I have photos of my dead mother on my phone. Not my mother before she died but my mother’s body after her death.
I don’t seek these photos out but they occasionally come to me in those thumbnail photos that my phone uses to signify an album I did not create. The manufacturers of the phone have face recognition and decide, for me, images that should be collated under an album they have dubbed ‘people’. Alive or dead.
She doesn’t look that different in these photos to when she was living, her eyes are closed from the morphine cloud that removed her last breath and her mouth is open but no one home. It sits like an escape hole from which she left her body with her last exhale.
In death she looks plumper. She lies on her back, the muscles of her face no longer needed, now relaxed so as to smooth her face of life and the wrinkles that signified time. She looked prettier, more content, in her last weeks as death came closer. The other side was already shining it’s light upon her, pulling her in.
In one picture she has a flower on her dead chest. The same flower I picked as I ran around and around the giant oak tree outside the hospital after seeing her dead for the first time.
Escaping the tight vice of family grief of those lingering by her death bed, I fled to the courtyard and tried to digest the event we had waited a week by her side for. Inhaling the air in retching sobs filled with salt tears, I plucked a vibrant magenta flower and twirled the stem over and over between my thumb and forefinger. The rhythm and texture providing micro relief.
There is comfort, even now over two years later, in reliving the random details of those early moments after her passing.
The orange of the twenty dollar note thrown on the table at the café where I left my just ordered sandwich when I got the text saying ‘come here now’, though now was already too late. The second cubicle in the hospital bathrooms where I locked myself behind the ochre coloured door, sat on the toilet and spoke of a life’s end by phone to my friends. The flower in the photo that lay on her chest.
For months after she died I longed for just one day where I wouldn’t rehash the last week of her life. I wanted to remember her talking to the vacuum cleaner, dancing to Neil Diamond, singing British anthems, baking banana cream pie but all I could see when I closed my eyes at night was her wrestling under hospital sheets with her weary body for days as she tried to vacate.
As time passes and the waves of grief have inevitably grown dull it is in those details I longed to forget that I now remember she existed. That I may be motherless in this world but I was never unmothered.
The physical loss of someone dead to your world is the hardest element to grasp. The absence of presence is what leads us to sleep with the unwashed pillow that still holds their smell, to ring their phone to hear their voice on their voicemail, to keep locks of hair and take photos of your mother’s dead body.
I can’t bring myself to delete them. Her body is dust and ashes now, yet to be thrown to the wind, they sit in a Tupperware container on a distant shelf. But I still have that body locked in my phone.