We buried our niece last month. She died at the age of 35, leaving a grieving husband and four young boys—the youngest not quite two. She had dealt with poor health for quite some time, and it was eventually too much for her weakened body. At the funeral, her sons walked around in a daze. Her husband was trying hard to keep it together, but he was struggling.
Grandparents lent a hand with the children, and other relatives were there in droves. Our niece’s parents were experiencing the dreadful task of losing one of their children. It was a difficult day for many of us, especially considering her age.
The funeral was beautiful. Her parents, her husband’s parents, and the final words by her husband spoke of a loving mother whose whole life was her family. They mentioned the love she had for them and how much she did for them each day. Even during sickness and pain, she didn’t complain; rather, she felt blessed to be with them.
No one mentioned how many pairs of shoes she had in her closet. Nobody cared if she had the latest styles of clothing or what makeup she wore. Those things were unnecessary in her life. She put her time and attention into what mattered most—her family.
She and her husband traveled far and wide and took pictures everywhere. They were able to see much of the world and their boys were often with them. They made memories that will last forever.
Even during her illness, she didn’t shy away from the camera. Perhaps she knew that her sons would need to remember her. She didn’t care if her hair was windblown or she wasn’t wearing makeup or that her shirt was dirty from their adventures. She wanted to be sure she was a part of their lives, even once she could not be with them anymore.
Several years ago, I cared for three of our young grandchildren for two weeks while their parents were away. We had a lot of fun together, but we also had to do chores and schoolwork. At that age, the children loved being with Grandma, but they also missed their parents. Skyping helped, but sometimes I would find a child or two sitting in front of the digital picture frame, just watching the pictures. It was comforting to them to look at those pictures when they missed their parents.
A few years before that, I visited a relative who lives in another state. He is a congenial man, always cheerful and fun to be around. During the visit, he and his wife showed me around their place. They have had an interesting life and have gathered many mementos over the years. One of his greatest treasures is a shoebox full of pictures. As we worked our way through them, he told me stories.
But something made me really sad about that box. None of the pictures were marked with who they were and when they were taken. I encouraged him to write down that information, and even offered to send him a special pen so that the pictures would be better preserved. He declined my offer, but he did agree to write on them.
I have several pictures from my childhood that are extra special to me. Many only have a name and date on them, but on plenty of them, my father took the time to write down who is in them and the circumstances surrounding the photo. On some, he even wrote three or four sentences explaining what I was doing and why. It made me feel really important and it’s a great record of my life as a young child.
Those pictures mean a lot to me because I can more easily remember the moment. They show what life was like for me when I was young. I wasn’t just one child among millions; I was important.
As an adult, though, it’s common for people to stay behind the camera and avoid having their picture taken. When was the last time you allowed someone to take your picture? Will you regret it later? Do your children really care if you don’t look your best? How long has it been since you were in a picture? I suspect the only thing that is important when you are in front of the camera is whether or not you are smiling.
Allow your picture to be taken. Let your family remember you and the times that you spent time together. Help them remember those good times by being a part of family pictures and other snapshots of random moments. The joy that will come from remembering those good times is worth it.
Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinetperformance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.