This post is a response to a challenge issued by Teresa Gross in her blog post, Our Lives In Pictures. In her post, Teresa wrote about how her curly hair is part of her identity. It is how people recognize and remember her. She challenged other bloggers to reflect on their life in pictures. Thanks for the challenge, Teresa.
When I lost my mother in 1999 and then my father two years later, I remember being told that you never really grow up until you lose both your parents (John F. Kennedy Jr.). After their deaths, I felt a tremendous sense of isolation and being on my own, despite family and friends surrounding me.
At no other time in my life have I been so conscious of being an only child. Alone to take care of arrangements, I felt disoriented and a tremendous sense of loss. Not only of my parents, but a loss of my identity.
Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive
(Photograph, Lyrics by Ed Sheeran)
I will never forget standing in an empty house full of artifacts, each one having meaning for me. Trying to decide what to keep. Feeling as if a lifetime of memories only remained within me. A unique life of moments lived together–bandaged knees, joys and losses, secret crushes and a series of broken hearts. As the sole survivor, I was the only one able to recount the story of my family.
As days followed days, one regret lingered. As a young girl, I had asked my mother to write a letter to me. Something to hold onto after she was gone, a keepsake of her thoughts and love of me. Upon her death, no letter was found. Apparently as the years between my request and her death passed and the idea of the letter faded. I regret that it did.
Writing this post I realized that, despite no letter, she did create an irreplaceable and tangible keepsake for me. She painstakingly captured our family in scrapbooks filled with lovingly preserved birthday cards, certificates, class pictures and photographs. Each piece dated and neatly organized on the scrapbook pages. Her labour of love for me. My story, my unique family fingerprint preserved in these pages. My parents’ pride, joy and love for their only daughter carefully transposed and glued into the books.
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time’s forever frozen still
A reminder that I was a miracle baby. Delivered to parents who, at the time, were considered too old to conceive a child.
At 37 and 47 years of age, respectively, I was my mother and father’s one chance. With their mature age, my mother knew there was a risk I would lose them at an early age. That someday I would have to stand on my own. She dedicated her life to teaching and guiding me for when that day came.
Always telling me that I needed to learn to do things on my own, my mother desperately wanted me to be confident in who I was. Learn to do things, so someday, when I was alone, I could do them without her help.
I was a mixture of ringlets and dimples. Mary Janes and frilly dresses. Some store-bought, others carefully sewn by my mother and some hand-me downs from older cousins.
An amply supply of red yarn carefully crafted into knitted mittens and hats by my mother.
There were annual birthday parties with pin the tale on the donkey and coins magically hidden under slices of birthday cake.
There were summer road trips to the Eastern coastline, Appalachian mountains or boat rides on the Great Lakes.
Christmas’ spent at my grandmother’s house in Rockland, Ontario. Family time was a reminder of the larger family network. Being one of the youngest in the brood, I never moved to the “grown up table”and was always doted on by my older cousins.
As an only child, I was comfortable on my own and used to a more adult-oriented world. I needed to be imaginative. Neighbourhood kids were my unofficial siblings. Heaven forbid when they left for Ukrainian camp in July. Those became my lonely days of summer.
I always yearned for siblings. I was always told by friends that I was lucky to be an only child. It never felt that way. In my eyes, they had a constant companion. I used to witness the competition and battles amongst siblings. Their loud, busy households were strange and foreign to me. I was used to the calm and quiet of my insular home.
These photo albums, My Life in Pictures, are a reminder of my good fortune to have been born unto my parents. I was loved, protected and cherished. Enough so, that when the time came, I would walk on. Independent and able to find strength in who I am. I know that I am and will always be their daughter.
In times when my identity was compromised or I needed to be grounded, I have done so under the guise of Laurie Ann, daughter of David and Lorraine. I stand strong for them.
Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know, know
I swear it will get easier,
Remember that with every piece of you
Hm, and it’s the only thing we take with us when we die
Photographs are a glimpse into the eyes of the photographer. A snapshot of what they have chosen to capture in the lens at that one moment in time. Once taken, a photograph is a visual history of the past. Images taken fall under the scrutiny of the eyes of the beholder. Yet, photographs can only truly be understood by those present in that moment.
I selected the photos for this post with the same intent and purpose as a photographer taking a shot. Only choosing to depict the images of the story I want to tell. Reminding myself that not all life stories or the moments captured on film are happy ones. The stories we chose to share are the ones we are brave enough to tell. Sometimes, the real story is the absence of the photograph. Sometimes, the happy smile on the picture, hides the real story on the inside. Sometimes, the story rests more within the photographer himself, than his subject.
I am fascinated by old photographs of since departed loved ones. For me, it is a profound feeling looking at them immortalized in a moment frozen in time. Knowing how their story’s end. Or knowing the tragedy or struggle that came later on in life. Photographs taken of the moment, preserving forever the life story of the photographer and his subject.
My life in pictures documents the formulation of my identity. As an only child, and the cherished daughter of Lorraine and David. These photographs are my most precious keepsakes of their love and pride. Sentiments which now reside within me. They kept their love in a photograph. I keep their love inside me.
Thank-you, Mom and Dad. Since you’ve been gone, I have never stopped paying it forward. You’d be proud.
I leave you with Teresa Gross’ own words and challenge:
“I challenge you to reflect on your life in pictures. What is your story? How have you changed or not changed? What experiences are evoked from looking at your photos?
Please share your pictures and stories! I would love to hear them, as would so many others.”
Below I challenge some of my favourite educational bloggers and Twitter peeps to share their stories. And as they do, to please tag Teresa and I in the posts and to challenge others to share their stories. Thank you. Teresa and I look forward to seeing the stories.
Rusul Alrubail @RusulAlrubail
Peter Cameron @cherandpete
Anthony Carabache @HeyCarabache
Noa Daniel @noasbobs
Ellen Deem @deem_ellen
Helen DeWaard @hj_dewaard
Oskar Cymerman @focustoachieve
Allison Fuisz @allison_fuisz
Brian Host @HostBrian
Spiri Howard @itsmeSpiri
Alana Stanton @StantonAlana
Rola Tibshirani @rolat
Mark Weston @shiftparadigm