Monday, August 13, 2012
Nearly a year after I got that gift, Paul was dead. My desire to document our lives seemed to die with him, as I placed my camera high on my closet shelf. What would I put on film anyway, but forced smiles and bravado? We were a family in grief. Like a wounded animal retreating to lick its wounds, we needed quiet and space to recover. Photographs were for birthday parties and Christmas morning unwrappings, surely there was no need substantiate the aftermath of loss, the brutality of death?
The brilliant photographer Annie Leibovitz encapsulated the sickness and ultimate death of her lifelong love, Susan Sontag, through her photography. In print she noticed Susan’s failing frame, her vanishing hair and emaciated body. Throughout their partnership, Leibovitz had used her camera to tell stories. “I made the decision in the long run that (the photographs of Susan) came out of a moment of grief and that grief gave the work dignity.” Leibovitz said. Perhaps she had it right. I sometimes wish I had kept clicking after Paul’s death. I regret not capturing the empty chair at the dining table or the mattresses crowding my bedroom floor, as my children clung to each other, and to me. I wish I had made those images permanent, because what I know now that I couldn’t believe then is…we would survive. We continue to mourn Paul; we continue to remember him; but while suffering found us, Hope and Promise also showed up.
In the local paper, there are often classified ads directed to one saint or another, or sometimes, to Jesus himself. Reading these always gives me a giggle as I imagine The Lord, fielding thousands of faithful prayers emanating from homes and hospital beds, churches and war zones…”And now,” I imagine Jesus declaring stoically, “onto the classifieds!”
This week the kids and I traveled to see Paul’s parents in a very remote town in Northern Maine. To punctuate the ten hour drive, I stopped in Bangor and let them swim free in the hotel pool. Calling for me, I looked up from my magazine to pay attention to some new aquatic feat. For one poignant moment I looked at them, giggling and splashing, and I experienced a moment of such intense gratitude, it took my breath away. I wanted to scribble a simple classified ad to God: “Thank you, for saving us.” Somehow in the dark of the night, quietly and without fanfare, we had made it.
My children are not the people they would be if their father were here. There are lessons and gifts only he could have bestowed. Yet here our children are; scarred but thriving, wounded but kind, not the people they could’ve been, but incredible individuals, no less. And I did what any parent would do to preserve a precious moment, I picked up my camera and clicked.