Photos can heal!

Have you ever considered that a simple picture you take, even just a casual snapshot, may help someone, maybe many years from now?

I want to tell you about two women who passed away within a few weeks of each other this past Christmas season, Cathy and Marge, and the role photographs played in the grieving and healing process that followed.

Cathy was very organized. Her photos were mounted in albums, and were neatly kept in their place. She had selected the photos that had meaning and those were the only ones she kept. She also was not a woman who enjoyed having her picture taken often, and it was not common for her to be at ease when candid shots were being taken much less to pose for a picture.

Cathy passed away the week before Chrismas after a 7-year battle with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow. The family wanted a single, simple photo for the funeral reception that captured her personality and created a lasting memory. This was easier said than done, as they soon realized how few pictures they had of her. During her last years they simply didn’t take many pictures, but there was a beautiful smile on her face in one casual photo from last Christmas. pastedGraphic

Working on this picture, I was able to crop tightly and soften the tones to make a portrait-like image that worked well. After selecting a frame that complimented the coloration of the print, the picture was taken to the reception.

Working on this picture, I was able to crop tightly and soften the tones to make a portrait-like image that worked well.

After selecting a frame that complimented the coloration of the print, the picture was taken to the reception.

Afterwards, Cathy’s husband said that it showed her personality just like he always saw her, and he placed the photo in his home. But, not long after that he mentioned that he had put it away – he said that every time he passed by the picture he was reminded of his loss. Photos to him were wonderful memories, but he needed to organize and preserve those memories in his own way.

Marge, on the other hand, kept every photo ever made. Her husband was an avid photographer all along, and even had a fully equipped color darkroom since his time serving in Korea.

When she passed away in early January due to undiagnosed Ovarian Cancer, her husband wanted collage posters celebrating the full and vibrant life she had.

While going through photos, we discovered several over-stuffed boxes of photos that no one had seen for many years.  Child photos from the 20’s, teen photos, wedding photos, trips – you name it and we found it – except for recent ones.  Just like before, we realized how few pictures had been taken during her last years when she was less active due to a 20-year battle with MS. Still, we found plenty of great photos.

1__$!@!__pastedGraphicUsing the pictures we selected, I was able to make three collage posters that represented her early life, the trips she and he enjoyed, and family.

These were placed at the visitation, where everyone could see them and share memories. I expected that this was the main purpose, but I was wrong.

By talking about each photo, and with multiple people, he was working through the grieving process. The pictures weren’t for the visitors, they were for him. With each picture’s story he was organizing and filing his memories.

I suspect that there will come a time when he too puts the photos away, but for now those three posters are on the walls of his house to help him remember the wonderful life they shared together.

So two different stories, two different needs but a few common lessons.

Lesson #1: Don’t stop taking pictures of anyone.  Everyone I know has far fewer pictures of themselves than of their young children. And certainly we all have even fewer pictures of our parents or grandparents that are recent. Why? Because our kids are fresh, vibrant, and full of surprises. We all want to remember how our kids looked when they were little. We are proud of them, and the years go by too fast.

What a mistake we are making by not applying this same enthusiasm for pictures to our parents and ourselves. There will come a time when we or our loved ones will want memories equally as much, and when that time comes pictures will be treasured!

Lesson #2: Everyone is different. Some people love lots of photos, some only a few. Some organize and file away, some display them wherever possible. And to some they are too real to deal with at the moment, but to others they are exactly what they need to deal with the situation. The lesson is to recognize this and act accordingly. What a mistake it would be to assume wrongly!

Lesson #3: Don’t overanalyze it. Looking back, what strikes me about these experiences is that it was not the professional portraits or perfect pictures that were treasured. It was the simple, candid snapshots. What was special about them is that they each showed the lady enjoying the moment. That’s it. So don’t overanalyze the picture, always insisting on the perfect lighting or just the right pose. Sometimes you just need to be the person with the camera taking lots of pictures. Chances are that someday one of those may just be what a grieving survivor needs!

Did I mention that Cathy was my mother-in-law, and Marge was my mother? My family had quite a bit to deal with in a very short time, but I have to tell you that discovering the photos, discussing them, organizing them… well that too was therapy for those of us left to remember.

Have you ever considered that a simple picture you take, even just a casual snapshot, may help someone, maybe many years from now?