When Pictures Are All You Have

 

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My whole relationship with my mother is through photographs.  I don’t remember talking with her or being held by her. I only know the likeness of our features through these black and white photos adhered to the page with black corner holders, neatly placed in an album.

My Dad managed to continue my “baby book” photo album until I was about 10.  The photos early on with my mother stop when I was 3. My mother was already sick and becoming unable to care for us.

Then, of course, there are the pictures of my brother and me after my mother died.  I see the stress on our faces, particularly my Dad.  He struggled to make us look nice and well

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My 5th birthday party 

put together, and no matter how hard he tried, we looked motherless.  He would pose us in our Easter clothes or Sunday best and tell us to smile. The outcome is obvious in these Kodak moments as he tried to make us look like our mother would have wanted. Alas, no pasted on smile could hide our broken hearts.

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My Dad, brother and I seven months after my mother died.

I learned a lot about my mother’s personality and countenance from her high school yearbooks, her college scrapbook, and my parents’ wedding pictures.   I saw her as a young lady, vibrant and energetic. I saw her laughing with friends and smiling on her wedding day. I read the endearing remarks from her school chums as they professed everlasting friendship and love.  Everything I know about my mother came from those that loved her and from these priceless black and white snapshots.

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Mom and Auntie Sue

 

 

My impressions of her came through the lens of someone else’s view, but for me, that is enough.  I’ll let their love and admiration, their memories be mine as well. When pictures are all you have, it has to be enough.

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My parents’ wedding

 

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

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Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.

 

When I was growing up, that was the nightly prayer I said before going to sleep.  My Daddy made sure I knelt beside my bed and recited these simple words.

There are few things in life harder than losing a child.  It doesn’t matter how old, how young, miscarriage, or stillbirth, the death of a child is unspeakable.  Those who have not walked this path, rarely understand the deep emotions.  Their sympathy is sincere but the empathy only comes from experience.

In 1977 my daughter, Autumn was stillborn.  I had never known anyone who had lost a child or had a stillbirth.  I had a lot of shame surrounding it and since my own mother was deceased, I felt I had no one to share this shame and confusion with.  My shame stemmed from not being able to give birth to a healthy child and I felt totally inept as a woman.  I had no one to help me understand or guide me in being compassionate towards myself.

A few of my friends had experienced miscarriages in their early pregnancies, but I had gone through hours of labor and delivery only to find out she had never taken a breath.  Now, 41 years later, I have known a few women who have had the same sadness.  I have had the privilege of sharing my experience, strength and hope with them and they with me.

Recently, I have found two organizations that give hope, love, and support to the grieving parents.  One was in our local newspaper recently, called, “Angel Wings of Lake Travis.”  These volunteers make burial gowns for these infants who are victims of an untimely death.  Often the parents are unprepared or unable to provide a garment for the child to be buried in.  These precious burial gowns are made from donated wedding dresses.  The volunteers sew little gowns with a vest and bow tie for the boys and an exquisite gown for the girls.  The gown is given to the family free of charge.  What a meaningful way to help these parents say goodbye to their precious little one.

Another organization dear to me is, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.”  When I was taking a photography class recently, a volunteer spoke to us about giving our time as a photographer.  NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional photographers to provide beautiful portraits to families facing the death of their infant.  The free gift of a professional portrait serves to honor the child and the family, thus providing an important step in the healing process.

What makes these so special to me is the fact that I had neither for Autumn.  She had no burial clothes and I have no photograph or tangible reminder of her little soul.  I know I cannot change these facts, but I would give anything to help another family have the healing closure they and their babies deserve.

I hope you will visit these two websites and take time to read about their missions, and to donate if you are so moved.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to share something so close to my heart.

://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/about/mission-and-history/

http://angelwingslaketravis.wixsite.com/angelwingslaketravis

Enough

 

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I just knew there was a rule book for life that I did not read.  Guidelines for living that I never understood.  That’s exactly how it felt to grow up without a mother.  I felt everyone else knew the secrets to life, except me.

I was the perfect faker, the ultimate counterfeit girl, imitating others and impersonating the girls I read about in Seventeen magazine.  It was exhausting to be constantly watching others for cues as to what to say or do.

There are many of us walking on this earth, that for whatever reason, feel the same way.  I see the others now, and I know I was never really alone.  But today, when I notice someone who looks afraid or uncertain, I reach out to take their hand, literally or figuratively, so they can feel the warmth.

This life is too much for tender souls, but as we hold another’s  hand, we ourselves gain strength, and wisdom and safety.  We can feel safe and secure to be who we really are and know  that is enough.

We are enough.

Dear Motherless Daughter

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Nothing and no one can replace my mother.  I’ve lived 59 years without her and I know this to be true for me.  Nothing and no one.

A lot of people tried to comfort me by saying, “But, you had your father, your brother and a family of your own.”  That is also true, however, I had all those people and I still didn’t have a mother.  While I cannot speak for all motherless daughters, I can say for myself that not having a mother has affected me in every area of my life and the years have not erased the deep need I have for a mother, my mother.

Every true friend I have had, every man I have loved has known this fact about me.  There are plenty of others who don’t know that I am motherless and have assumed that I have “it all” and don’t know the meaning of loss or adversity.  To this I would say two things:  1.)  don’t assume you know everything about anybody and 2.)  if  you didn’t know this about me, then I might not have felt safe enough to tell you.

I have said these words a million times, “My mother died when I was four years old.”  But, it’s what I haven’t said that tells you the deeper meaning.  When my grandson was four years old, I looked at him and wondered to myself  how I ever lived with such loss.  Four is such a tender age, and to think of a soul wounding at that age and continuing to live until now at 63, is nothing short of a miracle.

I know my words may make you uncomfortable, downright uneasy, but what is buried alive never dies.  Put another way, I have to speak out, tell the world what it is like for us, the walking wounded.  I am sorry if my story makes you sad or my descriptions seem too harsh.  “Let it go”, you might be thinking, “Time heals all wounds, ” but to you I will say that we all have some places in our  hearts that need healing.  Look inward, take what you like and leave the rest.

My fellow motherless children, (you know who you are), you are not alone.  Keep reading.  At least I hope you do, for there is a language we know; a knowledge we have that unites us in kinship.  We share something that bonds us into eternity and gives us hope that someday…that hole will be filled up…..to the top.  We all take a different path to find our healing.  The balm of time may heal the wound, but the scar never quite disappears.  We are forever changed.