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.)