Grief: Looking at the World Through a Camera Lens

My publisher suggested adding photos to my soon-to-be-published book about grief, and I jumped at the chance. I’d recently read David Ebright’s YA novel Reckless Endeavor, and was impressed by how much veracity just a couple of photos gave his story, so I was glad of the opportunity to do the same for my book. The only problem is, I have almost no photos of me and my life mate. We simply did not take photos — not of the places we lived, and not of each other. It’s not that we weren’t visually inclined, it’s that we lived in the moment. If you take a photo of the moment, the shoot becomes the moment and you lose the moment itself.

A couple of years before he died, I was gifted with a digital camera, and I took hundreds of photos of trees, animal tracksa cattle drive, some yaks in a nearby field, wildflowers (well, weeds) along the lane where I walked. It helped me get through what I thought were the worst years of my life, the years of his dying. Oddly, during all that time, I only took one photo of him, and that was by accident. We always wanted to see the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but since the road leading to the canyon was gravel, it was too hard on our old cars. We promised each other that if we ever had the use of a rental car, we would take the trip. That August, I rented a car so I could visit my brother, and when I returned, I suggested we finally go see the north rim of the canyon. He didn’t want to make the trip since he was so sick, but at the last moment, he agreed to come with me. It’s a good memory. Just him and me and the ground that fell away just beyond our feet. I had my camera, and since I knew I’d never be back, I snapped a few photos, and he ended up being in one of those pictures. It still makes me cry, that photo. He’s standing with his back to me, staring at  . . . eternity, perhaps. Did he know he had just a few more months to live? I sure didn’t, or perhaps I was simply refusing to face the truth.

The year after he died (which actually was the worst year of my life), I took thousands of photos. The world had turned black and white, and it was only through the lens of a camera that I could see color and life. I roamed the neighborhood and the nearby desert, looking for visual treasures.

And then suddenly, a few months ago, I stopped carrying my camera around. Apparently, despite my continued sadness, I’m back in the moment, living life at full strength rather than diluted through the lens of the camera. I didn’t even realize how far I’d come until I started hunting photos for my book and realized I’d stopped taking pictures.

(I did manage to scrounge a few photos for the book, though not as many as my publisher wanted. And we’ll be using the only photo of the two of us for the back cover even if it is fifteen years old.)

5 Responses to “Grief: Looking at the World Through a Camera Lens”

  1. Elaine Garverick Says:

    Good evening, Ms. Bertram,
    I hate taking pictures. I dislike the metallic feel of that machine in my hand. My few subjects end up too dark, too bright, headless, or with glaring red wolverine eyes. I was lucky that my mother enjoyed taking pics of my girls, and that my youngest is now the family photographer. I’m glad now that they all have a record of their lives, no thanks to me. A camera reflects the bare facts in my hands. Not how I feel, not how they were, nothing of my love. I paint instead.
    I think the pic of your husband standing on the rim of the canyon speaks volumes. Aren’t we all standing j-u-s-t there…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Hi, Cathy. I really love my digital camera. I hadn’t realized, though, until just today, how much they distance us from each other. No wonder I used it extensively during the worst of my grief. It kept everything from being too real.

      And yes, we are all standing on the rim of our world, waiting for we know not what.

  2. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    Hi Pat, We visited Black Canyon often as it was pretty close to our Ouray home. I do have a shot of Bill sitting at the ocean out east….looking out….I now wonder what he was thinking…he may have even told me but I don’t recall….I don’t think I have taken a photo since Bill died that matters…I am so glad you have the one shot. Thoughtful post. Mary

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Hi, Mary. Did you ever go to the north rim off Highway 92 or did you stick to the entrance off Highway 50? At the north rim, you could actually stand right on the edge of the canyon. I’m glad he got the opportunity to see it — he missed out on so much, that it comforts me to have been able to fulfill that one simple dream.

  3. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    I think we did both and we drove to the bottom….the road had a mirror at one point so you could see what was coming around the corner on the u curve. I am sooo glad he got to see it. Like you and Jeff, there are so many things we never got to do…..but treasure the ones we did get to.

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