Abby Kraftowitz: Eleanor is a series about a woman with Parkinson's and her caregiving family (PHOTOS).

Intimate Photos of a Family Coping With Parkinson’s 

Intimate Photos of a Family Coping With Parkinson’s 

Behold
The Photo Blog
May 1 2015 10:48 AM

Intimate Photos of a Family Coping With Parkinson’s 

Eleanor
Eleanor naps with her daughter, Tammy. Eleanor is in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. Her husband and daughter are her primary caregivers. July 2012.

Abby Kraftowitz

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.”

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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. 

Eleanor
Eleanor sweeps in front of the family home in Elkins, West Virginia. July 2012.

Abby Kraftowitz

Eleanor
Eleanor’s movements have become limited. November 2012.

Abby Kraftowitz

Eleanor
There is evidence that exercise helps to slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Tammy incorporates stretches into her mother’s routine. July 2012.

Abby Kraftowitz

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. 

Eleanor
Douglas and Eleanor have been married for 51 years. “I made a vow to care for her in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part,” Douglas said. July 2012.

Abby Kraftowitz

Eleanor
A photograph of Eleanor from high school sits on her dresser. May 2013.

Abby Kraftowitz

Eleanor
Eleanor also has dementia, which is common in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. April 2013.

Abby Kraftowitz

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“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

Eleanor
A note from Eleanor. January 2013.

Abby Kraftowitz

Eleanor
Douglas holds Eleanor to prevent her from falling. She is no longer able to stand without support. “We don't have any control over it; we take it as it comes,” Douglas says. April 2014.

Abby Kraftowitz

Eleanor
“It’s just a whole different level of love and loving your a family,” Tammy said. January 2013.

Abby Kraftowitz

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.