She holds her hand up as if to block the sun from shining into her eyes. It is a knee-jerk reaction, about as reflexive as my pulling the visor down when light beams through the windshield of my car. Her brother stops mid-sentence–he was saying something about how he wanted the 23rd Psalm to be printed in the King James Version. His voice wavers as he looks away from the screen with tears forming in his weary eyes. I start to move before either of them says anything else. The understanding in the moment passes wordlessly between us as the conversation continues. My index finger follows a well rehearsed motion of clicking the computer mouse as I minimize the photograph of their father featured on the display screen in the arrangement conference room.
A few minutes ago when this family walked into the funeral home for their appointment, they handed me a frame holding a lovely portrait of their father. He looked like he had gotten all gussied up for someone’s graduation and his smile went from ear to ear. I commented on his nice blue tie in the picture and we laughed as they pointed to the same tie they had brought for him to wear in the casket. It was the only one he had. Before we sat down to talk, I dutifully scanned the photo to the computer so they could review it with the obituary before I sent it to the newspaper for publication. But a quick glance at the image on the screen seemed to overwhelm them. I couldn’t help but imagine the flood of memories it brought to their minds–and, for that matter, the pain of loss it stirred up within them in that moment. Even though they had held the picture in their hands as they walked through the door, there was something about seeing it on the computer; something about seeing it outside of its usual place that made their hearts sting. The context of the photo had changed, and it wasn’t a source of comfort for them at that time.
Perhaps these children were thinking that, like this picture, their dad won’t be in his usual place when they go to his house next time. He won’t sit in his usual spot at church and he won’t tell his usual jokes. His usual clothes will remain folded in the drawer, and he’ll be wearing his blue tie instead. They will surely have their memories of him to hold onto, but for right now, the pain is raw and uncharted, and their words don’t come easily.
They said he looked so handsome in his blue tie at the funeral. And I’m sure the picture found its way to a spot on a new wall. Maybe they will remember him well as they show it to his great-grandchildren and tell them all about the man he was. Their family photographs will serve to help them hold each other close in the near future, but today in this room, the picture is hidden from view because it simply said too much.