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How They Were, and Where It Ended

“I need to have something when she’s gone,” Maggie Steber says as images of her aged mother – looking alternately angry, beatific and simply lost – fill the screen. “Some people write memoirs. We photograph, so we don’t forget.”

You aren’t likely to forget this portrait of her mother, Madje, that Ms. Steber, a photojournalist, has assembled from video and old snapshots and the transfixing pictures she took herself over a long caregiving odyssey.

Phillip Toledano has created a similarly memorable rendering of his father, Edward, a once-dashing performer and artist who became his son’s charge at age 96.

Both Ms. Steber and Mr. Toledano, who have no siblings, found themselves responsible for parents with advancing dementia and chose to candidly document their final years, with all the continuing heartache and unexpected moments of delight, wrenching decisions and quiet rewards that accompany elder care. Many family members can and do tell such stories, but few relate them as beautifully.

Mr. Toledano’s 29-minute “A Shadow Remains” and Ms. Steber’s shorter “Rite of Passage” are the first two works that MediaStorm, the multimedia production company, has selected for its new Pay Per Story program. Viewers can download either piece for $1.99 and watch it repeatedly on a computer, tablet, phone or any other Web-enabled device (except Android phones).

What distinguishes these stories, apart from the caregivers’ honesty and the arresting images they’ve made and interwoven, is a recognition of the way their roles in their parents’ lives arise from complex shared histories.

As Mr. Toledano hears his father ask over and over where his late wife has gone, he realizes how much he wants to protect him. “I was trying to make a perfect world for him, much the same way they did for me,” says Mr. Toledano, who lives and works in New York.

We see this family in its members’ vibrant youth. Edward Toledano had a role in a Charlie Chan movie, snippets of it incorporated here. We see the elder Mr. Toledano wasting, his hands growing steadily more gnarled, in elderly widowhood. We also see, in the birth of the granddaughter Edward Toledano will never meet, the way our parents continue to inhabit us.

This matrix is what gives caring for parents such an emotional charge, of course. It’s not just about activities of daily living and Medicare claim forms, but about who they were and who you’ve become.

Ms. Steber wrestles with these questions as well. Growing up in a small Texas town, she turned into “a hateful, resentful teenager” whose divorced mother threatened to pack her off to boarding school. Having left to seek “a rather magical, incredible life” in New York and around the world, Ms. Steber later wonders whether her absence contributed to her mother’s dementia. “Was I responsible?” she asks on camera. “Was I a bad daughter?”

Eventually, Ms. Steber moves her mother from a neglected Austin house to a small assisted living residence near her own home in Miami. Madje Steber is initially so furious that she slaps her daughter.

But with the help of a remarkable cadre of immigrant caregivers, she soon thrives. We see her dozing in a sunny courtyard on a wicker settee while a few cats keep her company. “All the things that drove us apart fell away,” Ms. Steber says.

Dementia proceeds relentlessly, of course, and ahead lie more moves, more troubles, more photographs of good and bad days. It’s hard to argue with Ms. Steber, however, when she says, “It was a very beautiful death.”