Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Because we have spent most of the last 23 years living out of state, we have had few opportunities to visit her grave. Besides, my thoughts have always been quite clear on the subject. She is not there, only the body that made life both possible and miserable is there. Yet, our family has visited the cemetery on Memorial Day since we moved back to the area recently, because it just seemed like the right thing to do.

This year I had planned on writing about our trip to the cemetery as we got into the car to leave, and asked one of my daughters to grab her camera, thinking I might finally be able to make the jump to adding photos to my blog. When we got home from the cemetery, my daughter downloaded all the photos and I watched over her shoulder as she ran through them. I looked at my face in the photos, and saw it again.

Our daughter was four and a half years old when she passed away, 23 years ago. Her life expectancy was 6 months, so we did pretty well, I think. Her life was short, but not all that sweet. In fact, she had a really hard time. My husband, the most diplomatic person I have ever met, the kind that ALWAYS tells me I do not look fat in my jeans, would look at me after a long and difficult evening while she was still alive, and say, quietly and with concern, “You look old”. I doubt I looked as old as I felt.

She was buried on a cold windy February day, just a short graveside service. Two days earlier I had sat in the office of a very kind man while making a ridiculous amount of necessary decisions that follow death. I remember being handed a book of grave markers and he wanted to know if I wanted any additional engravings on it. At first I was going to say no, but a butterfly caught my attention. A voice inside my head said, “You think butterflies are silly, childish, highly tacky, and have always been quite snobbish about their use”. And my mouth said firmly, “I’d like this butterfly, please. Her body was like a cocoon, and now she is free.”

When I looked over my daughter’s shoulder at the photos she had just taken, I saw the echo of those days still in my face. Whereas my thoughts on visits to her grave may have been clear in my head, what was in my heart was clear on my face. When I visit that place, I visit the hard stuff.

All that happened a long time ago, it feels longer than twenty three years, sometimes, it feels like it happened to someone else, and I just carry the story. I once made a list of the top ten hardest things that had every happened to me, and her life and death were not the first on the list, but the fact that I made it through her life and death, gave me the hope and will to move through the whole list. The benefits have far out weighed the difficulties. I am a more tender person than I would have been and I rejoice more in the children who are still here with me and thriving. I like thinking that she watches over us and is waiting until we are through goofing around down here and get to be with her, and I think those lovely thoughts every day.

Except maybe, for a moment, if a camera catches up with me thinking more about cocoons than butterflies.


  1. I am imagining the day when she greets you. You won't even recognize her physically - because you never got to see her face with ideas or humor or anger in it. And she will stand tall and straight, and her eyes will be full of intelligence - and probably great compassion - and gratitude. And she'll call you Mom, and then you can start getting to know each other.

  2. k-
    How could one simple comment take three tissues to get through? Thank you.