What better day than Mother's Day for a Famiily Portrait? Anthony Mason has seen one that mixes good times and bad times, with a whole lot of love:
In the old scrapbooks, you see a striking resemblance between Laurel Borowick and her youngest daughter, Nancy:
"My father called her Law," Nancy said of her mom. "He had that, like, thick Queens accent. She was amazing. She was the most thoughtful, selfless person on this Earth. I really won the lottery as far as Moms go."
Her parents met at St. John's University Law School in Queens. "They were in the law school musical. Who knew that law schools had musicals?" Nancy laughed. "My mother sang. My father danced."
Howie Borowick, a successful attorney, believed in living life to its fullest. As a wedding present, he stitched a needlepoint for his bride: "My Mom with her big hat, and my dad with his 1970s moustache!"
The needlepoint became the cover of Nancy Borowick's new book, "The Family Imprint" (Hatje Cantz Publishing). It's a love letter to her mother and father that Nancy, a photographer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and the Washington Post, never planned on writing … until both her parents almost simultaneously were diagnosed with stage IV cancer.
"How do you begin to deal with that?" Mason asked.
"Well, for me, it was photographing them. I think I was so terrified of what the reality was that it was easier for me to focus on the photographs. Because it was my parents, it was our family kind of falling apart in some ways. And as a 28-year-old I didn't expect that."
What began as a way to be closer to her parents and cope with their illness, grew into something bigger. For two years, as Howie and Laurel Borowick fought the disease side-by-side, Nancy documented their life.
Mason said, "There are some photographs in here that can't have been easy for you to take."
"It's strange, I didn't realize how much I was leaning on my camera for support," Nancy said. "I didn't realize it, until a moment when I put my camera down and I watched a nurse struggle to find a vein in my father's arm. And then I fainted."
But Howie and Laurel kept each other's spirits up … and their children's. And in the middle of it all, in 2013, when Nancy wed her longtime boyfriend, Kyle Grimm, the Borowicks skipped chemo treatments to have the strength for their daughter's wedding: "And they were there. They walked me down the aisle."
Two months later, Howie Borowick died. He was 58.
Nancy's mother died 364 days after her father. She was 59. "And there we were back in the temple. It was like deja vu."
"When you looked back at all the pictures you'd taken, what did you see?" Mason asked.
"I saw love, and life. I just remember how much love and support and courage and strength they showed."
As Nancy and her siblings cleaned out the family home, they found old photos, and notes their mother made on parenting advice, and to-do lists: "Work on bills ... Decide on radiation … Join gym and start going!"
"I see myself in them. And I see them in me, which is probably the most special artifact that I get to keep."
"So going to the end took you back to the beginning?"
"That's a good way to say it," Nancy replied. "The cancer was just a piece of the story."
Nancy Borowick's award-winning photographs will go on exhibit in New York this week, as her book is published. She shared it with her 90-year-old Grandma Marion.
"There is so much life in this book," Mason said.
"Yeah. I'm grateful for each day. My father loved the sunset -- he told us to look for him in the sunset. And my Mom said, 'Talk to me in the stars.'"
It is one of the last photographs in Nancy Borowick's book, taken on Laurel's birthday.
On a post-it note Laurel Borowick left for her children, she wrote: "For my three angels: if you want to talk or feel my love, look up in the night sky. I am always watching over you."
For more info:
- "The Family Imprint: A Daughter's Portrait of Love and Loss" by Nancy Borowick (Hatje Cantz)
- Nancy Borowick Photography
- Exhibition: The Family Imprint at the Anastasia Photo Gallery, 143 Ludlow Street, New York City (May 16-June 15)