These photos show the dramatic reversal of roles that millions of people have experienced.


Helena Světlá (left) and Anna Rathkopf share a laugh in a hospital in 2021 as Rathkopf holds her mother a mirror to apply lipstick.

The subtle gesture of holding her mother’s hand opened the eyes of photographer Anna Rathkopf to the frustrations her world was changing.

The two women were at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, where Rathkopf’s mother, Helena Světlá, was treated in 2021 after suffering a stroke and later colon cancer.

Rathkopf arranged for her mother’s clothing and handled the medical paperwork. She spoke for Svetla too. Both women are from the Czech Republic. And Rathkov’s mother, now 69, doesn’t speak much English. But as their hands touched, Rathkopf realized how much her mother and their relationship had changed.

Holding her mother’s hand in the hospital reminded her of her grandfather, Rathkov said. “Their hands are very similar. It’s an active hand for years of building things. with their hands.”

“Her hand really reminds me of Grandpa’s hand. That was her father with all the veins and everything,” says Rathkov, 43. “And I realized that my mother was my grandfather. As for me… we’re stepping into this role and Jesse (Rathkopf’s son) is me. It’s really weird when you know, OK, I’m a mom now. I’m a mom.”

She captured the moment as part of a series of personal photographs documenting Svetla’s journey through surgery, treatment, and the ups and downs that followed. The difficulties of their new reality, Rathkopf says, include finding herself in a moderator role she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted.

“It’s very hard to watch your parents grow old. It’s not fun because they shouldn’t get old. They should be here for us,” she said. “Will you cook for me? I shouldn’t be the person who has to make dinner for everyone… Sounds selfish and arrogant. But I guess that’s how we were kids.”

Rathkopf is right, preparing a meal in the kitchen with her mother Světlá and her son Jesse Rathkopf.

Rathkopf’s number of tenured is on the rise — an estimated 53 million adults in the United States were unpaid family caregivers in 2020, up from 43.5 million in 2015, according to a Reuters data. Reported by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.Scott Beach, a social psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, said about half care for their parents.

“A lot of people don’t think it touches them,” said Beach, director of the survey research program at the university’s University Center for Social and Urban Research. “At some point we all need some care or maybe some help or something.”

Rathkopf, who received her own shocking diagnosis in December 2016, has been on both sides of that transition.

“I would often lie in bed with Jesse while undergoing chemotherapy,” says Rathkopf with her son. And it’s time we’re together I noticed that he kept doing it whenever I felt bad.”

light in darkness

Upon learning she had breast cancer, she fell in love with Rathkopf like a heavy weight. It is also a catalyst. Her hopes of having a second child began to fade. She worried about how long she would have to live to raise her first child, Jessie, who was two years old at the time. The situation prompted her to leave her stable job and join her husband, Jordan Rathkopf, in a family-run family. freelance photography full time

Their commercial work spans industries such as law, education and healthcare, but Anna Rathkopf says everything they do involves emotions and connecting with people.

“The emotion has to be there. and a sense of reality,” she says. Even if you’re shooting really big shows… we tend to focus on the emotions between the models. And I think that’s what draws people in.”

Světlá placed his hand on Rathkopf’s forehead during chemotherapy in 2017.

Rathkopf waits in a hospital bed for surgery on a lump to remove a breast cancer tumor in 2017.

Of course, the approach is different when the photographer becomes his subject and the health of a loved one is in the spotlight. Emotions — sadness, fear, love, anger — abound. Both Jordan and Anna were far from Instagram perfect, either. These scenes included hospital rooms and doctors’ offices. picture after surgery and a close-up of an allergic reaction

The period recorded was one of the most difficult in Rathkopf’s life, both physically and mentally. instead of an invasion The camera at that time could be a distraction for the family. which is another way to take care of each other Often, just pressing the shutter can calm the mood. Tears flowed and bitter. “Why me?” The inner monologue dragged them back to the present.

“At some point (Jordan) would pull out the camera. and i will cry But it always made me laugh,” says Rathkopf. “And he also used it to pull me out of really dark moments because he would (jokingly) be like, ‘Oh, you should cry more. This doesn’t seem big enough.’”

“I looked at (my husband) Jordan after reflecting on my cancer journey for a while. and very angry about everything I was going through and what lies ahead,” Rathkopf says as he looks back at the 2017 photo. “I still wrestle with this anger.”

Levity is still a lifesaver. Shortly after Rathkov began to feel better. Her mother fell ill. Světlá had lived with the family since Jesse was born and provided essential assistance, such as cooking, cleaning and caring for her nephew during Rathkopf’s illness as they dived into navigating alternative treatment plans. Doctor visits and hospital stays Carrying a camera with you “It’s like muscle memory,” Rathkopf said.

“She would start telling me, ‘Oh no, I can’t believe you’re taking pictures right now. I’m at the hospital,’” Rathkov recalls. Ultimately, Světlá allowed an astonishing degree of access.

“I know you let yourself be photographed. So I don’t mind,” Svetla said, speaking to Rathkopf in a video interview in which the two were present. CNN translated Světlá’s response from Czech.

Světlá showers in the hospital while recovering from a stroke in 2021. “My mom always spends a lot of time in the shower,” Rathkopf says. “She loves water. It calms her mind.”

family history

Even the bathroom wasn’t off limits. Rathkopf’s uncle, Pavel Hečko, was a well-known Czech photographer. So her mother, a painter, was used to being in front of the lens. And her health issues left little room for other concerns. “I’m very immersed in myself. I didn’t notice (photographed),” says Světlá.

Still, Světlá laughs in disbelief when Rathkopf takes her camera into the hospital shower one day. Rathkopf says it was also a strange moment for her. to see her mother so weak

“I had to help her get out of bed to go to the bathroom. And basically helping her take off her clothes. I’d never done that before,” recalls Rathkov. “The whole feeling was very strange. Because no one has prepared you.”

Other images of Světlá — where she slumps in her car or at a table with her head down — show both the exhaustion of the healing process and the tension that often accompanies the role-shifting women experience.

Světlá and her grandson Jesse Resting during your trip to upstate New York. During these times, Rathkopf said she sometimes felt burdened with caring for two people: her mother and her son.

change of location and awkwardness grievance and the losses that come with it evident throughout the series. In a photo from 2017, Rathkopf lies in bed while her mother rests her hand on her head. where she recuperates

“The dynamic is different. Because she’s your mother,” says Rathkopf. “For me, I think it’s easier to get help. because i am a daughter And I’m used to being touched by other people. that caught him But she’s not used to being caught by me.”

Svetla recalled the anger during that fight. saying that being told she could or couldn’t make her feel “Totally incompetent”

After leaving the hospital, Světlá struggled with extreme exhaustion. This is a common symptom of stroke survivors.

In 2017, Rathkopf rested while feeling exhausted after his chemotherapy treatment.

“When our roles turned and (my daughter) suddenly took care of me. i feel uncomfortable I didn’t want to admit that I was sick, ”said Svetla.

Some photographs also highlight similarities between women’s journeys.

“You subconsciously tend to compare what happens to you to what happens to the people you love,” Rathkopf says. “It’s interesting to see how universal that experience is.”

That shared experience is what Rathkopf ultimately recalls when discussing her relationship with her mother — and how she wants to move forward.

Světlá enjoying a summer night in Brooklyn, New York in 2018.

sandwich version

Before getting sick, Světlá — whom Rathkopf describes as “bohemian” — enjoyed riding her scooter around, towed by Jesse; Neighbors recognized her fiery red hair as they zoomed around Brooklyn as both women were in remission from cancer. But Světlá’s ongoing stroke-related problems led Rathkopf to insist on ending scooter riding. resulting in another explosion But time has once again changed her perspective.

Now, especially when she looks back at pictures of her mother’s illness. Rathkopf said the anger was gone. only sympathy remains

“Suddenly, she felt mad at the body that betrayed (her) and I knew that feeling,” Rathkopf said. “I’m in a more accepting (phase) and trying not to push myself too hard.”

Světlá and her grandson Jesse Blow out the candles on her 68th birthday.

The distance is a bit of a relief for the mother and daughter as well. Světlá traveled to the Czech Republic to visit family last summer. and started having back problems while there But she plans to return to the United States when she feels well enough to travel.

“I think it’s over now,” Svetla said, referring to tensions with her daughter.

Světlá discusses the past transformation with her own mother. “Coming back to Prague helped a lot. if i have no place to go It could have been much worse. I finally understood my mother’s feelings. Because when I take care of you I treat you like a child too. distance makes me (My daughter and I) had a great view. My mother can’t escape.”

The University of Pittsburgh Beaches has studied sandwich caregivers like Rathkopf, who help both older family members and children, and says strategies to distance yourself when that person can be key to coping.

“The idea of ​​taking a break, taking a break, comes up constantly. Because people feel like they are being called out all the time,” he said.

“This is a moment. Nearly nine months after she suffered a stroke, As my mom started to look more like she had had a stroke,” says Rathkopf. “Energy, movement. and her happiness improved.”

Despite the pain and controversy, Rathkopf has plenty of joy amid her image as well. Photos featuring Jesse and highlighting the connective tissue between all family members often spark that feeling.

“Even though the emotions are really raw. Everyone still felt OK, but we have this little girl,” she said.

But some less obvious moments stand out too, including when Rathkopf knows Světlá wants to “come back”: after a particularly difficult time in the hospital, Světlá asks for her signature red lipstick. The application reveals the smiles of both mother and daughter. Get closer to the generation they once knew.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.