Have you ever ran across an old picture of someone who was photographed after death?
Recently, my mother was flipping through some very old pictures that her mother had given her that were in an old shoe box. My grandmother has recently fell ill and is in assisted living and didn't want to take a lot of personal mementos with her but wanted them in safe hands. These photos were so old and sepia-toned and we had no idea who they were. My mom had never saw them. My grandmother could barely remember who they were except they came from her mother's side of the family. We did find some treasures, like one of my grandmother about eight years old, which we were thrilled to find because we didn't have any of those in any collection and to my knowledge, it is the only childhood picture of her outside one school picture when she was fourteen taken with her class.
But what amazed me were the amount of photographs of members of our family (I am assuming) who were photographed after passing. They were a lot of children, and young adults. A few older people, but not many. They were sitting in chairs in unusual positions or lying in bed with flowers all around them. Some were with family members and some were alone.
I understand that this was a practice that was prevalent in the 18th and 19th century as a way of honouring and remembering the dead. Especially amongst the poor who could not have portraits painted or the children could not still long enough to have a long exposure made. This was the family's last chance at remembering. With the high rate of child morbidity, I guess I understand why they did that.
All I know is that I have no possible means of understanding what it was like in those times. What I do know is that looking at those faces now is something that I can't do. I just can't do.
If anyone has seen the movie "I'm not there", there is a scene it in that features Richard Gere in a surreal moment of Dylan's biopic where there is a funeral scene where a child is held up at a funeral. It was both beautiful and deeply disturbing. It is a scene etched in my mind forever.
Just as these photos are.
I realize this may or may not be a morbid topic for a Tuesday morning coffee article, but I woke up with it on my mind. Please share your thoughts and if you feel like it, your stories.
Denise B. aka Clover