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Asleep in the Arms of Morpheus

Diane Fenster | United States

Dreaming of Departure

I was invited to be one of five women who witnessed the final two days of a dear friend’s life and prepare his body after his death on the third day. 

One group of photos were taken as he lay dying, sleeping away his final hours, dreaming whatever dreams the administered soporific gave to him. The second group of photographs were taken after his death. 

This series has a direct relationship to the post mortem photography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the photographs were cherished mementos of a departed family member. 

I was invited to be one of five women who witnessed the final two days of a dear friend’s life and prepare his body after his death on the third day. During this time, I was also kindly given permission to photograph the process in between my times actively assisting.

There are two sets of photographs concerning the death of my friend. One group of photos are of his life as he lay dying, sleeping away his final hours, dreaming whatever dreams the administered soporific gave to him. They are also about the care and love given him as he faded. They capture a light that lurked beneath his flesh, as his blood still flowed slowly in his veins, and his breath became shallow. The second group of photographs were taken after his death. 

As I pondered these images I wondered if you could see the difference between the life and death images. Did they record some fleeting difference? They also witness the process of how his family and friends honored and loved the person now stretched out naked before them, ready for oil and scent, for prayers and protection, for flowers and a swath of cloth. There was this magnificent and powerful intimacy that cannot be measured. Once you have washed the dead, death is experienced differently. 

This series has a direct relationship to the post mortem photography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when death often occurred at home, not hidden away in nursing homes or hospitals and the photographs were cherished mementos of a departed family member. 

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