I came to a conclusion yesterday, in the crazy, mixed up week it’s been (so crazy I didn’t write here at all). If I hadn’t shown for certain that things had changed and we’d started to live our lives as a different kind of family than we were . . . I can certainly do it now. But for every step forward, there’s a few steps back, at least for the five of us. Individually, we are facing life at different paces in different ways.
But there’s also a strange thing about how life moves for us, and it shows in the pictures we’ve taken.
For Hannah, my middle, she adjusted to life as best she could. She was joined to Andrea at the hip, and from the beginning it hit her like a ton of bricks that her Mom had passed away. But she was open, honest, and beautifully true to her feelings in how she grieved along with me and her family. It was sad, terrible, and beautiful to see her express both her loss and her love at once. I can’t say I’d ever want to go through it again, but it was a testament to the kind of girl she is.
Another testament, the fact that she decided to do an art project with her mother’s photo – where she’s holding Hannah as a baby. It’s also an interesting insight into how the kids all see their mother. Hannah will forever have this image as her mother: the mischievous look in the eyes, the twinkle, the happiness of a new Mom. The drawing she made shows how she sees her Mom, too, in that same way.
But the photos and the eras of our kids’ growth, show a difference in how all four of them see their Mom differently, and their memories will change, too.
Abbi has this view, with the Pharmacy sweatshirt and riding in the stroller. She remembers walks in the park and Fall in Omaha. Abbi and I have always been buddies, very close. Not closer than I am with the other kids, just close, in our own way, much like I have different relationships with people I have different relationships with all four kids. This is the memory of her Mom she’ll always carry with her.
The boys . . . that’s really difficult. When they were first born we had a lot of photos. We took a great photo session with Photographer in the Family where we had these amazing family photos.
But then Andrea got Bells Palsy. One side of her face was permanently paralyzed and she thought – her words, not mine – it made her ugly. The wide, toothy smile that had, I’ll admit, attracted me to her initially was diminished in her eyes. What she never realized was I noticed that her smile filled the room. It wasn’t her mouth, it was all of her. When she smiled, her whole face lit up. Palsy or not, that was there.
But as the boys grew and we moved to California, Andrea suffered from clinical depression. She gained weight due to a problem with her liver. After that amazing session in Texas, there were not photos of Andrea, at least hardly any. She covered her face. She hid around corners. The visual stimulation that would spark the girls’ memories was always there. For the boys, the pictures of their Mom aren’t there.
Noah needed pictures last night of his Mom for his therapist. Abbi made the comment that “we just didn’t take as many pictures as when I was little” but I corrected her. We’ve taken just as many. The problem is . . . none of them had their mother in them. Tons of all four kids…tons of just a couple of the kids. Some with me in them, even. None with their mother. I pulled the photos I could, including ones that show Andrea as I remember her, the version I will always remember, but she’s not the same person the boys have.
I worry . . . worry that the only version of that amazing woman they have in their minds, hearts, synapses, souls is the one that was sad, depressed, and down. Their lives were – are – just beginning when they lost their Mom. There weren’t as many memories there in the first place, so every lost one flies like an ember from a fire, floating away for them.
I pulled some photos from the Texas photo session for Noah and had to explain to him how his Mom wouldn’t let us shoot pictures and it’s a shame. Those events, those moments, however awkward for their Mom, aren’t visual memories for them now.
I came to realize that they lost their Mom in more than one way. Sure, physically, she’s gone, but the visual memories, the photo albums, those were gone before their Mom died. The photos have their siblings, me, but not their Mom. I couldn’t help but think it was strangely prophetic, though we would never have thought that at the time.
My message, the Friday before Mother’s day, to all of you is this: it’s not worth it. Never let the camera ignore you. The way you see yourself…never the same way others see you. In the days after Andrea passed, overweight, bloated, sad, I let photos be taken. When we go to the movies, what have you, I take photos. Me included.
You never think of how you picture your life during the moment. But when you open that box and sift through . . . that’s when you see the impact it has.