For the last three years I’ve been trying to get a photo of the right quality of Dan for the NHS Blood and Transplant Service to use on a memory board at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, in honour of Dan’s amazing gift of life through organ donation. The memory boards are large picture boards typically depicting the donor, along with a few words from their family. None of the photos that Dan’s dad or I possess are suitable. Photos must be over 2MB in size and provided from the original device, so that quality can be attained when expanding the picture to fit the large frame.
The photos we have of Dan as he was in the year prior to his death are silly snapshots against backgrounds of people milling about, him carting rucksacks or shopping bags, or sitting in his scruffs on the settee with Maggie lying across his lap. At 15, there were fewer occasions where I’d take his photo than when he was a young child (I have hundreds of those). And the ones we did have and loved didn’t meet the quality required.
The compromise, when families don’t have recent, non-blurry, photos on decent smartphones and cameras, is to take a picture of mum or dad holding a framed photo of the donor. If this new photo is 2MB or more and can be directly sent to the relevant NHSBT employee then job done.
I tried that. When I visited Sheffield Children’s Hospital in September last year, I took along an 8”x10” photo of Dan wearing his silver medal for High Jump that he’d won at the Steel City Championships in September 2017. It’s another photo that isn’t perfect, but it would do. I stood against a blank white wall, holding up the photo like I’d won it as a prize, and Clare, the kind and untiring Specialist Organ Donor Nurse, snapped me with her iPad. She’d been assured that this should do the trick. It didn’t.
It’s been playing on my mind again the last few days, prompted by my relocation to stay at my dad’s bungalow. He’s been unwell and though recovering from a stomach upset, his overall health has declined quite rapidly in the last few weeks, and he now needs the kind of care that is easier and less stressful to deliver by being on the spot.
In August 2019, for his 81st birthday, I framed ten photos for Dad, all of him and Dan through the years. Almost all celebrating a birthday or Christmas. The frame hangs just inside his bedroom. Some of the pictures have slipped a little in their mounts now, and I keep telling myself I will straighten them. But that would involve lifting the frame from the wall and looking more closely at the photos. Dan and Grandad, happy as could be, in each shot. Each one accesses a different memory, opening a door to instantly overwhelming sensory overload. So, I am avoiding this.
But the need to straighten the photos, the need to get one sent to NHSBT, both are gnawing at me.
The last photo I took of Dan was at the theatre on Saturday 26th May 2018. As we waited for Blood Brothers to start, I leant into Dan – ‘What you doing? Geddoff.’ – and took a selfie. It came out dark, My phone was rubbish.
‘Dan, take a photo on your phone,’ I said, ‘Mine’s too dark.’
‘Urgh,’ he replied, snapchatting, not looking up.
‘Aw come on, we have one every time we go somewhere,’ I said. Not quite true, but there were ones from our nights out at Jack Whitehall, Phoenix Nights Live, Russell Howard. I liked this ‘new’ tradition.
‘Urgh,’ he said again, but stretched out his long arm, phone held in his knobbly fingers and I grinned, and he tried not to look too excited, and the photo was taken.
‘Let me see,’ I said, trying to peer over his arm.
He moved the phone away, eyes on the screen, thumbs typing.
‘Send it to me,’ I said.
‘Yeh, later,’ he said.
I’ve never seen that photo. I’ve only imagined it hundreds of times in my head. It’s stuck on a phone that no-one can access. Dan’s security was so good that no amount of help from Samsung, Google and less traditional routes has been able to bend the digital lock and get in. I know it’s only right that a teenager’s phone is private, but that last photo feels like a holy grail or some kind of portal. If I could just get back to that moment, before everything went wrong. I don’t know what I expect. I can’t crawl back into that photograph and live there, no matter how much I might want to.
Instead, I’ve now sifted through my photos again and ordered a good quality print of a couple of ‘recent’ ones of Dan. And I’ve arranged a time and date to get a photo of me holding whichever I choose; a local photographer with a camera that will definitely make the grade. By next Wednesday, all being well, I should be able to finally submit a super quality shot of me, holding a photo of Dan, to NHSBT.
I’ll come back to the frame in Dad’s room another time. Too long spent looking at images of Dan tips suddenly from delight to despair. I’ll take one photo at a time.