In the last years of my father’s life, I spent more time with him than ever before.
I knew I could never fill the emptiness he felt after Mom died, but I hoped that any effort to lessen his grief was a comfort. We would visit her grave, share meals, and sort through their things. The collection of photographs was most precious to him, painting a rich collection of words, some of which he could no longer find in his failing memory.
Each picture became a magical cue for my father as his illness progressed. A smile, chuckle, or a quick remark meant he remembered. Not only did they keep my mother close in his heart, but they kept us connected with him, and I’m still grateful for that. They were his lifeline.
Until the advent of digital cameras and cell phones, Dad used a Leica. Though a clunky camera, the image quality was superior. But even with the default function, it still required a manual focus. That tormented us.
Family photo sessions generated a lot of groans and sighs. We held a smile until my face felt numb while my father fussed and focused. The pictures were stunning, but at that moment, we all wished it was over sooner.
With plenty of wall space in his new surroundings, Dad was anxious to fill it up with the pictures he shared with Mom. I’d often find him sitting in his recliner in deep thought, his eyes moving slowly across the wall to each photograph.
Now I’ve populated many areas of our house with family photos. I think of the times I sat with Dad, and he would hold onto a print of Mom and trace his fingers over her face. Now I do the same with the pictures I have. Though the date is not always easy to recall, the memory attached to that image is still alive.
Whether glossy or matted, the photos are priceless. Even if they aren’t as striking as the ones taken with that Leica, they are still perfect.
Dad’s room in palliative care had a warm beige shade. We filled the walls with paper copies of those very photos and others. I’d even bring the albums he’d put together with Mom, and we’d pore over the pages. We never spoke much, perusing them in silence, but he’d take the time to relish each page, each one filled with a piece of his life.
Not every picture my father took was as stellar as the ones he shot with that clunky camera, but that didn’t matter. Each shot was unique and irreplaceable. It reminds me of how he had loved and cherished his life, and now that he’s gone, he is still loved and missed.
5 years already. Love you, Dad.
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