About two weeks before Aunt Helene suddenly died, she requested something of me (unbeknownst to all of us, it was her final request of me). “Hon, I’m still waiting for you to send me those pictures….” Then we both laughed because she knew I’m not the fastest at such requests. In fact, like so many people, I get busy with life, but, nevertheless, I have a reputation in my family for not doing things on a timely basis. For example, it took me longer than usual to create a landscape painting for my brother and sister-in-law. (In my defense, it was a large painting!)
But Aunt Helene put gentle pressure on me with this request. She had been in the hospital for months now, and she desperately wanted the most recent photos of Ari, her great niece. Let me say, she was always hungry for pictures, so I can honestly say her most recent request was nothing new and certainly not a premonition.
My aunt was obsessed with photos of her great nephews and great niece. And I mean obsessed. She studied each picture carefully and oohed and ahhed over it. She noticed things in each picture that I didn’t even notice. “Hey, doll, in the picture where Ari is wearing those white shorts, she seems to have a thoughtful expression. What was that about?,” Helene would ask. “I don’t know,” I’d say, clueless. Truth is, Helene often saw too much into things, and so I think she projected her own thoughts and feelings onto Ari’s various expressions.
Aunt Helene always showed and sent the pictures to her friends, and in the blink of an eye she would put newly received photos in frames.
The day before her funeral, my brother and I went into Helene’s apartment to do some light cleaning. She treasured my artwork, so there were some paintings. But we marveled the most at how many pictures were in her small apartment. Photos of her loved ones were everywhere. So many photos in every room of the house. My brother and I decided which ones we wanted and divided them up a bit. But we found other treasures: old pictures of my aunt with her friends. So that evening we put them in a photo album in seemingly chronological order for her friends — coming from a distance for the funeral — to look at and take the photos they wanted. After the funeral, at lunch at a restaurant, my aunt’s friends enjoyed looking at all the pictures and taking the ones they most treasured.
While my brother and I were cleaning through Helene’s apartment, I thought back to Helene’s final request of me: for photos. For some reason, I sent them right away via snail mail to her hospital address. Usually, she called me when she received them and would wax poetic about them, but she never brought them up, and I didn’t have the courage to ask her if she had received them yet, lest she be disappointed she didn’t yet have them. So we talked about other things, but did not mention the photos.
Then she died. And I wondered with my grief-stricken heart whether the photos had arrived before she died. Did she see the most recent pictures of Ari? I knew the pictures would have comforted her, and I believed I would never find out.
Then at the cemetery, the rabbi gave my brother all of Helene’s possessions that were in the hospital, and the photos I had recently sent were there. My aunt had already put one of them in a frame. The mailing envelope was opened and the pictures were loose. During one of the saddest moments in my life, I felt a spark of joy.
She had seen them.
Despite her suffering from COPD and back pain, she had the happiness of seeing pictures of Ari one more time. The pictures shown in this post were among the batch of 16 photos Aunt Helene received.
Unbeknownst to my aunt’s friends, I plan to keep Helene’s memory alive by paying it forward to her friends, who’ve known her since elementary school. I will regularly be sending them photos of Ari, the way Aunt Helene did. It’s a small offer of comfort to them, as they grieve for this beautiful person lost.
What is/are your favorite picture(s)? Feel free to write about it/them.
Tags: Aunt Helene, death, death of a loved one, grief, mourning, photographs, pictures