March 05, 2012
I didn't take many pictures of him. Even "before."
I didn't take pictures of him because I kept thinking there was going be a different "after;" a better one than the one we got. He was always in the hospital, or stuck on the couch, or hooked up to oxygen, or with visible surgery scars, or bedridden upstairs, or in a hospital bed in the living room, or in hospice -- all stages in a process I could rush here and type thousands of words about, but could not bring myself to hold up a camera and snap a photo of. I could not bring myself to document those moments forever as the way things were, right then, because documenting them felt like admitting that things would not get better. That we would not get a chance to eventually take a photo without the hospital bed or the oxygen tank or the thin, pallid skin and bruises.
People told me to take pictures. People told me right here, on this blog, in the comments, to take pictures. Right up until the end: Take pictures. Put the boys around him, put his hands on your belly, and take some damn pictures.
I didn't take pictures of him because I felt weird about it, intrusive -- like he would know that I was only finally taking pictures because he was dying, even though he WAS dying, but still. Let's not talk about such things. And let's certainly not whip out the camera phone and take pictures of such things. I was confusing denial with optimism, mortality with morbidity.
And I didn't take pictures because I couldn't fathom ever wanting to look at those pictures. They'd be too sad, too awful, too much of a reminder that I missed so many better opportunities when he was sick but still less sick. I wanted to remember him with my minds' eye, I told myself. It was better that way.
But since people told me to take pictures, I took a couple cheat-y shots at the very end: my pregnant belly at his bedside, his hand holding mine before I said goodbye for the last time. I took them quickly, stealthily, guiltily. His hospice nurse walked in while I was taking the photo of his hand and I was embarassed, like I'd been caught doing something I shouldn't. Something gross and strange. No, no, no, she told me. Keep taking pictures. I shook my head and said I was fine, all good, all done. What was I even taking the pictures for? Myself? My kids? My blog? Facebook? Good God.
A few weeks after he passed, my mom sent me a photo in the mail: The last photo she ever took of him. He's sitting up in a blue chair, oxygen canula in place, and smiling. She took it with her phone, and it shows: It's orange and poorly lit and a bit ghostly. He would be dead just a few days later. I took one quick look at it and shoved it back into the envelope, which I then buried hastily under a pile of papers. It unnerved me. It made my stomach feel twisty and sick. That's why you don't take pictures, I thought. I don't want to look at that, I thought.
The first time he ever met Ezra, he was in the hospital, about to undergo triple-bypass surgery. But because it was the first time he ever met Ezra, I reluctantly ignored the less-than-desirable circumstances and took a couple pictures. I'd completely forgotten about them until I finally exceeded my phone's ability to store every single photo I've ever taken and had to get serious about backing up and deleting old photos.
2,546 old photos, to be exact. And these are the only ones I had of him, of my dad.
I backed them up in about four other places, then printed them out. I still didn't delete them off my phone. If I squint, I can pretend that one of those Baby Ezras is actually Baby Ike.
It's almost been a year. And when it came to choosing which photos to display in my office, next to my desk, it was a surprisingly easy decision.