I used to scrapbook. I was never terribly good at it and would certainly never win any “cutesy” awards but I enjoyed telling the story of each of my children through cropped photos and journaling. All of that came to a grinding halt after Patrick died.
We crappy club single moms have a lot of guilt we have to learn to compartmentlize and handle. Guilt over everything from “no father” for the “father events” at school to guilt over unfinished projects like my scrapbooks and what the heck to I do with all these videos on my phone? We lack time and often we lack the intestinal fortitude to just dig into a project that is so wrought with memories. The potential to break down is great and sometimes it’s just easier to leave the photos in a box or on your phone…but then you feel guilty…again.
So with my “guilt albatross” around my neck I recently dug into those photos. I had over 18 months worth of pictures developed and have been putting them into regular photo albums. It’s summer, I’m a teacher, so if this project was getting done in the next year then the time was now. What I found in those pictures was strangely both eerie and hopeful.
Within the photos from the last 3 weeks of Patrick’s life, I found a number of pictures that were almost a prediction of my future. There were pics that he took of us- our immediate and extended family. In several, the chair he had occupied prior to taking the picture was sitting right there…empty. In others from our California vacation there were multiple shots of myself and the children smiling and laughing in front of the gorgeous scenery. It was more pictures of just the three of us I think we’d ever had from a trip before. (I usually jumped in one picture per trip so we’d know I was there too…you camera lugging parents can relate). I stared at these pictures overwhelmed with emotion. It was both haunting and holy to look at those glimpses into a future I didn’t know at the time and so reflective of how I feel right now.
In many ways we have gelled as a family of three- myself and the kids. We are that photographed smiling threesome innocently laughing by a scenic vista in a picture from San Francisco Bay. We are now a unit and we function as one (well most of the time anyway). There is now a normal rhythm to life that does not constantly revolve around loss. We eat, we play games, we cackle with laughter and we even have a vacation coming up. We’re finding that ever elusive “new normal.” (Now if you are reading this and your loss is fresh, please know it took months and months to get to this point. But you will, I promise).
These photos remind me of the way grief works over time. We don’t get over it we move through it, our hearts heal and we learn to live again. The chair remains forever empty but the new family unit can still find happiness, laughter and grow together all the while honoring the empty chair. Grief doesn’t get better it just gets different and God’s never failing provision allows us to move forward.