“Just call me a cartographer – because this post will be all over the map.” – X
Everyone is going to have their ‘last funeral’ story. Perhaps not the last of each person’s life, but the last one not impacted by covid. While my last precovid funeral wasn’t traditional, it happened in January before the country felt the virus’s hammer.
Jackie wanted a gathering of friends as a commemoration. It happened at her home in Springdale. I knew a few of the people at the gathering but most shared nothing in common with me. It was a fact that Jackie would have laughed about. One of the most complicated puzzles I had ever made with pictures was prominently displayed on the coffee table in the intimacy of their living room. The puzzle contained innumerable pictures detailing their lives. I made it with care and attention. It was an affirmation to know that it touched them enough to find a place at Jackie’s last gathering. The video and music I crafted played on loop on the large monitor nearby. Having learned the hard lesson of no backup plan, I had the video on dvd and flash drive and an executable folder of music and pictures if the other two methods failed.
Though I unexpectedly liked a couple of Post Malone’s songs before, I included a piano version of two of his songs. When I have my guard down, I sometimes hear the melodies and remember the absurdity of including it in Jackie’s memory video. I can’t imagine Jackie liking Post Malone; I know that this piano version would have struck her heartstrings with unerring certainty. In part, that expresses how I got to know her – often indirectly and through a constant barrage of banter and conversation. I also included three songs I wrote, one of which I know Jackie loved.
I said my goodbyes in the same way I got to know her: through pictures. The family asked me to do the montage of photos and choose the music. It’s a rare thing for people to trust me so intimately. I’ve known some people all my life who skipped past me for weddings (even one who I originally became ordained for) or overlooked the few things I can do well. In a way that is not immediately easy for me to write, Jackie and her husband seemed at ease with me, even despite our marked differences. I’m sure that some of my pranks were a bit too much for them – but that my intent always found favor with them.
I was volunteered into their circle by my mother-in-law, who worked with Jackie and her husband at the hospital, as did my wife and sister-in-law. What started as a simple project ultimately gave me access to their entire lives of private pictures and images. While I began by scanning hundreds of hospital pictures, I was soon compiling decades of family history.
I frequently see the thousands of pictures I carefully scanned and indexed in my photo archives, and my heart both swells and painfully beats. It was a project that I hoped would never find its end.
Even though this sort of thing is both a love and hobby of mine, it still strikes me to know that people close to me failed to take advantage of my willingness to ensure that everyone’s memories could be reproduced, protected, and shared; such endeavors leave no one without access. It’s true that on a long enough timeline, we all fade – along with everything we can touch, where we stand, and even the planet itself. Pictures have their most value while someone is alive who remembers the people in the picture.
I still see people in agony over lost videos and pictures. It’s work to keep track of our lives. It’s more work to organize it for everyone coming after us. They’ll want to see our memories. The truth is that most people, even ones who seem to appreciate the frailty of such memories, don’t take the care necessary to share them openly and widely. It’s the only way to ensure the survival of the pictures we find to be cherished.
Jackie and her husband were undoubtedly part of the backbone of the community. Both were well-known and respected. Apart from teasing back and forth about me doing something ridiculous with their treasure chest of pictures and albums, they never doubted my love for the project or that I might somehow misuse their photographs.
Because I maintained an archive of all the thousands of pictures Jackie shared with me, it was no stretch to know that I could manage a retrospective of her life when she died. That I hadn’t shared much of her life was immaterial. Anyone could see that I had an affection for her that defied our vast age difference. I continue to regret that I didn’t know her for longer. It is possible that we would not have aligned so well earlier in my life. Having thought about it in the last few months, I’m convinced it’s true.
Part of my regret of not knowing her longer is that many of her stories passed with her. I discovered quickly that both Jackie and her husband were living repositories of fascinating stories. I intended to ask her to share several hours with me with the hopes of getting her story written in a way that would bear her signature wit and charm. She became ill before that come could to fruition.
But I still have this hoard of pictures, often waiting for me to open them and peer inside. I know that I honored Jackie by taking a piece of my life and preserving hers. I made sure that everyone had copies and access; no one was left in the rain. We don’t own pictures, though we foolishly think otherwise. We are custodians, with transitory possession of these lives and this world.
The day of her death races away from me, sliding into the past, as all deaths do.
Life marches forward with callous step and indifferent regard.
As Jackie’s life fades from human memory, I watch the world and wonder about the depth of visual memory and story being lost. But it is not because of me. I’ve tipped the balance in my favor and find myself unable to stop asking people to drop their pretenses and share who and what they are with the world.
In continued memory of Jackie Lou and with a renewed dedication to the joy of pictures, X.