I cannot say that I have never received the type of assignment I received on Friday before. Sometimes, when family members know of someone's expected passing, they'll want me to come in and get photos with the grandchildren and all the types of photos that become genealogically significant but are bittersweet significant when the day comes and all there are left are these last photos. From happier times. Greener back yards. Alert, fresh faces gathered here today.
When it's a wedding that I'm at, I ask if there's any special family members who the couple would like extra pictures of. Once I got a call two years after the fact from someone thanking me for taking so many photos of grandma and grandpa dancing because they had both passed rather soon from one another and the photos were a delight to look at during the service. Not long ago a bride called just after her wedding and asked if she could get a rush on the ones of her grandfather, as he had passed and she was the only bride he ever gave away and it was so special and she wanted those photos to be enlarged at his service.
Sometimes my job at these gatherings is to include many photos of the elderly, smiling and all dolled up with their corsage and pin curls. Taking special care to leave the family with something beautiful to remind them of their loved one.
It is not usual that the groom asks me to please take very many special photos so that he can remember his bride.
I am devoted to 10 hours of volunteer work in the funeral industry per month as a part of my ongoing research project in my lifespan psychology class. This is what is called "service learning." But because the nature of my project is such a taboo combination of subjects my service is sometimes learned in the most unplanned and unexpected situations.
This was certainly an unexpected situation for this young man and his beautiful 24 year old bride.
It was pouring outside. I'd actually hydroplaned on my way to the address that was given to me. A home address, because, well...there was no time to get to the church. I didn't bring any reflectors or anything, just one camera, one lens, and one flash. The lighting inside could be terrible but I wasn't really as concerned about having the most perfectly lit shots so much as I was going in to work quickly and be as unobtrusive as possible.
The doors opened before I even got to the front steps and a group of men in their Sunday clothes ushered me inside. I thanked them, and then made my way to the kitchen where I met dark eyes. Everything in this man's eyes was forlorn and lonely. I asked him how he was doing and he said "okay," softly, and then said "I want you to meet my bride."
I walked through the kitchen into the little family office and saw her sitting in an office chair. She wore a simple, short, peach dress and had her hair in a "bump" style. Her friends doted over her even though she batted away makeup. I shook her frail hand, bones that held no weight like a sparrow. She said thank you, and that she wanted to put her shoes on. She had these strappy glitter sandals that she seemed to be having trouble with. Everyone volunteered to help her. I said "don't worry, no bride ever puts on her own shoes," and everyone laughed.
I was surprised at the smiles on everyone's faces. The playfulness of her children didn't surprise me, because kids are resilient and still in love with Heaven. Mommy's going with Señor Jesus? Well that means she'll go to Heaven and everything is gold and ice cream in Heaven.
I took a few photos of her and her man, and a few of her kids kissing her on the cheek.
Such a simplistic, beautiful bride with such tired eyes.
I asked if she had any flowers. "No. Over there though," she said, pointing to a bud vase someone had sent her in sympathy. I pulled the card from the arrangement, words written about being in their hearts always and how Jesus would save, and handed it to her for the classic pose of the bride with her flowers looking out of a window.
The bride didn't smile very much or very big. But she seemed content. Her friends helped bring a smile to her face by doing the girly "Wooooo! You're getting maaaaaa-rrieeeeed!" I got the slightest smile from her and it was perfect. A photo her daughter is going to treasure some day. Even though now, in the present, her daughter is brushing the hair on her doll and talking about it being time to "par-tay." Blissfully unaware, or maybe just submissively accepting.
The Father arrived. I only know what I know about Catholicism from other weddings, Victor's funeral, and AM radio, so forgive me if I misspeak. He made a lighthearted joke that they were lucky to have such service, as normally you have to go to a church to get married but today the church came to them! "Ah, but today is a very special day," he said, and then asked where they could have privacy for confession.
First the groom went, and then the bride. We all met back in the kitchen. Snow began to fall outside the window.
"You are sick," said Father. "You should sit." And the couple sat in chairs pulled up to the kitchen table.
The Father flipped through his little red book for a page titled "marriage outside of mass." He did not have the Spanish version, so he proceeded in English.
It was unplanned and unrehearsed. Untraditional. But how do you plan for something like this? You see it in the news, you hear the sad stories attached to a random photo in your Facebook feed. When is it ever real?
I know no other wedding where the groom and bride were not only okay with seeing each other before the wedding, but practically attached at the hip.
The Father blessed the rings (a smidge of holy water got on my lens) and slid the book over to them so they could read their vows to one another. Calmly, the groom spoke his words and placed the ring on her finger. And when it came to her turn...
"For better for worse..."
And she paused. She paused for a long, long time and looked at the words.
She took shallow breaths. She swallowed. The father leaned close to her as the room fell very quiet. I looked around and tias were weaping.
Finally, after about a minute and a half, she said "and in health." She then finished her vows as a run on sentence in her soft, tired voice.
The groom's eyes brimmed with tears that never fell. She wiped her tears only once, during the exchange of the rings.
They were given communion, The Body Of Christ wafer on the tongue. After the words, The Father said they were married and to kiss the bride, and friends and relatives clapped even though they were all wet with tears. After the happy moment, The Father gave her last rites.
Like I said, I really have only experienced Catholicism first hand at weddings and a funeral, and the last rites were given in Spanish. But this part appeared to be where everyone kept their stiff upper lips and prayed along in strong, faithful voices. It was either the feeling that they wanted Father's words to be heard with great force and urgency, or that they were helping to guide her into the next realm.
A cross was drawn with holy water on her forehead and palm. I lost track of what little Spanish I was able to pick out.
The Father blessed a statue of Mary in a green dress with long curly hair, accompanied by two golden angels. And then my job was done. The bride sat with friends and tias and primas started cutting up vegetables.
All Friday and Saturday I rushed to get the pictures out to the family via the internet. Though photography and death are almost always associated in people's minds as morbid, even though this tired bride is still among the living as of this writing, having photos of not just her wedding but her last rites can be a huge source of comfort for her family, knowing that she will have a good proper Catholic death and that her soul will be ready is helpful in the healing process.
One family member told me when she saw the photos, "I couldn't help but cry, smile, cry, smile and cry at all these
pictures. I said it before and I'll say it again. Bitter sweet."
I was told this morning that the bride is not doing well and is back in the hospital. I have the groom's prima giving me updates as they happen.
I have always been drawn to the funeral industry. And it wasn't until I started blogging and being more introspective that I took an interest in psychology. I do not know if I am meant to combine the two. Really, I'm not sure I would have ever combined photography and death if it weren't for the fact that a very well to do mortician hired me to photograph her wedding on my one year anniversary with Willie. It was because of her that I spent so much time at that mortuary, learning the ins and outs, planning my wedding in her office, and combining photography with death in helpful ways for families who request such a thing.
I have photographed grandmothers with their grandsons a few weeks before death. I have focused on the little old ladies with the breathing tubes who still get up to dance at weddings. I have taken photos of teenie tiny feet that are still and void of color.
And now I have recorded a beautiful bride on her wedding day and on the day she received her last rites as well.
Bitter, bitter sweet.