Cerebrum Article

Calling the Birds Home

In Her Own Words: Photographer Cheryle St. Onge
Published: January 14, 2022

Cheryl St. Onge’s mom, Carole, cared for horses while living with vascular dementia.

“Calling the Birds Home” is a photographic exchange of the energy of life—the give and take of the familial between mother and daughter who lived side-by-side on the same New Hampshire farm for decades.

Our love was mutual and constant. In 2015, my mother developed vascular dementia, and with that began the loss of her emotions and her memory and the relationship of mother and daughter as we have known it for nearly 60 years.

I began to photograph her with any camera in reach—an iPhone or an 8×10 view camera—as a distraction from watching her fade away, as a counterbalance to conversation with her about death, as a means to capture the ephemeral nature of the moment and of life. I needed happiness and light, and to share the images with others I love.

Since her death, I have come to so better understand just how much of a collaboration this work was. Just how much she suggested, aided, and just every damn day was enthusiastically willing to spend time with me and to make pictures together. I continue to be devastated by her absence, but the profound loss is because of our love of one another.

This photo essay first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of our Cerebrum magazine. Click the cover for the full e-magazine.