Death / Funerals

Seeing Dimly

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1st Corinthians 13:12 NASB

I grew up memorizing Bible verses, for competition in Sunday School for 80’s slap bracelets, or as a way to escape punishment at home for whatever infraction I had done. 1st Corinthians was a popular choice, one given to me during a particularly loud and obnoxious screaming match. My dad’s words were, ‘memorize this chapter on love and then you will be out of grounding.” I’m not sure that’s a parenting choice I would make, but the words of the book have trickled through my mind in the years since, mostly random elements like “if i speak with tongues of men and angels, I have not love,” and “resounding gong and clanging spirit.”

The other day I was in a discussion with a friend about Instagram and the use of filters to alter the pictures. And it made me think about when I was a kid I thought that my grandparent’s LIVED in a world that was black and white, because that’s what photos showed me. And how I was shocked that it wasn’t ‘reality.’ There is so much, especially as a parent, online about how people are posting happy smiley family photos and ignoring the chaos.

And I want to say, we see everything through a filter. That black and white photo I took last week was not in black and white in real life. There’s the actual event, as experienced by me, the even experienced by the camera, the filter slapped on to change the aesthetic quality, and then there were all the other things along the way: the other person who saw me take the picture, the person’s experience looking at the picture, etc. Our eyes, our lives, all filter an experience in even more profound ways than Instagram.

Sometimes I’ll sit and watch my son play, and the light from the window hits him at just the right moment and angle, and he appears to be frozen in angelic time. I want to bottle that moment, but there, even admitting that means I’m filtering. The moment slips when I think, “how can I photograph this,” or, “how can I make this last, forever.”

And yet the art of photography, of being the mom who takes 3,046 photos of her kid a month week, is that when I’m behind the lense of the camera phone, I am breathing and seeing in that moment. When I look back on the photos I am both remembering that moment and experiencing this moment, the one where I hold the photo in my hand, or see it flash upon the screen.

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I’m at work when I get a text from my dad. They got away for a few days break to Cannon Beach. The funeral is fast approaching, and his message said,

“do you have any photos of you guys and my mom/our family around? If so, can you send me some?”

My heart broke.

I’ve joked with my in-laws, or my other grandparents, at family holidays and get togethers, that I’m the annoying photographer because “someday at your funeral you’ll want pictures, well, maybe you won’t, but the survivors will.”

And it’s true. When my husband’s grandpa died, the most recent dozen pictures of him had been taken from me. And now here I am, with a pleading request from my dad for pictures of his mom, and I can’t help him. I can’t help him because my grandma chose to be absent from my life. She chose to not welcome us warmly as kids. She chose not to get to know us. And yes, as an adult, I now had the power to drive to the nursing home to see her, but in her 90’s, mostly blind and deaf, I never felt the desire to do so.

I can think back to one memory, when she had had a stroke and was living in our house for a few weeks. I was in late high school and feeling particularly kind, and went out of my way to try and hold a conversation with her. We talked about pantsuits being sewn better in the 1970’s and crossword puzzles. I sat and tried to form a connection and something was missing on her end in trying to engage with me. There are so very few pictures of us with my grandma because there was very few times we actually spent with her. And as an adult, the last time I saw her was when I was dating my husband. 8 years ago for her birthday.

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Our life is viewed through filters. Photos. Memories. Feelings. Prior experiences. I feel sad that my grandma lived her life in a way that has left a photographic absence in her death. Not for me, but for my dad. Not because photos are the be-all-end-all, but because photos are tangible mementos from real events. We see dimly, both in reality and in photography. But seeing something is better than nothing.

I texted my dad and said I’d look through my albums to see. It’s an empty promise because I know what’s there, and a big absence of my grandma in any photo is that resounding gong or a clanging symbol. Her absence is deafening. Moreso for my dad.

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