We are in the thick of planning for my mom’s Memorial Service/Celebration of Life, which is going to happen next month. My mom didn’t want this. In all the times (at least five) she brought up her wishes for what she wanted, she specifically and explicitly said that she didn’t want a memorial service. She wanted to be cremated and she wanted us kids to take her ashes and spread them in the UP. In the times we talked about it, she mentioned specific details: there was birch forest, there were cliffs overlooking Lake Superior, there was a log slide, a place close by that served breakfasts on turkey platters. In the past 5 months, I have done extensive research and I think I have the place narrowed down. I know where she wants her ashes spread.
The other part of her wishes, were that she wanted it to be easy on us kids. She didn’t want a memorial service that was going to require planning, or messing up any grandkid sports schedules. She didn’t want her Uncle Dave wailing and making a scene. She didn’t want us all boo-hooing about what a great woman she was, what a pillar of the community, etc. Essentially, she wanted an Irish Goodbye, slipping away unseen and unnoticed.
And I respect the shit out of that.
Slipping out of a party lets the leaver avoid hard conversations, having to answer questions about where you’re going, why so early, why don’t you want to stay at this party? It also decreases the likelihood of the conversations after, like, “Can you believe her? Who does she think she is? Like she had some place better to go?” or even the less biting, like, “That was an interesting choice for her hair?” Or the one that scares the hell out of me whenever I am putting on primer mascara before going out, “Did she really do white mascara? What IS that?” (technically, this happened one time, I went to a 40th birthday party and forgot too put mascara on top of the primer- which is never a good look when your eyes are what make you look old. Shout out to my “friends” who didn’t say anything about it… Y’all the real MVP).
So, we’re doing this memorial service/celebration of life as a picnic and my dad is working on a scrapbook of my mom’s life. And this needs photos.
And we don’t have many.
There are reasons for this. None of which are any good.
First, it was a different time. During her life, photography included digital photos taken on phones on cameras, digital photos taken on cameras, 35mm that you sent away to be developed, instant cameras, polaroids and everything that came before that. For much of our childhood, my mom had nice 35mm cameras, but an 8 year old cannot be trusted with those. So, the majority of her life, which was spent with us kids, included 3 humans who could not be trusted to hold a camera, focus it, etc.
Second, since my dad didn’t have the time or the inclination for being around us, there wasn’t another adult who thought it was important to document our lives. The lives still needed to be documented- pictures taken for Christmas cards, and the grandparents and and aunts and uncles. The conesequence is that, we have a ton of photos of us kids. Like, one could piece together our growing up and developing, almost before the camera. Which is great. But she was behind the camera. So there are so very few of her.
Third, she seemed uncomfortable in front of the camera. I am not sure if she always struggled with her weight, or if it was just the thing that happens to women when they have children. Before she married my dad, she was an absolute smoke show.
Later, I just always got the sense that she didn’t want her picture being taken.
So we don’t have many photos of her.
Photos I WISHED I had: I wish I had pics of her and me on first days of school. I wish I had pics of her, Nicole, JJ, and me during the few years when all three of us played soccer and spent our weekends driving all over the state. I wish that I had a pic of her with me before each of the formal dances I went to in high school, she made two of the three dresses I wore. I wish I had a pic of her when I signed my letter of intent to play soccer at Lee University. I wish I had a photo of us during any one of the drives we made between Tallahassee and Florida when she’d come up to babysit Nico during weeks when his preschool was closed. I wish that we had made Dave or my brother-in-law or someone take pics of the three of us kids with her in Texas. There are so many.
It makes me think about the photos I take with Nico- a lot of selfies. It’s weird to ask other people to take pictures of you, even your husband, I think. But I should be better about asking Dave to take pictures of Nico and me (and maybe Dave just needs to be better about taking pictures of Nico and me without having to be asked). But even that is weird… like for all of our relationship that hasn’t been us. We don’t post on FB or Insta pics with captions like, “He is my world, I wouldn’t know what I would do without him, love ya babe, yada yada yada.” I think we’re just old enough to be self-conscious of that kind of social media behavior. Or maybe 16 years together ingrains patterns that are hard to break.
I guess the lesson here is if you’re a parent, make sure that your kid/s will have pics of them with the people they care about: moms, dads, grands, aunts, uncles. Some day those photos will be the only thing they will have left.