Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Helen Tung

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It’s hard to be brief when describing Helen Tung's amazing life or the impact she’s had on so many. To start, she was 100 years old when we met and made this portrait together. Born in 1917, Helen grew up in Liling, Hunan China. For most of her youth, her father was studying in France and then running the family business many miles away in Harbin. 

Helen's family was displaced when the Japanese invaded in 1932. Later, during high school and nursing school, China was again at war with Japan. Despite the war, Helen pursued her dream of becoming a nurse and midwife. She married just before the end of World War II and, a year later, almost died from typhoid fever. 

When civil war broke out in China, her husband was sent to Taiwan, with family in tow, to open a bank branch. Little did they know the Cultural Revolution was taking root in China and they would not see their parents, relatives, or their homeland for 30 years! Helen and her husband had five wonderful daughters and she enjoyed a long career as a midwife in Taiwan, delivering hundreds of babies. In 1978 they emigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia to be near their daughters.

 

What amazed me most? When I asked Helen and her daughter Ann about their lives, experiences, and values, I did not hear about the drama and adversity of being separated, living through two wars with Japan, the Communist takeover in China, or their isolation in Taiwan. Instead, I heard about a loving, curious, and adventurous family with a passion for cooking, gatherings and family and a deep sense of faith and a continual thirst for learning. 

To say I admire their perseverance and commitment to positive thinking and focusing on what matters most, would be an understatement!