Forked River Veteran’s Dying Wish Granted in Photo Exhibit at Southern Ocean Medical Center

Nov 16, 2016
Photo by: Jack Reynolds Photographs by Joseph Aulert.

Army veteran Joseph Aulert of Forked River died on Friday, his 52nd birthday and Veterans Day, at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, just hours after his dying wish, to exhibit and sell his photography, came true thanks to a fast-acting group of caring healthcare professionals.

Aulert’s hospice social worker, Cherie Harrington, described him as a deeply philosophical man with a strong presence and a certain connectedness with his surroundings that shone through in his natural eye for photographic subject matter, composition and light. Nature was a favorite subject; the serene imagery he captured, much of it from Long Beach Island but also Maine, Mount Rushmore and other travel destinations, was enhanced by his poetic manner of speaking about his work, she said.

Aulert was a plumber by trade but discovered his love of photography after his bowel cancer diagnosis in 2009. He spent his final years snapping and immortalizing the beauty in everything he saw.

Just a few weeks ago, Aulert told Harrington about his dream of sharing his art with the public. She passed the message along to the marketing team, which ran with it and coordinated “a lot of moving parts” to bring it to fruition in a matter of weeks, according to Meridian Public Relations Manager Donna Sellmann. Art racks were procured, invitations went out, and the show took place Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the James J. Mancini Pavilion entrance area near the cafeteria, where 12 framed photos were hung, unframed prints were displayed on tables, and digital images were shown slideshow-style on a monitor.

“It was like mobilizing an army,” Sellmann said. “Everybody was ready to move mountains to get it done.”

Most people are fortunate enough to live nice long lives, Harrington said, so when someone’s life is cut short, people tend to empathize and rally to help ease the pain in any way they can.

Aulert’s father, Herbert, brother Christopher and 11-year-old nephew Brandon attended the show and were comforted by the gesture. “What better way to deal with the passing of a loved one than to honor them in such a way?” Harrington said. Sadly, Christopher is the one surviving of three brothers, having lost one to a car crash.

In her experience as a hospice social worker, Harrington said, she has learned life at its essence is a blending of beauty and sadness.

The $700 raised in sales of Aulert’s photographs will be donated to the Southern Ocean Medical Center Foundation for cancer research.

Aulert had been receiving hospice care at home until last week, when he arrived at SOMC’s emergency room and subsequently was admitted for in-patient hospice. So although he was in the facility on Friday while the show was taking place, he was too ill to come downstairs and take part in it. Harrington used her cell phone to record video of the activity during the exhibit and shared it with him in his room. “He did know. He saw it. He was clearly aware. He was pleased with it. He definitely smiled.”

Harrington said Aulert would be so happy to know his exhibit was a success. “But,” she added, “maybe he does – what do we know?”

— Victoria Ford

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