Monday, March 01, 2010

a clean well-lighted place

a clean well-lighted place

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Act II, Scene VII, lines 163-166

Once my grandmother knew she was dying (once we all did) she wanted pictures. She pantomimed holding a camera to her face and releasing the shutter. She gestured for those of us in the room to draw near -- there were many in the room, often, coming for a visit, knowing it was goodbye -- to stand close and pose.

I held up my holga and pretended to click. My aunts were better at it -- they really took the photos. I should have but couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to see her there, dying. She looked other worldly, and nothing like herself, and yet: she was entirely there. And wholly her own.

It was hot in Seattle this last July, almost unbearably so, and we spent much effort trying to keep her cool with washcloths and fans because the facility where she was staying wasn’t air conditioned. Few older buildings are, in Seattle. There really isn’t a need. We pulled the drapes against the bright sun so that it wouldn’t bake the room to a fever. Compounding the problem was her own internal combustion; the body heats up as it makes its final passage, like a rocket ship exiting the atmosphere.

For many hours I sat beside her as she slept. Tried to work. Tried to read. Found I couldn’t. Mostly I gazed at her, my thoughts inarticulate, my emotions as high as the heat.

There was one moment in all those afternoons (I can't remember which one) in which the light was just right and she rested quietly, having just had a bath. I worked up the courage to take a few photographs in that well lit place, feeling awkward and strange, but knowing I had her consent. Knowing I would never photograph her again. Knowing this would be the final roll.


anniemcq said...

this is so lovely, D. With her bracelet on her arm, she still looks so elegant.

Bonita said...

I remember that sacred place in half light...holding a cool washcloth to your grandmother's. Not being family and being there alone should have made me feel awkward. Rather, I felt the need to help with her keep her comfortable while she made this final journey.

I, Rodius said...

Argh. I saw the photo, and didn't want to read it, and did want to read it. Painful, and lovely, and painful.

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