as is custom, we had a picture up at the funeral, next to her coffin. i can’t remember if i was involved in the process of picking it or not. it’s all a little hazy now. either way the picture was a good one. a smiling Barbara, en face, hair falling down her shoulders with the grand canyon in the background. simple yet majestic and happy. the picture embodies her personality to a t.

my parents ended up taking the picture home with them. we had to get rid of the frame because it didn’t fit in the suitcase. it was black anyway. i’m glad they changed it to a more golden hue. it fit the picture and it fit the personality of the face in it. they put it on a wall in their apartment. the wall became a kind of shrine. it was dedicated to her in its entirety. there were two sconces on either side of the picture with unlit candles inside. underneath was a little wooden shelf with a battery life flickering candle and fresh flowers in a vase. the candle was always lit and it was always flickering.

as beautiful as this shrine was, it unsettled me incredibly.

every time i walked by it, stared at it, i felt queasy. it didn’t seem right.

different cultures have a different take on pictures of the dead. or the dead in general. some never say their name again. some put away all their pictures. some have pictures all over the place. hell, some even take pictures with the deceased. shrug. it’s a personal thing, i suppose.

i didn’t know where i fit in. i had never lost a sister before.

so i figured that i, too, should have a picture handy. i had several at home and i put one on my screen saver but every time i looked at it, it made me sick. not sad, sick. ill. i couldn’t explain why. i wanted to remember her. i wanted to think about her. but for some reason staring at her smiling face from my phone, from my shelf at home, it didn’t feel right. and honestly, to this day i cannot really explain why that is.

maybe because it just reminded me that she was no longer alive. that explanation seems to make the most emotional sense. not that she died but that she wasn’t alive any longer. putting it that way kind of made it all worse. death is natural but not being alive anymore… it’s a different, more painful angle i suppose. a pain which her picture brought out in me.

my mom says that she feels new feelings being born. i guess that’s what this was. a new (and distressing) feeling that i couldn’t have had before her death. no wonder i was confused and overwhelmed.

after about two years of this stress, i ended up getting rid of all of my pictures of Barbara. i packed them up, put them in boxes, away from sight. i changed my screensaver.

i kept all except 3.

there’s one where she’s peaking through in the background while my mom is serving me my 18th birthday cake. that’s how she seems to me now, i guess. her smiling faces from somewhere in the background. not the focal point but present nevertheless.

another one is of amadej, me and her when she was just a baby. amadej is looking at her, helping her sit up and i’m leaning against her shoulder, looking straight into the camera while Barbara’s baby face is looking up, probably at one of our parents getting her attention for the picture. i like this picture. it’s intimate and shows the three of us, three siblings. three loving siblings, supporting one another. a symbol of our little group.

the third one is just me and her. it’s black and white, shot by a professional photographer at a social gathering in toronto. some alley party. Barbara always laughed because i could never remember what it was called, this party. muscle and heat perhaps? something about muscles anyway. in the picture, we’re standing side by side, both smiling, Barbara just a little taller than me, beaming towards the camera. it was an impromptu picture, naturally elegant without us trying to be. i guess the black and white-ness kind of puts it into the past tense which would exist either way, with Barbara dead or alive. i look at my face in the picture and remember where i was, who i was back then, and i feel little connection to her. to that person. so i guess it doesn’t hurt as much because it’s in the past and i’ve moved on from the self that i was then. and Barbara, well, she has also moved on. to a better place, i hope.

my parents have since taken down the shrine. no more fresh flowers, no more sconces, no more grand canyon. they put up pictures of the whole family. of them as children, of us as children, as grown-ups. of other relatives also gone but smiling in the pictures. gone but not forgotten. there must be some 40 pictures on that wall now.

a much better choice, if you ask me. and not unsettling at all.