A few years ago, Abby Kraftowitz met Tammy Copeman at an office supply store in Pittsburgh. Kraftowitz was immediately drawn to Copeman’s openness, especially the stories about her mother, Eleanor, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight years earlier. “For whatever reason I felt I needed to listen to her,” Kraftowitz said.
The Copemans live in West Virginia, about a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh. A few weeks later, Kraftowitz, on a camping trip in the area, decided to visit.
“When I met Eleanor I thought, I really want to get to know this family,” she said. “There is something so beautiful about Eleanor. I kind of fell in love with her and felt I need to connect with the family.”
After that initial meeting, Kraftowitz knew she wanted to work on a series with them, and they quickly accepted her offer. The ease and curiosity Kraftowitz felt when she first met Tammy was present as she worked on the series and her friendship with the family deepened over the years.
Over the next couple of years, Kraftowitz would take regular trips to West Virginia, often spending weekends with the family and taking photographs documenting their daily routines. She initially had a few ideas of where the project might go, but it quickly became clear that the idea of a “caregiver” would become central to the project.
“I knew it would be about the whole family. Of course it’s about Eleanor but it grew from there, they’re all an extension of each other; they’re all working together.”
When Kraftowitz began photographing the family, Eleanor, although stiff and slow, was still mobile, able to work in her garden and walk on her own. Since then, she had a small stroke and relies on a wheelchair and caregivers who come to the house to help Tammy and Douglas. Like many people with Parkinson’s, she also has dementia, which has progressed since Kraftowitz first met her.
“The most important thing for me [while working on the series] was experiencing the love that grew between the family; that was really remarkable to watch. I think their story served as a window into the incredible beauty that can be discovered even amidst pain.”
To hear more about Tammy Copeman’s experience as a caregiver for her mother, watch a multimedia project Kraftowitz worked on with Mia Tramz at Time.