When I moved to my new home in 2010, my garden was an artist’s canvas – a green rectangle of grass, no gardens, no landscaping….a perfect canvas for her to create an expression of her gift.  We never had that opportunity.  My yard is bare, and needs her artistic touch.  I can only hope she sends down some sage advice on how to make it a beautiful space.  It would remind me of her.

This is one of my favourite images of her of all time.  Her, in the place she loved, outside on a summer day – the last summer that she would enjoy her garden.

An image of mom in her gardens, summer 2010, the last summer she would spend outside.

As I mentioned above, I took the time yesterday to create a slideshow of images of my mom, to document her life through pictures.  I used a garden theme….it only seemed appropriate and fitting for her to have images winding through vines and blossoms.  She would have liked that.

Please take more pictures.  Take the time to be IN the images with your children.  They are all that they will have left when you are gone.  They will cherish them, and I guarantee they will not quabble about how you look, notice that you’re carrying 5 extra pounds, or even that your socks don’t match.  They won’t care.  What they will see is that you took the time to capture a time you shared with them, to capture and showcase the love you shared between you, and leave you with something to remember.  So forget about brushing your hair, putting a little makeup on, waiting for another day.  Do it now.  Do it today.  Do it often.
I love you mom.

October 22, 2011 - 6:08 pm

Kim Proudfoot - A great tribute. I can’t express how saddened at the loss of your mother. You are right your mom had the best smile and such a flavour for fun and life. I have so many memories of our families and the times we spent together throughout the years.

I still remember when I was about 5 and mad at my mom. I told her that I was going to run away to your house to live with Dale. I proceeded to throw my clothes outside and walk around the house a few times before I gave up :o} I always looked forward to visiting with your family when we came to town… it was always the highlight. Plus she made a mean mini cheesecake at xmas!

She was a great friend to my family and my mom. Thanks for posting the memories and pics Heather.

October 21, 2011 - 8:45 pm

Kelly Proudfoot - Heather thank you. This entry brought me back to many great times on that stair case and in your pool and the innertube! I am so far away and cannot be there this weekend but I will be remembering all the incredible childhood memories I have of our families.
Thinking of you.

October 20, 2011 - 10:44 pm

Jennifer Lee - A beautiful and touching tribute. So true about getting into those photos with your kids. Make sure you do not let the time go by – because it sure does fly.

October 20, 2011 - 10:10 pm

Sandra - I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your very personal tribute to your mom. She lives on in you…you’re the spitting image of her.

October 20, 2011 - 5:31 pm

Debbie Allan - So beautiful Heather. I would to share your message on my blog, but only if you are ok with that.
Thinking of you and your family at this incredibly difficult time.

October 20, 2011 - 1:09 pm

marcia - thank you for sharing your intimate family moments with us. what a beautiful tribute to your mom. we can all learn to stop fussing about what we look like and jump in front of the camera. it truly is all about capturing a moment, a feeling…and not about what we look like. you always capture that in your images. i’m so sorry for your loss heather. xo

October 19, 2011 - 12:53 pm

tara - Heather, my heart is aching for you. Your words are so touching and so very true. What a wonderful tribute to your mom. Hugs to you.

October 19, 2011 - 11:04 am

Claire - I’m very sorry for you loss Heather. Your mom was a beautiful person. Thank you for sharing your photos and memories of her!

October 19, 2011 - 10:55 am

Aron - Beautiful Heather. Thanks so much for sharing.

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