Sister Three was on the phone,
and she was outraged. Sister Two
had told her about the photos
I had taken that afternoon
of our mother lying dead
in the open casket
in the viewing room
of the funeral home.
Sister Three scolded me
for my lack of respect
and demanded I delete the pictures.
She said Sisters One and Two
agreed with her.
We each have our own ways
of grieving, I wanted to say,
but I was too spent to argue.
“All right,” I said, “I’ll do it.”
One by one, I deleted the pictures,
while my daughter, sitting next to me
on the bed in the hotel room,
confirmed it to my sister.
“Okay,” she replied, mollified.
I could see she’d been prepared
for an argument I hadn’t given her.
As soon as she hung up,
I reinstalled the photos.
“It’s none of her business,”
I told my daughter.
“These photos are precious to me.”
Nearly ten years after my mother’s death,
I stare at these last images of her.
She died soon after her cancer diagnosis.
She had no time to waste away.
In my pictures she is lying tranquilly
against the white silk lining
of the casket. Her eyes are closed,
her face is made up, and her hair arranged.
She looks like herself, and yet not
like herself. She is wearing a dress
of navy-blue velvet, and her hands are folded.
On her left wrist is a silver link
bracelet made by Sister One.
I recall the mortician wringing his hands,
speaking softly with the right note of sadness,
yet clearly proud of his handiwork
and eager for us to see what he had done.
An impulse made me take the photos
after he left the room. Even though I knew
I never could solve the mystery of my mother,
I knew I would want to keep these images
close to my heart.
Anne Whitehouse’s most recent poetry collection is Outside from the Inside (Dos Madres Press, 2020), and her most recent chapbook is Escaping Lee Miller (Ethel Zine and Micro Press, 2021). She is also the author of a novel, Fall Love, and has recently published several essays about Edgar Allan Poe. www.annewhitehouse.com