I got a new phone on the weekend, and I have been playing with the photos on it, going back and editing, enhancing, applying filters. I decided to look for hers. That one photo, her hands tucked under her chin, her long fingers, her dark bow lips, the hint of dark hair, her eyes closed and her face at rest. She looks peaceful, sweet, and – it suddenly strikes me – composed. Posed.
How have I never understood this before? This position, the position I have associated with her since I first laid eyes on her: there is nothing natural about it. There is nothing truly of her in it; no, she would have exited my body limp and floppy. Her arms would have fallen back and away from her core as she was lifted in the doctor’s hands, her legs dangling, lax, too. A dead baby, her eyes and mouth emptily open. A dead baby, then prettily arranged inside the hospital blanket, just so with its hands placed daintily, one atop the other, and both tucked sweetly against a still-warm cheek. She was posed for me. Exhibited: a baby, not a corpse. A veil drawn over my eyes, accomplished by gently closing hers. A neat effort at deception, and it worked, because this is how I always think of her: sweet, composed. A gentle image; a soothing one, at least as far as the image of a dead daughter can soothe.
I never saw it before. This pretty trick. The nurse’s own gentle hands preparing my daughter for me, arranging her limbs and my memories of them, all at the same time.
I wonder – now that I have seen it, can I unsee it? And do I want to? That nurse’s gentle deception, her manipulation of my daughter’s corpse, an act of love, maybe, and certainly one of reverence. A neat trick to protect a shocked mother’s heart, and now the veil lifts and the shock seeps back in to this rainy day as my mind and typing fingers stumble over that irrefutable phrase: my daughter’s corpse.