Sunday, March 02, 2008

PostMortem

It's 5:30 a.m., J. and LilCherie is asleep and Bubba is spending the
weekend at my sister's, so I'm up reading blogs. I read this post by charmedgirl and thought, wow, she's really going to try again so soon! Then I realized that it's been six months since she had P@ige, and thought about how six months after I lost my daughter, I had already failed one IUI and seven months later, I would be pregnant with my son.

Then I read this post by C. It's so raw, and so full of longing that it made my heart ache in such a familiar way. Being there came rushing back to me, and made me consider being here.

"We got so lucky with Bubba," I said to J. today in the car on the way to the antique show. "I always feel weird saying we got lucky."

"Me too," J. says. "I always feel like I'm tempting fate to take him away."

"Oh wow," I say. "I always feel like, 'how can I even say I'm lucky when one of my kids is dead?'"

At the antique show, I saw a family Bible inscribed with the names of twins, Louis and Victoria, born on the 25th of a long-ago September. Louis lived 10 days; Victoria lived 15 years. Someone lived long enough after they died to write it in the book.

"Hey, come over here," J. motions to me. I come over to look and he points out a postcard-sized black-and-white postmortem photograph of a little boy, probably about five years old, resplendent in his best knickers and jacket and laid out on the family bed.
The photos "were life-affirming rather than creepy and macabre, as most people think of them today," said Jack Kabrud, director and curator of the Hennepin History Museum. Its exhibit on the topic is called "A Semblance of Life: The Art and Culture of the Post Mortem Photograph," with about 50 photos from the 1850s to as late as the 1940s.

"These photos were the final gift to the survivors," Kabrud said. "It was something they could hold."

The Art of the Postmortem Photo
by Peg Meier
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 4, 2005


Later, at home, I walk down the hall and then stop for a moment.
Something's bothering me, what is it? Oh, the door to Bubba's room is closed. How long that door stayed closed, waiting for hope.

I open it part of the way, until it feels less dangerous.

8 comments:

Tingle said...

I'm in tears, thinking about my own post-mortem photos of my son - the ONLY photos I have of him besides his ultrasound, and the only way I can remember him visually.

Sometimes I lie in bed and look at my husband sleeping, and I'm both heartbroken and comforted by his face - my son had his wide, full mouth, not my thin, tight lips. And my husband's mouth, his head shape, so much reminds me of Eroll. Sometimes that makes me feel so much longing, but often it is a comfort that there is a living reminder of my beautiful child.

I sometimes wonder why death is so "secret" now, especially death of babies or children. No one wants to believe or even let the thought enter their minds that a baby or child could die. But they do, and it's even more painful and heartbreaking when you feel like you're completely alone.

When I see these photos or read about women of 100 years ago or so who lost children (as was a much more common experience then), I feel such a kinship with them and I wonder at their strength. And I always see something I recognize in their eyes.

Aurelia said...

I saw a link before somewhere to the Museum of Mourning and Photography and I find it so interesting that it was common to photograph dead children and relatives in the past, and then it became uncommon to the point of utter denial. Nowadays we finally have regained the ability to photograph our miscarried, stillborn and lost children and retain mementoes, but the thing I wonder about is, why did it disappear as a tradition? Why the denial?

Like Tingle, I wonder why it is so secret now?

thrice said...

If I were to take a stab at it, I would guess the reason why in the loss of tradition is there isn't as high of demand anymore. 100 years ago, we expected to lose children, but now we fear it.

I'm sorry for everyone's losses. Very nice and thought provoking post.

charmedgirl said...

i know, right? it seems soon for me too, yet it also feels so far away...holding my dead baby. it feels like a movie i saw, yet not. friday is the RE consult.

those pictures are beautiful and i wish i had one like that. i wish i knew better what i would want, but what the fuck. but i still wish i did.

Tash said...

Wow, just wow. I'm trying to get the nerve to read Drew Faust's new book on the rituals of mourning in the 19th century, but I'm afraid I won't make it very far in without doing something horrible to the book.

Stunning post, thank you.

kalakly said...

I wonder when our 'society' became so arrogant that we thought we could hide from death? That if we pretended that it didn't exist we could make it go away all together?
The pictures and the rituals of the past speak volumes to the dignity with which those who died and those who lost them were treated. Now, we are lepers, treated as though we have something contagious, no one wants to understand our loss because it is so terrifying. I find it so achingly sad that the only people who really appreciate the beauty in our 'dead baby' photos are other mothers who have them themselves. Most, not all, but most, people on the outside have the "ooh I don't want to see a picture of a dead baby, that's creepy' reaction. It's a terrible thing, what society has done to grief and mourning, a terrible thing.

Cobblestone said...

You haven't been around ... I hope everything is going ok

Antigone said...

Curious why postmortem photos became scary. Maybe death became less familiar as penicillin and the polio vaccine made their rounds.