How a man dies: Jess at the End
My father-in-law Jesse passed away three years ago today. The photograph just below is of him and my mother-in-law on August 1st, 2014, a week before he died.
I miss him, more than I often admit. A year after his death my wife and I weren’t dealing with it very well. Three years on and the sting and sorrow are easier for us to bear. But during the past few years months my mother-in-law has been remarkable, a steady, consistent rock who as endured rather than fall apart. Having her around gives my life needed perspective since I’m 53 and starting to wonder more often when the ride’s going to end.
Several days before Jess died, I got to really see what champions my family are. I wasn’t born into a particularly close family. But my wife, the woman below on the right, had better luck. That’s her sister on the left. My brother-in-law is in the next photograph, holding his father’s hand four days before the end.
You only think about the dying when death is near, not the people you look to after someone’s gone and say out loud “Shit, I guess we should have a drink.” My wife, her sister and brother, and my mother-in-law showed me how to face the fading and passing of a human life. At the time I didn’t cope with it well and hid behind my camera. Thankfully I had superior family examples from which to draw strength.
On the day Jess died, August 8th, 2014, my wife was a genius of calm. She was collected and circumspect. The old man passed about five hours before I shot the picture immediately above. I had never before been in a room with a deceased person who wasn’t shut tight in a coffin.
I was uncomfortable and squeamish about it. My wife’s behavior showed me how to man-up and deal with it. Women can be so superior in this department, probably for the same reasons that men make war while women clean up the emotional messes afterward.
My wife’s sister, above on the right, and my wife’s step-sister, on the left, also showed me how to confront the death in the room, and how the love of siblings not born of the same parents can be a source of connection and strength.
About six hours after Jess died, two nice men came to his house, put him on a stretcher, covered him, and walked him down to their hearse.
After Jess was secured, I told the undertaker, pictured above, that I was squeamish about my father-in-law’s death. I asked him how he dealt with hauling corpses for a living. He looked at me with genuine sympathy and said “You get used to it.”
Yeah, I guess you do. Or maybe you don’t. I don’t fucking know if I could. I just had to take the man’s word for it.
(Photographs taken in Brisbane, California in August, 2014. Text updated on August 8th, 2017.)