The Gift of Photographs

On an evening when falling snow blanketed the roads, I drove to my friend’s house to help her with a photo book project that was proving challenging to her. As I stood on Carrie’s doorstep before ringing the bell, I summoned the quiet strength that lies within.

Carrie has been scanning photos of her family’s adventures, moments of celebration, and glimpses of tranquility on woodland walks. That evening I taught Carrie a few tricks on Photoshop to bring blue skies and deep-blue seas back into sun-bleached photos. We laughed looking at photos from the 60s and remembering the craze over miniskirts, bell-bottom jeans, and cars with fins.

And then, Carrie became quieter as we lightened the shadows and brightened the faded colors of photos of Carrie and her husband, David, from six decades ago. Their expressions of joy, balanced by a sense of deep peace between these young lovers, moved me. The following series of photos with David holding his infant daughter, sheltering her from the bright sun, while nearby his toddler son dug in the sand, evoked a similar gentle, calm and loving presence as in the earlier photos. Of course, as in most families, the decade-later photos of grown children blowing out birthday candles or hanging out in the backyard showed the cheeky attitude of teens.

We combed through more photos and then looked at those from a decade ago. While David’s love-filled expressions were ever-present in these photos, he was visibly thinner than in photos from an earlier time. One of Carrie’s favorites was taken in their rose-filled garden. In it, David was smiling joyfully while sharing a day with Carrie, their adult son and daughter, and their four young grandchildren. We didn’t need Photoshop to make these images brighter or deeper with color because the radiance of their family’s happiness shined through.

David died six years ago after fighting cancer for four challenging years. In final photos, even while he appeared visibly weaker, his calm, loving essence was always present.

After sharing an hour with Carrie, she asked if I had to leave, and sensing that she was becoming sad and needed to stop for the evening, I said, “Sure. I’ll come back soon, we can finish gathering and preparing photos, and then we’ll create the photo book online.”

You may ask, Is it a good idea to gather photos and create an album when doing so can evoke so much pain? Is it even worth taking the risk to feel vulnerable, and open up the cavern of yearning ache? Couldn’t we just let these photos fade with time and let go of these memories?

My response always will be, Yes. It’s worth the pain. We need to remember the days of our young, budding love; the nights when our children were sleeplessly waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve; when we watched our daughters and sons stand before the altar professing their wedding vows; the expressions of grace on our dying loved one’s face.

Make an album. Don’t let those photos fade. Ask a friend to help. Pause when you need to. Complete the album when you can.

Each photo is a gift, a visceral way to remember the love binding a husband and wife and a family together. We can no longer wrap our arms around our loved ones who died too young, but we can honor them by bringing their past to life, and sharing memories of them with family and friends.

Faith WilcoxComment