Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On Photographic Memories

Two months ago, when I was still considering whether or not to share my grief online, I composed two posts regarding events surrounding my daughter’s birthday. While the timeliness factor is somewhat compromised by posting them so long after the fact, the message remains unchanged. I plan to post the second of the two tomorrow night, as I will be in a whole other region visiting family next week.

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But no one has ever mentioned their worth in tears.

I recently finished a project for my daughter’s birthday that involved going through lots of old photographs. This is actually the second such project of this nature I have done in as many years, but truth be told, my scrapbooking days are numbered. My wife was very much into scrapbooking, although I often wondered if there was more thrill in the pursuit of a good deal on supplies than in the actual crafting of the pages. Now I am happy to have the contents of that full-sized cabinet in the spare bedroom.

Since my wife’s passing, I have committed myself to making certain that my daughter has plenty of concrete evidence that her mother was the most amazing woman ever. So last year I made a small scrapbook, using supplies that her mom had bought, of our three years together as a family of three. Every other layout was done in pinks, which was her mom’s favorite color, and the opposing layouts were done in purples, which was my daughter’s favorite color at the time. Each page was filled with pictures and a line that, when read in sequence, told the simple story of our time as a family. It was a major undertaking which left me with only one hour of sleep the night before her birthday last year.

This year I also endeavored to make a scrapbook, although this one was, in many ways, a much greater task. I sent a letter to several friends and family members asking them to write a letter/essay containing some of their favorite memories of my wife. We met in college, and I knew there would be many memories people could share from before the time I knew her. Plus, I thought it would be good as my daughter grows older to realize that her mommy had some of the same thoughts, hopes, and fears as she does at various ages. Most of the people responded, and she ended up with a thick volume of memories that she can turn to time and again. However, many of people did not include photos as requested, which is what had me digging through our boxes at insane hours on a recent Monday night.

When I work on projects that involve preserving memories, I have to separate myself from my emotions to a certain degree. If I didn’t, I would not be able to complete them, and these books are and will continue to be very important to my daughter. So as I began to dig through the boxes, I steeled myself against any onslaught of emotions that might occur. And I was okay – for awhile. But it wasn’t long before each picture that came into my grip was a reminder of happier times – early dating, later dating, engagement, wedding, early marriage, first home, first pregnancy, first baby. Times when we were a small family in hopes of one day expanding, first through natural means, and later, through adoption.

But it wasn’t the happy ones that bothered me. At least not as much as the few that showed her as she was getting weaker. Those are the ones that reminded me that she’s not here now. Those are the ones that made me think on how unfair it was that I was sitting alone at night at the kitchen table creating a book of memories, when she should have been here to create the memories with us and later commit them to a book to be stored on a dusty shelf, instead of displayed prominently on her daughter’s dresser because it helps lessen the pain for her to be able to look at the photos on a moment’s notice.

But after my tears retreated, I continued to sit and work. Because that’s how she would have wanted it. And that’s how I make decisions now. Not as one part of a team who can weigh the options and make informed decisions, but as one man who weighs what he thinks his late wife’s wishes would have been and hopes like everything he’s making the right decisions.

I finished the book, but not before I put the pictures back into the closet lest they become any more painful to bear.


  1. I just wanted to say this is a great entry... I have nothing to contribute... but I know the feeling that grips when you look through old photos. I still get lumps in my throat sometimes. Memories are one thing--they aren't clear, they're all in your head. But pictures... ouch! They are proof that your memories are true. It's hard to look at our smiling faces, peering at us from the past. I haven't watched my wedding video in over a year. That makes me cry every time. And my first jump skydiving video--can't see Mike in it as he was manning the camera, but you can hear his voice in it. From his words, I remember his personality so strongly. I'm glad I have it to remind me. But the listening is hard.

  2. Mars Girl - I watched our wedding video on the first (wedding) anniversary without her. I cried the entire time. I haven't been able to convince myself to do it again. The funeral home put together a video of photos that was played during her calling hours. My daugher and I have watched that together a few times recently as it was the first one I could put my hands on during one of her more intense moments of grief. I haven't been able to watch it without crying yet either.

  3. I think the wedding video will always get you... I cry every time I watch it... It's torture. Even at the standpoint where I am at, where memories arent so piercingly painful. I guess it's because the wedding video is almost "in your face" about how happy and hopeful you were for the future in it it. It's where the journey continued, your relationship advanced to a new level. It's easier for me to just remember happy wedding memories than to actually physically see them on film.

  4. I use Friday nights to go through all of the pictures, cards and memories. I have piles and piles of "organized" pictures so that one day I will be able to make a scrap book...thanks for sharing...

    and on a "funny" best friend taped over my wedding video with the final Friend episode while we were on our honeymoon. She didn't tell me until she had moved to Russia three months later!

  5. Mars Girl - for me the comparison between memories and video/photos is like the difference between writing something about her and having to read it out loud. I can handle things a whole lot better if I don't have to put a voice to them.

    Chillin with Lemonade - Good idea. And smart friend...