The Photographer’s Resurrection
Karen was a clinical psychologist for more than three decades, and it was only after retirement she took up photography seriously. She made some very nice portraits, but her best pictures are art photos. Insects, trees, and flowers; taken in extreme close-up or in unusual light, they display nature’s beauty in surprising ways. And some of her work achieves pure abstraction, leaving the viewer guessing as to how the images were captured.
Many weeks, months really, have passed since Karen made any photos. She battles cancer, chemotherapy, and pain medications. Too weak to stand without aid, unable to hold a camera, she also struggles to pursue coherent thought; the studied, inventive attention needed for art photos is beyond her.
It is possible that she will rally physically. She could receive more chemotherapy. Chemotherapy might significantly retard or reverse cancer’s growth. At this stage we still can hope that Karen will make more pictures. But none of those things are likely.
As a psychologist, Karen regularly had occasion to diagnose dementia. That she often cannot complete a sentence or thought frightens and discourages her. Along with everything else, she fights depression.
I approve of Adrienne Martin’s term for hope; hope is a syndrome. Hope shows up in our beliefs, plans, feelings, and perceptions. Hope colors our imagination. I also approve of Martin’s notion of incorporation. When we have judged that a hoped for outcome is possible and then judged that it is practically important to us, we license ourselves to incorporate the hope into our lives. We think about the hoped for thing, we perceive the world in its light, and we let ourselves imagine it.
To that end, here is a bit of imagination. Please, please, please: I am not saying what will be; I am only imagining what might be. (The words above were written in September 2016. Those that follow were written later.)
A Fine Green Morning
Karen dreamed, but disjointedly. She was lying in a bed, the hospital bed delivered by hospice. How long had she been here? But then, in her dream, she was seated in the blue recliner. She liked that chair; she bought it for her home office three years ago, and they had moved it to the living room. For some days, maybe a week, she sat and slept in the recliner until, as the cancer consumed her strength, Phil called hospice for the bed. She knew she would die in that hospital bed. Why did they move her back to the recliner?
She recognized photographs on the wall above the sofa. She had directed Phil when he mounted them—this one there, that one a bit higher—and the result pleased her. The photography instructor at the college, John Bennett, had praised her work, and Phil especially liked her “art” pictures. Close up photos of a cat’s eye, a flower, and green growing things, filled with pristine detail—the pictures satisfied. If only she had started photography sooner, or if the cancer hadn’t come back…
Karen shook her head, at least in her dream. She would not waste strength on regrets. The photos were what they were. She had made them, and they satisfied. The making of them had taught her to look at God’s world. She had found amazing treasures just walking the streets of Newberg. Of course, that was before the pain in her back and legs put an end to such things…
How long had it been since she had strength to hold a camera? Three weeks? Actually, she said to herself, it’s a blessing I’ve gone downhill so fast. Just a month ago Phil drove me to visit Tim and Tia. But my gut rebelled and Tim had to take me back next day. I’m glad to die quickly without lingering.
She looked closely at the photo of Buddy, the neighborhood cat. Then she thought: How am I able to get so close? The pictures are on the other side of the room. And I’m not in the living room. I’m in the hospital bed, dreaming of the living room.
It’s legal for hospice to prescribe strong opiates. I wonder which one they’re giving me. I wouldn’t have expected to think so lucidly at the last. I feared dementia, but this isn’t so bad, not from the inside. Maybe as I fall deeper into the last sleep, everything happens in my mind. Phil or Jennie see me lying in a bed and wait for my last breath. But on the inside, it goes on forever. Is that eternity?
She turned her head. Dining table here, piano there, the door, the windows; everything was in its place. She certainly seemed to be standing, facing the north wall, alone in her house. Judging by the light from the windows, it must be early morning. She took a step forward. Buddy and the other pictures were within arms reach.
I’m here. I’m really here.
Shocked: Am I a ghost?
It took three steps to reach the piano. She pressed a key and was rewarded with sound. Not a ghost, then?
Three decades of psychological study and practice carried her mind like a rushing river. What an amazing phenomenon! I am lying in a bed, dying of cancer, and yet I experience a lucid, reflexive dream. The best dream of my life.
She spun around. “Mom!” (In the back of her mind: I would have expected Phil.)
“It’s not a dream, Dear. That is why it is I, not Phil. How do you feel?”
Karen took in a breath, and it felt wonderful. She realized at that moment that she felt no pain: no pain in her back, no stabbing pain in her leg, and no mental confusion.
“It’s not drugs.” Betty smiled and shrugged. “It took me a while to get used to feeling good. I didn’t have as much pain as you, but heart disease made me feel so worn out. And I was sick longer. It was a relief to let it go.”
“I’ve died, then?”
“Oh yes. They told me I could welcome you, and I thought this room would be a good transition. Is it alright?”
“It’s wonderful, Mom.” Karen hugged her, and in that hug, deep wonder began to sink into her mind. “It’s just like it was.”
Betty chuckled. “Not quite. The room has changed a little since they moved you into the bedroom. And a while ago, after you died, the hospice men came to remove your body. Do you know what Phil will do with it?”
“He arranged for cremation.”
“Oh. It doesn’t matter, of course. But I never liked the idea of cremation. I’m glad you buried me next to Glenn.”
“Yes, we did. In that little cemetery near The Dalles.”
Betty took Karen’s hand. “Are you ready to go?”
Karen felt surprise. “Where are we going? Do I have a choice?”
“You made the choice long ago. And you know where we’re going.” Karen’s mother’s eyes sparkled with joy.
Mother and daughter left the house, walking into a fine green morning. “Oh, look!”