Funeral. Photography as coping mechanism.

After four days of travel to and from the funeral, I’m back in Gothenburg. Playing chess in granmas room felt odd with her not present, and suddenly every medicin and picture on her dresser took on new meanings. The blanket I’d used as a backdrop for her portrait was on her bed, and our youngest half-brother was sitting on it, dispensing dubious chess advice.

Once in Sanok, seeing relatives I hadn’t seen for years was truly a memento mori moment — gray hairs, walking canes, half-serious comments of “it’s us next” over dinner and photo albums. The jovial uncle who used to tell dirty jokes now tells of the dirty jokes he told the nurses when recovering from surgery.

Below are all the pictures I took in chronological order. I don’t know what grandma would have thought of the video, but she might’ve asked if doing it hadn’t made me hungry, and perhaps I ought to have some dumplings.

Well fuck. Again.

When I visited Poland with Anna and Andreas a couple of years ago, my paternal grandmother delighted in having new guests for dinner, especially since my veganism interfered with her understanding of proper food. At one point she cried when I asked her to not feed my friends because they were in a hurry to another dinner.

When my maternal grandmother died last fall I stopped by my dads place, and she was bedridden and ill. She’d been on the go for most of her life, but despite the radiation therapy, the cancers were making her worse. Her prediction that it would be the last time we’d meet proved right, and she died Friday morning.

Tomasz is better at keeping in touch with the family, and after a recent visit he mentioned that she only had few months to live. I called her on her birthday afterwards; She was tired and sad. I was planning on visiting in May, when work will ease up a bit; Now that I’m leaving for her funeral, shuffling a few appointments around doesn’t seem like such a big deal that I couldn’t have done it earlier. Odd how ones priorities change.

As far back as I remember her, I remember granma as worrying and caring. Caring often came down to a question of food, as it often seems to do with people who have seen war and scarcity. She would rise early to make dumplings or tenderize pork, and eat either standing up or sitting near the kitchen so that whoever seemed to run out of something would get a refill. Dinner was always a three course affiar.

She worried about her extended family and did her best to accomodate everyone. She’d offer you the clothes off her back, and did so literally — I once complimented her scarf, and later found it packed in my suitcase, next to a container of jam pastries and sandwiches.

She worked as a waitress at a diner in Dalarna when my dad had some business up north, and between running a bed & breadfast in Polanczyk and caring for her son’s families, her work ethic was beyond reproach. She used to sell Amway to do something with her spare time. She would enjoy coffee and cigarettes, promising to quit but laugh when taking up smoking again an hour later.

The last three years she’d become progressively worse, and the last six months, as so often is the case, sucked. For someone who always worked and never wanted to be a bother, her illness added insult to injury. We don’t get to choose, but it would be nice if we could die doing what we love, or that which gives us purpose. It seems unfair that she saw herself become unable to work, then move, and finally even to breath.

End-stage pain is the price the sufferer pays for the survivors to be able to see death as something other than only tragedy, and that helps people to move on, but regardless of how it ends we’re one person short.

Well fuck.

A couple of years ago I was working on a photo series of my extended family; Uncles, cousins and all the extra personnel a family aquires over time. With the omission of a grandfather I got all of them except my maternal grandmother. She was complaining about being too old and ugly to be in a picture, and that she’d rather we remember her by the pictures from back when she was still an imposing matron – with keen eyes and a barking laugh – rather than this old woman of waning health.

I ended up taking a picture of the blanket that would have been the backdrop to her portrait, to make sure that she’d have a place in the finished work.

A couple of years ago she’s still be up and about, occasionally leaving apartment where she’d moved in with her daughter. My mom got her an articulated bed to make getting up easier, but after a while she couldn’t manage that by herself and required full time help.

She’s had arthritis for a long time, and with other illnesses that accompany old age she’d become sickly. The last couple of times my mom came back from visiting Poland, she’s been upset at the amount of pain and suffering that her mother was experiencing, and the inability for anyone to alleviate it.


Grandma died early this morning and we’re looking at ways of getting to the funeral. I haven’t been to Poland for a while, but it’s becoming a bad habit of going for shitty reasons. It’s hard to figure out how to feel about her death; About the unfairness of suffering, of dying and of being left behind, living. There were no things left unsaid nor any promises left hanging, but still there is a void.

She’d talk of her experiences during the second world war, of being imprisoned in a German camp, of losing everything and starting anew in Sanok. She spoke of the house her family used to have, of her time as a hospital nurse, of when lightning struck a pole not ten metres away. If she had any misgivings about her kids or grand-kids it was that none of us had become a lawyer or a doctor – careers worth pursuing and sure signs of intelligence and character – and more than once she’d admonish me for using my talent for arguing on her instead of making a career out of it.

She was tolerant and had an open mind, but took no shit and for as long as she had the faculties of movement she’d pull your ear if you were being stupid. My habit of saying “meh” came from her, but where I might be detached and distant, she had an explosive pronounciation which made it carry so much more meaning. “Bah! Meh! Humbug! Don’t say stupid things!”

Even though she will be missed, I don’t begrudge her a release from the endless suffering she lived with for the past years. No matter how much we’d wish it wasn’t the case, death is sometimes still our only remedy.