Pictures on the memorial buffet

I’m doing pretty good. Janice has been gone going on a year now, and I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress, in that I’m not sad most of the time and I haven’t sobbed in weeks. A trigger can still get me, though, and I’ve got a hunch that won’t change.

We made a kind of memorial space on the wall over her parents’ buffet in what used to be our living room and which we now hardly use at all except for storage. Janice wouldn’t like that last part, but there it is. On a cloth she got in Hawaii we hung pictures of her, mostly from her last couple of years, when I thought to take pictures of her. When I heard that an area at home dedicated to her might help us deal with losing her, I looked through our boxes of snapshots and realized that before she got sick, pictures of her were nearly always of her and somebody else—our children or friends or me.

After her sister died in 2009 and Janice inherited the buffet, we put photographs of deceased family members on it—her parents, her sister, my parents, and then her aunt two years later. Although everybody there is dead and gone, the display is of love for our families and for people we never knew. The buffet memorial is a trigger for me, and I don’t go in the living room much. I don’t cry about it, but it can stop me in my tracks, particularly a photograph I made sometime last summer.

In this picture, Janice is sitting on the sofa in the soft, old clothes she loved. Her right arm is swollen from edema, her belly is distended from tumors in her liver, and her hair is short from chemo. She’s looking directly at me, as usual, and I remember the calm acceptance with which she faced her death.

As long as I knew her, Janice could complain about almost anything, but she didn’t complain about her illness, not once. She never fretted or whined or blamed anything or anybody. The sicker she got, the more loving and open and generous she became, and she was loving and open and generous of spirit when I met her.

My sons don’t seem to care much for that photograph, I guess because she looks so sick and much older than she was. I love it, though, because I see her deep dignity and the compassion she had always for others, especially those who had to watch her die slowly before our eyes.