My Father's Hand in Mine
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By Rachel Rabhan as told to her sister, Laura Rabhan

My Father's Hand in Mine

A photographer holds on to her father's memory

By Rachel Rabhan as told to her sister, Laura Rabhan


This is one of the last pictures I ever took of my father.

It began one day in the hospital about a month before he died. He was cold, and he put on my black hat. And he said take a picture of me, I bet I look really funny. And I said, I don’t have my camera. Throughout his illness, I tried to be respectful and had not photographed him. But then I realized that I had a cell phone with a camera, so he posed for the picture.

Two weeks later, dad was back in the hospital. My sister was lying in bed with him and they looked happy, and I asked if I could take a picture with my phone. He said, “Yes.” Then I got into the picture and it was the three of us. I showed it to him and he didn’t like it and said no more pictures.

The night he was passing away, I wanted to take a picture. I probably would have taken a picture of his face, but everybody thought I was crazy. So I thought, what will I miss the most? And it was his hands. So I took a picture of my hand holding his.

When people ask how I’m doing, instead of telling the story of what happened, I show the pictures in my cell phone. Often people think the pictures are beautiful, but sometimes people are uncomfortable—especially the people who didn’t see him in that last month, because he looks so thin and so old. He was only 67. And though he was battling cancer—an aggressive transitional cell carcinoma of the renal pelvis—for two years, he only changed at the end, and very rapidly: from a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound man to 5 feet, 7 inches and 140 pounds. In one month.

I guess I feel lucky to have these pictures because they replace the bad images in my head from the hospital. I guess the picture of his hand makes me feel how lucky he was that he had us all around him; that he didn’t die alone.

I like to look at the pictures in the phone, knowing that dad touched the phone, that this is how he saw the pictures. Also, it’s illuminated. The glow of the cell phone reminds me of the reflective quality of a daguerreotype, a photograph produced using a very popular 19th century process. Daguerreotypes are usually made of silver and copper. They are delicate and small, so they are protected by decorative cases.

I have seen daguerreotypes of images of the dead in museums. There was a practice of photographing the dead—I remember learning about it and thinking it was really strange. Now I guess I understand why people did that: It is human nature to hold on to the people you love, and to travel with them. It isn’t a picture in a photo album, or even a picture in a wallet. It’s more special than that because it’s encased. It doesn’t wear out. It’s not a piece of paper. It has more strength and durability.

It’s something that you hold in your hand—the same hand that held his. CR endbox