Photographing Symbols

Photogrief / Photogrief : Denise Lara Mangalino

This essay is a part of WYG's PhotoGrief project. The goal of the PhotoGrief project is to create a space where people can explore and express their grief through pictures. Learn more about the project here.

Where You Used To Be by David Hommel

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Gift of Laughter by Kara Phernetton 

At some point in the last few weeks of my uncle’s life I had stopped praying that he would be healed from the cancer that was taking his life, and started to pray that he would just fall asleep.

I knew at that point it was time for me to say my goodbye.

My uncle had been a Norbertine priest for the past 40 years. Funny, handsome, well loved and respected, my uncle was someone I was very proud of. People would treat you a little nicer when they learned you were related to Father Conrad and often our family's Easter and Christmas dinners were pushed back until later in the day because everyone wanted him over at their house. He led people, but more importantly, he made them laugh. He taught them to never take themselves too seriously, and said that even their darkest moments can be illuminated for just a minute if they can just turn on old “I Love Lucy” reruns.

He had suffered a stroke a few years back and he lost most of his ability to speak. The talent that God gave him to lead people in faith left his body, and he never fully recovered. He struggled with finding the words, and then struggled with articulating them. One time he told me that he missed making people laugh.

When the time came for me to say my goodbye to him, I sat at his side in his room with my eldest maternal aunt. I took the hand that marked him for Christ in mine and whispered “well done good and faithful servant” and through tears I told him I loved him, but that he can go to sleep now.

I turned to leave, and this is when my aunt decided it was the perfect time to say “Oh, Kara, that’s a really pretty blouse on you. It’s a nice color.” 

I started to laugh.

This intimate and wildly vulnerable moment that I had just had with my uncle was stopped short  so my extremely sweet and loving aunt could tell me that I picked out a nice shirt.  I, of course, thanked her and blew one last kiss to my uncle.

I walked through the abbey where my uncle and I used to feed ducklings when I was small and I cried harder than I think I have ever cried in my entire life. He passed away later that night surrounded by his siblings, one of my older cousins, and his best friend.

It wasn’t until a few days after his funeral when I realized what those final moments really meant. The last thing he heard from me was my laugh. It was what he missed being able to do the most. That is a gift. For the both of us.

And it is a pretty blouse, isn’t it?

I Carry Her With Me by Christian Morgan

Standing in the in the room where she died.

Looking at her childhood bed, which was also mine.

Holding her shirt.

I'm reminded again of the day 23 years ago when my world changed forever.

Her voice is long forgotten.

Memories are scarce.

But she lives on through me - her daughter.

I carry her with me.

Strength in Small Packages by

The acorn necklace my sister, Jessie, gave me the Christmas after my mom died is in this twisted, tangled mess of silver chains and baubles.  It's the same kind of necklace my mother wore when she was sick. At that time she told us that the acorn stood for strength, but acorns had been special to her long before she identified with their symbolism. I remember acorn ornaments hanging on the Christmas tree and stories of how my dad used to collect acorns and bring them to my mother when they were dating. To be honest I don't personally understand the fascination, but because they were special to my mother, they are special to me.

One would hardly assume I cared about this messy nest of jewelry. They certainly wouldn't assume that every once in a while, when I need a dose of strength or sentimentality, I untangle one particular necklace and wear it close to my heart.

What objects remind you of your loved one? Submit a photograph to be featured on PhotoGrief.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

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One Comment on "Photographing Symbols"

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  1. Benedikte  May 12, 2016 at 7:06 am Reply

    Love this poem

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