January 19, 2011 // Uncategorized

A picture is worth a thousand words

At a recent widow’s support group I had asked each member to bring a photo of her husband to share with the group. As the widows passed their treasured pictures around their circle of allies, loving descriptions of the character these beloved men embodied were told and retold.
As the exercise progressed many of their faces flushed with the joy of a blessed memory of what once was the substance of life. Those photos were the incarnation of past triumphs and conquered challenges shared within the intimate relationship boundaries only spouses know.
I’ve lost count of the number of times a photo has stirred a long dormant memory of my life with my deceased husband Trent that had the ability to bring a chuckle or perhaps a tear to the present moment. But they always inspired me. I have learned over the years since my husband’s death that either is an acceptable response to a past that I cherish still.
Photos, and yes even meaningful music, touching movies and traditional family events, have the power to elicit fond and sometimes bittersweet memories that when acknowledged help us move toward healing. They are a link that connects us to our past and may offer us a tangible form of comfort during our times of deepest grief.
With healing comes new life where the memory of our loved one finds is rightful place. And as new life events unfold it becomes a natural part of interaction with friends and loved ones to remember those who have passed before us. This is the way families and friends keep their loved one’s memory alive.
Unfortunately many times in those early days of grief, some find a renewed sense of loss as they revisit the past through photography. Reliving with pictures the tender moments of life before the death of their loved one brings so much sorrow and regret that they turn from the challenge.  For some the photos represent all that has been lost, including the promise of what could have been.
But healthy grief work is about touching the pain when it arises and exploring the ways it changes us. Allowing ourselves to honor any memory, even unsolicited, is paramount to healing. And for many of us that takes time and requires facing myriad of emotions. I’ve learned that we must be gentle with ourselves as we remember our lost loved ones no matter what evokes the memory.
It seems, over time, as we do the work of grief, memories become our stronghold. They provide a guidepost for what is to come. Past images of love and laughter also give us a reason to go on. My memories of Trent’s love and commitment to his family shown in those silly family shots are the foundation on which lays the strength of my family.
It’s never too late to share a silly photo and a touching story with a loved one who mourns a loss. As time moves on, those memories become part of the stuff of everyday life.
Photographs are a gift that have the power to sustain us in moments of grief or bring us joy in the remembering. The memories they invoke are, in part, what defines who we are now and who we are becoming as we mourn our loss. Each cherished memory may eventually inspire us with the confidence to face the future. You see, our hope lies not in the pictures of the past, but in the promise of the future.
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