A photo for the family chat
When I looked for a photo of my brother Victor who died of AIDS thirty years ago to share on the family chat, I found few pictures of him. In the photos taken during family gatherings, he was often only partly visible, hidden behind other family members.
In the fifteen months between his diagnosis and his death, we went on several trips together. He enjoyed traveling and I felt the need to create memories, something to hold on to when he would no longer be there.
But looking at the pictures, it was the clinging to those moments I remembered more than the moments themselves.
I was therefore surprised to see that the photos were mainly of tourist attractions, the Tivoli in Copenhagen, a castle in Sintra, a tiled street in Lisbon rather than of him.
There was only one photo of the two of us, sitting on a bench in a park in Copenhagen, Victor still handsome despite having lost weight. But there were few pictures of him alone, and in those photos, he had mostly turned away from the camera as if he were looking for a place to hide, just as he had during family events.
I did find a number of photos of myself taken during those trips. How could I have asked Victor to take photos of me instead of capturing as many images as possible of him when I so much wanted to hold on to my brother?
Instead of blaming my own vanity for the disproportionate amount of pictures taken, I tried resorting to the excuse that Victor didn't like to be photographed. But I could have insisted, I could have taken pictures without him noticing. More than the embarrassment about having been so self-absorbed however, I felt regret. It would have been so nice to see him in those photos and share them with family members.
Was that regret a substitute for the sadness that I cannot allow to come up in its full magnitude because it would be too overwhelming? The feeling of regret hurts, but it would be far more bearable than the grief over his untimely death, if that were to pour out uncorked.
Perhaps that regret is the mental equivalent of the pain someone feels when they deliberately cut themselves with a knife in order to distract themselves from another kind of pain they would rather not feel. That self-inflicted pain chosen over another works like a lid that covers the darker agony within.
That lid wobbled just a little bit when I put Victor’s photo on the family chat and a deep sense of loss came up. But I managed to pull myself together quickly. Life goes on, at least for me it does.