dnr

My brother died this morning. He was pronounced dead at 2:20 a.m. It was exactly a year and a day after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

It’s been a long, strange 366 days. I’ve taken several photographs of him in that time. Photos taken during mushroom hunts, photos shot while taking walks, photos of him in his garage. Many of those photos are sitting quietly on my computer, where they’ll probably remain for a while. Eventually I’ll delete most of them. They’re just photographs.

But every day of this last month I brought my camera with me to the hospice. Most days it stayed in the bag. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph him with the naso-gastric tube; it made him look so frail. He wouldn’t want to be seen that way. Three or four times I pulled the camera out of the bag with the intent of photographing his hands, and each time I put the camera back without taking the lens cap off. Except this one frame, shot three days ago when the sun filtered in softly and he seemed calm and quiet and comfortable. One frame is all I could manage—one shaky frame, and it sort of creeps me out that I shot it.

It’s not a good photograph, and ordinarily I’d hit the delete button. But I told myself it was the last photo ever taken of my brother. As I write this, though, it seems to me that this really isn’t a photograph of my brother at all. Not really. This is just a photo of the failing container that held him.

(I’ve deleted four earlier drafts of this. I felt the need to say something about my brother, but each of the earlier drafts turned into a soppy eulogy. He’d have hated that. He’d prefer, I think, to see something in which I’ve creeped myself out. That would have made him laugh.)

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21 thoughts on “dnr

  1. Thank you, Greg, for letting us into your world, and bringing us your brother too. And you know, there’s at least as much love in that photograph as there could have been in the others you thought to try. Make that, more.

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  2. I am sorry you had to go through this, I am glad your waiting is over, and I am sorry you have finally lost that last little bit you were holding on to.

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  3. I know that you’re feeling over-watched right now, but I must say to you that my heart is with you now as you say goodbye to Jesse Eugene. This is a touching and fitting photograph that conveys the tenderness in the moment and I’m grateful that you shared it with us.

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  4. Dear Greg – tender words and a tender image – just as I’d expect from you. I’m not good at the platitudes but I do genuinely feel for you in your loss.

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  5. That DNR says it all, Greg. Like the others, I found this a very tender image. Your brother’s body had become a burden, but as you wrote, it is just the container. Godspeed to him, and warm wishes for you. You will be hurting for quite some time.

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  6. Hello It’sGreg,

    It’s been a long time. Quite probably too long for recollection to strike when you read this, one of hundreds of faithful Flickrites who follow you.

    Regardless, I’m here to tell you that my brother’s birthday is August 26th. He lives some distance a way from me. I flew to celebrate the day with him. We ate cake, we reminisced about so may cakes past, and we toasted his birth with very good beer.

    The affair had a tinge of the bittersweet that awareness of the passage of time can bring. than usual. As if to compensate, we celebrated with a little more enthusiasm than usual.

    In hindsight I think that is because we were sharing, with you, and with your brother.

    I am sorry for your loss, and I am humbled by its relief.

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  7. One more “I’m sorry” comment written this week, all due to cancer. A heartfelt one that is, as I just found out today while seeking for updates on your blog. Not just out of creepy curiosity, Greg. But sometimes you just wish for the pain in the entire world to end and that feeling is much too powerful. I hope this doesn’t come out insensitive, I trust your innate sensibility to understand another person who’s caring for a family member battling cancer.

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  8. Thanks so much everybody, for the kind words and thoughts. We put the brother in the ground yesterday and it was pretty rough at times. But there were a lot of friends and family around, and so there were also plenty of laughs.

    As funerals go, it was moderately weird–an honor guard of firefighters in dress uniforms, a funeral procession escort of about 40-50 tattooed bikers on Harleys–all veterans and all toting American flags–and the final ceremony featuring Marines in dress blues folding the flag. There was a pool cue in his casket, along with a figurines of Pinky and the Brain, some photographs, and what I believe was some sort of firefighter medallion. Or maybe somebody spilled something; it’s hard to say. Pretty fucking crazy, the whole thing. Which made it about right.

    And Jen Garber, of course I remember you. Best sad fairy princess ballerina photo ever.

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  9. you make me feel better even though I am so sorry about your loss and the pain.. when my grandmother went to the hospital before she died (she died the day we were moving her to hospice, I was there getting her room ready when they told me there was no point anymore.. it took me a moment to understand what they were saying but they let me understand and then cry in the room.. ) she asked if I had brought my camera up, I said of course but I wasn’t sure she’d want photos, she did, it was the day before she died, her eyes were glowing with the morphine bright bright pale blue and I took photos and she smiled and I had Sean take a photo of us together and of the roses I brought her… I never developed the film, moved it with us from apartment to house .. anyway five years after we moved in I went into the vitamin bin to see if the roll was still there, maybe I’d develop it… I was taking a photography course, in the darkroom… but it was gone, lost and I sometimes wonder if it were still around if I’d develop it… but I don’t think I would.. and reading this and your other posts.. I think I wouldn’t have and I’m glad I didn’t get that last chance… it’s been some time now for you but I wanted you to know I was thinking about you and your brother.

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