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Photos and Stories are a Legacy

On Saturday, January 19, my mom made a decision: Rather than undergoing another surgery, one that would result in her losing her independence, she decided to enter hospice care. We brought her home the next day. My sisters and I made sure that one of us was always there, but there were also other family members and friends who came in and out, saying goodbye.

On the second day, my sister Becky got antsy and needed a project, so she decided to bring up all of the boxes of photos. She’d previously helped my mom pack these photos, which she’d gathered from various places around her house in Springville back when she was in the process of moving.

In these boxes there were photos from all different times. A studio portrait of my mom at age nine or ten had a family photo from 1991 underneath it, and then a stack of random snapshots anywhere from 1989 to 2005. Some school photos of each sister, including a few class pictures. Black and white portraits of my great grandparents and their siblings, some dating back to the 1920s. Mounds and piles and stacks and envelopes of photos. Some ruined, some dusty, some torn, some in fine shape. I found photos of myself that I have never seen before or forgotten existed, photos of my grandparents I will cherish now that I have them, even a photo of my Grandma Elsie standing on a trail in Bryce Canyon in the exact same spot where I have also stood for a picture.

It was thrilling and discouraging and moving and more than a bit overwhelming.

Old photos

Over the next few days, I ended up sorting through all of those photos. I made a pile for myself and each of my sisters, a pile of photos to scan for the funeral, and one of old family photos that seemed important for everyone to have.

And I threw away photos.

I threw away so many photos.

Photos I’d given her of my family that I also had copies of. Blurry photos. Photos that were torn. Entire stacks of pictures that had stuck together and couldn’t be pried apart. We used to have a cat, Noelle, who would lick any pictures she found, and there were quite a few she’d irreparably damaged.

But a lot of the throw-aways were pictures of scenery and places and buildings.

I could guess where a lot of them were taken: London, southern Utah, Mexico, the beach, the mountains.

But without any words or stories to go along with them, they were entirely meaningless to everyone.

And honestly: even some of the photos with people in them felt inconsequential, somehow. Void of context, that photo of my mom and another woman I don’t know, for example, posing in their bikinis on a beach was, yes, a picture of my mom. But what does it mean? What beach were they at? How did she feel about her body? Why did she pick out that swimsuit? Who is the other woman in the picture and what kind of relationship did they have?

Oh how I wish she had written down the stories to go along with some of those photos.

I know not everyone understands my scrapbooking hobby. It’s easy to see it as sort of silly, a grown woman sticking down stickers and playing with paint and colored pencils like a kindergartener.

Sorting through my mother’s pictures was so moving to me. It was amazing to see how faces appear and reappear, my mom and dad’s features showing here and there in a child or a grandchild. Those piles of photos are evidence of a life that was lived: family, travels, holidays, houses and parties and snowstorms and rainbows.

But it also reinforced something for me: what I do isn’t silly. Even if there are stickers and glue and ribbon and flowery paper.

Because there are also stories. Thoughts, impressions, funny tales, personality quirks. Details of a life, context for the images.

I haven’t told all of the stories. Not mine, not my kids’. If I died tomorrow, there would be so many stories I haven’t told. Stories about races and running. Stories about motherhood, about being a wife and a friend. Stories about my job. Stories about the places I’ve traveled to.

At least some of them are told. At least, if I died tomorrow, my kids would have my words in writing. Not just my voice saying “I love you,” but my hand writing it, too.

Photos are images of places and people.

But photos paired with words are a legacy.

That experience of sorting my mom’s pictures (and o! how I wish I would’ve asked one of my sisters to snap a photo of me sorting the photos, surrounded by piles and piles of photos) taught me many things. It will change how I take photos in the future. Some wisdom I am still trying to put into words. But this I can say:

In the end, scrapbooking isn’t about the supplies. It is only about the photos and the words. Everything else is fun and pretty and colorful, but the stories—the stories are where the meaning is found.

And I feel something else. It isn’t really inspiration. It’s more of a prodding. A spurring: tell more stories. Not really scrapbook more things. But to simplify; to make sure the stories I want people to know about the photos I have taken are written down, because no one can do that but me.

I don’t want my kids to have to face boxes of meaningless photos. I want them to just have the stories and pictures that held meaning for me, so they know: their stories matter. My stories matter. The stories of a life are lost unless you write them down.

Comments

CarrieH

What a great, meaningful reminder this is. We all need a little nudge now and then to help us remember how important the stories are. So sorry about your mom, but so happy that you have these pictures to ignite some good stories. I wish you well during this tough time.

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