“…we all need hope” | An Intimate Portrayal Of Aging

Sam, 94


Visual Storyteller Melinda Reyes is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of  this documentary photography.  From the project ‘The Quiet World of Aging’ To see Melinda’s body of work, click on any image.



I met Carmela at Rosie’s Place, the 1st women’s shelter in the U.S., a true sanctuary for poor and homeless women in Boston. She was bright, animated and full of light and laughter. Her story however did not mimic this positivity; rather it was filled with darkness and near tragedies.

Born and raised in Haiti to a very poor family, she started working as a housekeeper in her teens. At 25, she became pregnant, and early in the pregnancy, she became very ill and slid into a coma. Her family insisted she be brought to the U.S. for medical treatment. “And Carmela’s made it,” she said smiling broadly. Her son was born at 1lb 14oz. They stayed in a Florida hospital until they had to return to Haiti four months later.

She continued her work as a housekeeper for wealthy families, and after years of sexual harassment by one of her employers, she fought back and suddenly became critically ill. It is her belief that he put a spell on her, performed Voodoo. Her family, again, insisted she be brought to the U.S. for treatment, this time to Boston. Upon arriving, she was given her last rites, but “Carmela’s still here. God Bless America,” she said tapping her heart. Her gratitude filled the room as she sang “Jesus Loves Me.”

She never returned to Haiti but given her immigration status and health issues she has not been able to work and eventually became homeless.  Today she lives in a rooming house and sleeps on an old mattress on the floor and frequently feels discouraged as she is often cold and her feet swell, becoming very painful. She goes to Rosie’s Place daily to “escape” her conditions and she has all of her meals there, does her wash, and simply rests. Very few know of her struggles as she is determined to not let them define her. She feels Jesus saved her twice and that it her mission to spread love and joy. And so she does, through her songs and infectious smile.


Charles, 92

 Had I not paused a few months ago to observe him, or held back on my curiosity, I never would have been a part of this blissful moment.

Charles has lived an extraordinary life, never allowing obstacles to hinder him. With age and various health issues, he lost his ability to walk and slowly became bedridden. His became his home and he works beautifully within its confines and parameters. However, this was not an easy process. He felt his body betrayed him, and he became isolated from a world he was not ready to leave. He had to reconcile with a new version of live or risk becoming “a bitter old man”- something he vowed never to become. He has remained determined to retain the independence and personal autonomy he has left and dismisses help as often as he can.

He was a wonderful conversationalist- bright, intelligent with a great sense of humor- and we spent hours talking, much to his delight. It was in that time I was able to experience this moment of pure, absolute joy, the essence and soul of this remarkable man.


Cornelia, 94

I had yet to photograph a woman whose journey was so clearly etched on her face. Born in Greece, she moved to the U.S. as a child during the unrest of WW II. Her parents were poor and worked long hours in the factories to make ends meet. As a young lady, she was expected to value family over education and left school to work alongside them.

She eventually married, became a seamstress and had 2 children, but the tragic death of her son bore a gaping hole in her heart. Her relentless grief was compounded by the loss of spouse a number of years later. Her deep connection to Greek Orthodox Church became her sole source of strength as she tried to rebuild her life. She began to feel hope again, something she thought she had lost forever. It was through that hope, she emerged from the darkness.


Ishmael, 88

He captured my attention with the twinkle in his eyes, his merry whistling and the cheerful way he went about his daily routine.  He is always superbly dressed and wears his favorite hat.

When I finally sat down to talk with him I discovered that he did not speak English. He had had come from Puerto Rico 2 years ago after his wife died at the request of his daughter who wanted him to be closer. He lived with her briefly but the decision was made to have him be in a long term care medical setting nearby not only to receive care but for his well being as he was isolated at home due to the family’s work schedules.

Every afternoon he can be found sitting in the warm sun as he still has not acclimated to New England weather.  Despite the language barrier, he has developed many friendships on his unit through his polite mannerisms and kind gestures and finds joy in helping the other patients.

He has made many transitions over the past 2 years, through loss and moving and has accepted them easily and gracefully. He laughed when we discussed his age as he does not see himself as an 88 year old man nor does he feel it ending our conversation with “me siento joven de Corazon.”  (“I feel young at heart.”)


“The Quiet World of Aging” is a collection of portraits and personal narratives that convey the many faces of aging: the beauty, sorrow, joy, despair, and most importantly the dignity with which these individuals carry out their remaining days. It is a celebration of their history made evident in the details and richness of their eyes, hands, posture, and lines on their skin. Throughout this project, I sought to find an honest and intimate portrayal of aging, to make what I feel is hidden, seen, and to make those who feel invisible, visible.

This project took shape through my work as a psychiatric clinician in Boston. I was entering spaces where older adults live and witnessed them disappearing into the background of society. While many cultures respect the aging process and revere their elders, in Western cultures youth is glorified and aging is often seen as a personal failing or even shameful. I began a personal journey of connecting with individuals in different settings to hear their stories and explore the deeply embedded stigma of aging. As the project evolved, I became increasingly compelled to share the truths I saw, heard, and experienced.

As “The Quiet World of Aging” takes viewers into direct contact with the diversity of emotions within the aging process, it confronts us with our own mortality and demands we face our own implicit bias on growing old. By photographing at a close distance, the series seeks to connect the viewer on a more personal level to the complexities of this final life phase. By pairing each portrait with personal stories, I aim to raise awareness about this vulnerable yet inspiring group of individuals by embracing their identities, honoring their courage, and giving them the reverence they deserve: quite simply, to be seen.


James, 85

We sat in the tiniest space, less than 2 feet away from one another. It lent itself to a raw intimacy – one where truths were told and vulnerabilities were exposed.  In that space, we were reminded that life is not linear, humans are complicated and that feelings are universal.

Sharing his happiest moment – the day he first became a father; his biggest regret “marrying the wrong person.” His proudest time – being a Korean Veteran and his most painful, the day his daughter overdosed and died.

Brought up in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Boston, he quickly learned how to navigate the world but not let it harden him. It was those early years that gave him the foundation and inner strength he’s used to draw upon throughout his life; one he draws upon today. It taught him to embrace the joys and accept the struggles.

Now, as he comes face to face with the challenges of new health issues, his sense of security and self confidence has wavered. He is confronting his fear as he learned many years ago the importance of “living life on life’s terms.”


Kay, 95

I noticed her sitting at the end of a hallway week after week, alone. Seeing her there evoked a sense of sadness in me; she somehow seemed abandoned and forgotten. When I finally approached her, I realized just how wrong I had been. Kay was not abandoned or forgotten. She loved this spot because of all the light that streamed in from the window. Sitting here had become her morning ritual; a place where she could spend cherished time by herself before her day filled up with people and activities.

At 95, she was truly content with life, and where she was in it. If I had not met her that day, I would hold that image of a lonely woman whose happiest moments were behind her. I would have carried that false misconception-the same misconception I seek to dispel. Instead, it pulled me back to the reason I set out on this project- to explore the many facets of aging, to hear the stories of older adults; stories that might otherwise go untold, like Kay’s that speak to the pleasure and peace that exists within aging.


Maria, 79

Born and raised in a very small community in the Azores Islands of Portugal, Maria married Fernando at the age of 15. They moved California with hopes to have a better life, working in various factories and starting their family at 18. Shortly after retiring and moving to the Northeast, Fernando died tragically.

She has wept for many years; her face reflecting a continuous state of sadness. She carries his photograph everywhere- always with his image facing her heart.  She speaks of him with profound tenderness but her enduring grief is as defined as the lines on the aging photograph.


Mary Helen, 79

At 79, I was struck by her childlike innocence and vulnerability. Being away from her home and dog due to illness had been difficult.  A friend brought her this stuffed animal, with an uncanny resemblance to her own pet, as a positive reminder of home. It had given her enormous comfort over the past 9 months of uncertainty while she recuperated at a rehab facility. She had no idea when or if she could return to her house, as she has faced many unexpected obstacles. Though she remained optimistic, there have been many discouraging moments when fear set in and she questioned her future. It has been an uphill battle but one she intended on winning.  As I watched her tiny frame zipping along with her walker, a bright smile on her face, I have to believe she was right.


Sam, 94

(featured portrait)

His smile and positive energy was captivating and contagious. Born in Albania, Sam came to Boston as a teenager. Shortly after finishing high school, he was sent back to Europe to fight in WWII. When he returned, he married, started a family, and discovered his passion for cars and became a mechanic.

He witnessed unimaginable tragedy in his life, both as a young boy in Albania and later as a foot soldier in the war. But he credited his optimistic spirit to those experiences. The way he looked at it, “Once you have seen how the rest of the world lives, you realize just how great we have it. I never took anything for granted after those earlier years, because we have opportunities that many will never have.”

As he happily talked over the course of a few hours, I noticed a group of other patients had gathered to listen. I pointed this out to Sam, and he winked and said to me, “You see gratitude is a magnet for miracles. No matter our age, we all need hope.”


Willy, 77

I saw a sense of strength and determination in his eyes long before I heard his story.  He and his family came from Haiti in 1981 and settled in Boston. A year later he was forced to leave his family, move to Florida, and essentially live “underground” due to issues with his visa or face deportation. They were separated 8 years and throughout that time he worked long hours and sent all of his earnings to his family. His faith in God allowed him to neither persevere nor harbor anger or resentments.  Eventually a new law came into effect and he became eligible to stay but it took another 2 years to reunite with his family. His children were now grown – essentially growing up without him, but they embraced him just as they did when he left. They began a new life, one much different than they originally planned and over the course of the next 20 years, became the husband and father he was meant to be.

When I met Willy, he was separated from his family again only this time by a few miles not thousands. And the same determination he had in those early years he is using today as he works to regain his physical strength in order to return home.


All images and text © Melinda Reyes



See also:

Children of the Projects

By Melinda Reyes





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We are committed to publishing the human condition, the raw diverse global entanglement, with total impartiality.


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