“I am going to disappoint you. But you knew that already.”
My ears sting as I absorb the meaning of each word, my heart like lead. His words tell me that we are on two different grieving paths that will not intersect anytime soon. I see him wanting to start a new life that doesn’t include his children and he sees me living in the past. He is right. I do want to hold onto the memories of my mother, while trying to shape a life in an uncertain future that will be difficult without her. Mom’s photos from her childhood and family life gave me comfort. And a linear connection to her past that I would have otherwise not known. But Dad threw them away.
Gone are the pictures of an intriguing old-fashioned past. Rotting away in a heap of garbage are the antique-looking pictures where the faces are emotionless, and people hold statue poses. The notion that I can longer see these images causes great panic and fear. Mom seldom shared her childhood, so these images were a gateway into her life before marriage.
He knows I love photos. Looking at them, studying them was simply staring at a moment captured in time. Imagining friendships with family members I have never met, especially my mom’s parents, was important to me. I marveled at the palm-size, black and white photos with frayed corners, creating stories in my mind of 1950’s life.
Grandma Beth, a spitting image of my mother, always had a wide smile and gleam in her eye. Grandpa Art, appeared dark and brooding in some, and in others, can hear his emitting laughter. I want so badly to be a part of this captured memory. Imagining one such event: Grandma Beth is smiling, holding a cigarette delicately in her hand while the others around appear amused. What made her smile? I place myself at the kitchen table, listening to the daily grandparent musings. Life happens here, where Grandpa Art, with his drink of choice, tells stories of his daily grind. Grandma Beth and future mother raptly listen.
Nothing special about these pictures, but to me, they meant everything.
Yet, the photos are gone.
One salvageable photo shows mom at the age of ten as she only comes up just below grandma’s waist, standing before a black car. Both are wearing what looks like their “Sunday’s best;” however, my mom’s feet are shoeless. I can hear the conversation now.
“Put on your shoes, just for the picture, hon!”
“No, it’s too hot!”
“Fine…Art just take the damn picture, please.”
Fast forwarding years, another saved photo of the mother-daughter pair shares a similar theme. It is Easter again. But this time, the pair is standing in front of a newly invented television, which is adorned with a Lily in a vase. Mom and grandma are dressed appropriately for church. My mom is wearing a fancy hat with a net that partially covers her eyes. On her shoulder is a corsage. Why, though, mom is not smiling while grandma is grinning widely? I can only speculate the conversation’s content before the camera flashed.
Traditions continue in an Easter photo taken in 1980’s of mom and her three children who seemed less than enthusiastic in creating memories. Dad surely said a funny line as mom is caught mid laugh. My sister stands opposite at attention, while I am trying to swish my brother’s arm from giving me the dreaded cooties. Interesting that a simple photo can capture complex relationships.
Grieving changes people. Devoted and committed to my mom, Dad did all and more as a traditional man should do for his wife and family. Once a proud and sentimental man, I recall making a production of having a family photo framed and given as a 25th anniversary present. He has transformed into a man who does not appreciate sentiments of the past in any form. I do not know the man that resembles my father.
He wants to let go of the past; I want to hang on. Disappointment in each other will only bring us down a solitary, widening path. We are grieving in the ways only we can understand. I daydream that he can come around the corner, yielding to the past. When that happens, I will be sure to capture the laughter and joy I know he has in his heart.