Death

Take a good look and describe what you see

Faces are amazing tapestries on which we paint our reality for the world to see.

Yes, many wear masks. Some are so clever, they can deceive others and eventually themselves, and their faces become a testament to their character of falsehoods and lies.

Fortunately for most of us, we show a lot about our life, our struggles, our joys, and our character in the tableaux we show to others.

I have been taking portraits for decades, always looking at the face as my window to the soul of others.

On occasion I take selfies to look at myself and my world at the moment I click the shutter.

I took these shots over a three-week period. During that time, I visited my mom, who was ending her seven-year journey battling Alzheimer’s.

I came to be with her and say goodbye to her in late January 2020. That visit was impossibly hard, and my look captured my sentiments being with her at her extended care facility, when I knew the end was not far away. That is shot No. 1.

The second picture is a selfie I took at the St. Louis Art Museum, a place we came for decades, even as she was slowly succumbing to this horrible disease. We still could find joy and beauty in this great palace of art. Picture No. 2 is from a place we stood many times together the same day of my mom’s funeral in mid-February 2020.

The last picture, three days after the funeral shows me after my trip to St. Louis was ending. I was sitting in a daze on the Portland MAX train, completing a ritual I had done for seven years, going to visit my sick mom and then coming back, not knowing how many more trips I would have to take. This time felt totally different. I felt the weight of my mom’s passing and a sense of both relief and sadness realizing this long chapter had come to an end with the only way that it could.

Easter 2019, suddenly a day of sadness

It is a sad Easter, not a joyful one that most of us had hoped for. I woke up this morning to the news that more than 200 people in Sri Lanka had been murdered by coordinated terrorist attacks that targeted foreigners at luxury hotels and innocent civilians, Christians, at churches.

This terrible day is one of many that we may soon forget, given such attacks have happened at places of worship so many times in the past 20 years.

The news made me think about what I had heard the night before at an Easter vigil that I attended at a local Episcopal Church. I decided to go because I like the tranquility services provide me. I also like listening to a good sermon that touches on things we are too afraid to talk about outside of places of worship, like the meaning of life and death.

The sermon was delivered by one of the church’s Episcopal priests, a former registered nurse. She must have done palliative care, given what she described as her time spent with patients who were on their final journey in life, with hours to live.

She talked about what happens the last hours of life, when patients make a passage from this world to whatever is in the next. She outlined the changes she would see among some patients in their last hours, when they get ready to let go. She described it as a calm and even a glow. She used these images to compare to how Jesus would have looked after the crucifixion and what Mary Magdalene and Salome were expecting to find in the tomb after seeing a gruesome event—the crucifixion of three persons a day earlier. Leave it to a nurse to focus on the details like this and to make us connect with the thing we fear the most in life, which is the end of life.

No one lost in these incidents in Sri Lanka would have the peace that comes in such end-of-life moments. One of the terrible images we saw on the internet showed blood on a statue of Jesus, while other shots showed the victims, where they died suddenly.

What happened was chaotic and meaningless. Most of us likely would prefer a peaceful passing, and be ready when it comes. In reality, many of us will not pass that way, and for some, the passing is tragic and swift, as we saw for many in Sri Lanka.

I have no pictures that capture the end of life or Sri Lanka. I do have some photos of Israel, where events in the life of Jesus reportedly occurred according to the accounts left in the Bible. Here is one from Jerusalem, a holy city to three faiths and, reportedly, where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. The photo is from the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, reportedly the place where Jesus was crucified by the Romans and entombed.

Easter is meant to be a day of joy and renewal for hundreds of millions of Christians the world over to celebrate the victory of their savior, Jesus Christ, over death, according to Christian teaching.

This year, Easter has another meaning. There will be no joy for weeks and months to come for far too many.