What makes us yearn not to be forgotten and not to forget?

Years before I had lost everything I was speaking to someone whose child had died. In the newspaper there was an account of a landslide in our community that took a house down a ravine. Gratefully, no one was in the house, but everything was completely destroyed. Her first reaction was, “They’ve lost all their pictures.”

Benjamin CollageI thought it was an unusual statement at the time. An entire house is gone. Its contents completely demolished. And yet her focus was on pictures.

Later, as I walked through the demolition of my life the first thing I looked for in my Afterloss were the pictures. Photographs were what chronicled three lives that lived and no longer lived. They were more than memories.

The photos of my family were a testament to life. They testified to the fact that they were here. They were joy. Packages were opened at Christmas. The ancient sacred site of the Grand Canyon had their footprints. The wind has long since blown those footprints into the canyon below, but I have a photograph.

When Lydia was close to her death she said the strangest thing to me. She said, “Don’t let him forget me.” I said, “How could Matt ever forget you?”

A child doesn’t forget his mother.

When Matt was nearing death he said, “Promise you won’t forget me.”

A father doesn’t forget his child.

There is a yearning not to be forgotten and not to forget. There is something in all of us that wants someone in the world to know we are here, and ultimately, we were here.

We take photographs to keep a record of our existence. We may think it is so we will remember the good times, and to some extent this is true. Who doesn’t want to capture that perfect moment before the moment fades?

But the photos I have of my family are more than remembrance. They are the witness, the evidence that these three people were here. They touched this earth and the earth was touched by them.

Photographs are also a testament of my sorrow. They hold the ones I love; the ones I can no longer hold. I’ve caressed a photo just as I caressed her cheek, but the fullness of that touch now empties into my emptiness. It is a testament to what I had and do not have now.

Photographs are also healing. I find myself reliving the memories embedded in the captured moment. I smile again to see the smiles of the ones I love. I receive pleasure in remembering our travels, the places we went, the experiences we collected, the gift of our common journey. Photographs are a testament that they lived a full life. It may have been brief, but it was full. And they filled me.

We didn’t have a lot of photos of Bryan. During his eight and a half months of life we didn’t travel. There are no Disneyland pictures or Grand Canyons chronicled of Bryan’s life. Heart monitors, oxygen tubes under his nose and a central line (a tube that went into his heart) are the backdrops of my photos of Bryan. We took him to a photography studio once knowing our time was short. We dressed him in a red and white striped suit, propped him up against a pillow since he was unable to hold himself up and took the oxygen tube away just long enough for the photographer to take his picture. It is the only series of pictures of Bryan I have that come close to normal. He was a beautiful child… I have a photograph.

Bryan’s last three months were filled with constant pain. We could give him medication every four hours, which kept the pain at bay for about thirty minutes. I held him against my chest as we rocked for the next three and a half hours. His only reprieve from scratching at my chest and his fragile, faint wailing was exhaustion. He would collapse from utter fatigue into sleep for brief intervals.

I would sing to Bryan in our tears as his head rested against my heart. I had special songs for each of my children, songs that were special to me. For some odd reason, one of the songs I would sing to Bryan as I held him in our mutual excruciation was “Old Friends” by Simon and Garfunkel. The final verses are,

Benjamin Simon Garfunkel“Time it was and what a time it was, it was.

A time of innocence. A time of confidences.

Long ago it must be. I have a photograph.

Preserve your memories.

They’re all that’s left you.”

I have many photographs, taken long before digital cameras came in. Precarious pictures that glisten by candlelight. They heal me. They are a testament to life lived, three lives that touched this earth and touched me, three lives that I touched and was forever changed for the better.

Most people in my life never met Lydia, Matt and Bryan. They never knew the sound of their laughter or the scent of their skin. Had they never met me they would never know these three beautiful people ever existed. But I am a testament to three lives lived to the fullest. Let me show you. I have a photograph.


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