Photographer documents mother's journey with MS
Jamie Woytiuk was the child who always had a camera on-hand, her mom was one of her biggest fans
When Jamie Woytiuk's mother was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis in the 1990s, Woytiuk didn't realize what that meant for the future. Her mom, Joanne, was still mobile and could live a normal life.
Then one of her mother's feet started dragging when she walked. At the five-year mark, her health went down quickly.
"It basically went from her being able to be mobile to basically being bedridden with no movement of her body parts and choking on her own saliva," said Woytiuk.
She said she repressed her grief until she couldn't anymore. Her mother's illness, among other things, made Woytiuk reflect.
"It just really made me dig deep in my life and who I am and what I want. And what's important in life," Woytiuk said. "She is important to me."
You want to take this disease away and you want to make things better and I can't.- Jamie Woytiuk
Woytiuk decided seven years ago to start photographing her mother's life with multiple sclerosis. She said her parents had a strong artistic influence on her life.
"[Photographing] was a way for me to process the grief and also connect with my mom in a different way," she said.
Woytiuk said their roles have changed — she is now a caregiver to her mom.
Currently Joanne has no movement of her body and lives in a rehabilitation centre. She has half a room with a window lined with plants. Photos of her family and grandchildren cover the walls.
Woytiuk said she asked her mom for permission and will only continue as long as she has it.
"[My mom] is opening up her life and that vulnerability," she said. "It's not pretty. It's very ugly and it's sad and she cries a lot. And she's not the woman that she used to be."
Woytiuk said she also wanted to take photographs because she was worried her mother would become isolated and invisible when she was hospitalized.
"I just really wanted people to see her like I see her," she said. "She's still here. She exists. She's a human, she has feelings and she's important."
While photographing is important to her, Woytiuk said she doesn't always take pictures.
"There's a time to pick up that camera and to shoot that woman but there's also a time to hold my mom," she said.
Woytiuk said photographing a loved one is sometimes challenging, and some days can be tough.
"I look at her and I just feel horrible because you want to take this disease away and you want to make things better and I can't."
Woytiuk said it can be therapeutic to photograph because she's embracing her emotions rather than repressing them or pushing them away.
Expanding the project
In the future, Woytiuk said she hopes to expand beyond the project with her mother and photograph the lives of other people with progressive multiple sclerosis. She said the illness is different for everyone.
"I just want to keep photographing people and telling their stories," she said. "There's just so many stories that need to be heard."
With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition