Archive for friends death
There were images of dead infants and toddlers, lovingly dressed and photographed for posterity. Although some of the children were shown simply lying on their beds, others were carefully posed with dolls or personal belongings. One picture taken by an unknown photographer was particularly haunting: a young girl had been propped up and made to hold drumsticks. In a small, hand-coloured daguerreotype framed in velvet, the little girl played with her favourite toy, even in death.
These family keepsakes may strike contemporary viewers as odd and perhaps even grotesque. Producing and circulating pictures of dead relatives or famous people is no longer an acceptable, everyday practice, even as there is a fascination with dead bodies in films and on television. When photographs appear at funerals today, they are more likely to replace the corpse than to image it. Typically placed atop a closed casket, modern pictures feature the deceased individual in life, often at a younger age or before illness struck
I don’t know if it was the light but he looked as though he were made from alabaster. His head was stretched backwards as if he had been straining to see something on the roof of the room. His mouth was open, jaw slack, and a fine line of spittle had spread down the left hand side of his chin. His face was stubbled with grey and white hairs; the nurses must have forgotten to shave him that morning or, figuring he was close to death, left him alone. His wife gently tried to close his mouth but, encountering pressure, her gentleness turned to anger as she forced his lower jaw shut. She wept inconsolably and, looking around her at the silent and unmoved gathering, she expressed loudly that he didn’t look good in death. His previously large vibrant body was parked now. Its engine had finally stopped, position at top-dead-centre. His pyjama top was open to waist level and his singlet barely covered the matt of grey hairs that grew form his chest. The bottom half of his body was discretely covered with a red hospital blanket, concealing the tubes and drains that punctured his body. He had not died peacefully. He appeared as though he had to be have been wrenched from life, unwilling to commit to this final ignominy.
So it was a shock to see the room where he lay the next day. He had been stretched out, dressed in his best suit (and underwear) and a thin smile had been carved on his face. He was wearing the blue shirt that he hated so much in life and what had the wife been thinking when she matched the suit with his cross trainers. He, who had been so conservative in life with clothing, was going to his final resting place dressed as bizarrely as the pet dog they dressed up and photographed when they had several gins on board. The coffin lay open and the lid was propped up incongruously on the nearby sideboard. A series of photo’s showed the man as he had been in life. Here he posed on his retirement day, hair brylceamed; tie gracefully tucked into his service jacket. Here he reclined on a bench in what must have been his trip to Italy to revisit his wartime haunts. Here, he playfully held his partner in a death lock while grinning at the camera. And here, on the front of his funeral eulogy was the same image. The ultimate revenge.
They spoke of him. Here was a man I didn’t recognise. Had I grown so distant from him that I had forgotten the tenderness he could show to a young grandchild? Had I grown so distant that I didn’t believe the words he said of his son? I didn’t recognise the man or myself.
Then I find myself working in a rehabilitation hospital where a large part of the client group are males with strokes. I wander down the ward and look into bright, airy rooms, some with beds surrounded by deep blue curtains. I see men, not much different in age to myself, bent over feeding trays, arms dangling uselessly mouths dribbling as they try to move neglected limbs and muscles to give a greeting. A cold, icy fear grips my chest and I hurriedly complete the tasks I have and return to the haven of my room. Did I notice cards and balloons? Did I notice the one litre bottles of sugar filled drink? Did I not detect the faint whiff of cigarette smoke and, in one instance, alcohol?