A Death in the Family

My ex-husband’s youngest sister died late last week from the flu. This tragedy has caused a barrage of chaos in my own life because my ex and I share a beautiful (now adult) child, and so I have been temporarily sucked back into a dysfunctional family that I fought like hell to get away from.

As my friend Richard says, “The gifted are always needed,” and since I am a professional creative, I am rightfully tasked the items that typically cost a fortune when added to the expense of a memorial service: photo scanning, slideshow creation, program design, floral design.  They know I will do it faster, better, and cheaper.  It’s a good thing, and I’m happy to help.  The portrait of my sister-in-law that will be framed & used on the table with the guest book is from a photograph I took of her at my child’s college graduation a handful of years ago.

To be a photographer is frequently (and unintentionally) to be the person who takes the last good portrait of someone before they die. The first time this happened, it was very unsettling.  Suddenly, it seemed I had this new, unrealized responsibility – and while I certainly don’t have it in the forefront of my brain each time I photograph someone, I’m now fully aware that the possibility always exists that this could be the last photo taken of them.

My ex-mother-in-law is still alive and in good health, and I find my thoughts are centered around her in the planning. No mother should have to bury a child. The dynamics within this family make every decision more gut-wrenching because of this fact.

And so, as I move along in my quiet stillness – scanning photos, ordering flowers: please, something very natural – cut flowers, glass vase,  thinking and rethinking typefaces, I have this woman – a mother – in my heart. I do these things for her, my child’s grandmother… the mother of a deceased child, as I would want someone to do them for me.

I rub my headache away. I reassure my own child, who struggles with all of this in a much more magnified way. I selfishly want it all to be over so we can go back to normal, even though I know that’s not possible.