The day before Nana’s funeral we had a window of time when we were allowed to visit her body in the funeral parlour. Between 2pm and 5pm I think it was. I remember thinking it was weird that this would be the last time I’d see her and I had been given a time slot. As if someone else owned her and I was renting a few moments.
I was busy at work and struggling to get out of the office. I’d already been given time off for the funeral and felt guilty leaving early to see a dead body. The hierarchy of grief occurred to me. If it had been one of my parents that had died, I would have felt justified in my sadness. But I was aware it might seem indulgent to be so upset about a 92-year-old woman who had already been ill for a long time.
When it’s an old person that dies, some people say things like, ‘well, she had a good life’, or, ‘oh that’s a good age, you should be thankful for that’. Someone even said, ‘I didn’t have a grandma. You’re lucky’. It’s nice that people bother to say anything at all, but statements like that made me feel as if grieving was an ungrateful act. I already knew I’d been lucky to
have her. In a way, that made it worse.
Walking into the funeral parlour, the adrenalin numbed me. I was hyper and on edge, but not sad. Not at first. It just felt unreal. She looked tiny, laid out in a coffin. Her face was sunken and strange – wax-like – and I remembered a line from a poem I’d written about my granddad a few years before: ‘I wonder, if I bite you, will there be blood?’
I dared myself to kiss her frozen forehead. I got close but I was sure I saw her move and snapped my head away. My mum was with me and we both stared at her hands for a few minutes, hardly breathing, certain they’d shifted ever so slightly. Eventually I kissed her. Just for a second at first, then again, for longer this time. I put my hand over her hands, blue on the tips, her gold wedding band still there, where it had always been.
As the adrenalin wore off a little, I started to grasp the fact this was the last time I would be in a room with my Nana. After that day, there would be one less person in the world who was unconditionally on my side. To hide the fact it didn’t look like her, they’d dressed her in her pink Bon Marché cardigan, little cream blouse and tiny Velcro shoes. I felt an
overwhelming wave of sadness and then a moment of panic. I wanted to record the moment. So with Mum’s permission, I went to get my camera and took some photos
of her shell. It felt weird, photographing her when she couldn’t object. It was as if I was stealing something from her.
And now I have those pictures in my camera, somewhere in the middle of the memory card. I’m not sure exactly because I daren’t look at them and I don’t know what to do with them. I can’t delete them. Not yet.
For my project, I’ll be using a lot of photos and asking people to share memories and it’s making me question the idea of ownership. Who owns those photos of my dead Nana? Is it me, as the photographer, or does she own them somehow? I know if she was alive, she’d hate the idea of people seeing her like that. But she’s not alive. She never will be again.
I won’t share those photos of the last time I saw Nana. But it just got me thinking.
Find out more about my Making Tracks project – Finding Nana