Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho, chronicles her grief journey each week for Love What Matters after her husband died of pancreatic cancer. This week, she describes the pain of losing all her photos of him.
“My husband did not like taking pictures. At all. Sometimes, even I am surprised at how few pictures I have of him, our family, and our life. In fact, with as much as a photographer as I am, I don’t even have any pictures from my wedding day. It’s weird not to have one piece of a photographic memory. But, we didn’t know it would be our wedding day. The day we got married, Chad and I woke up and went to breakfast. We were engaged and were planning a fall wedding. We had our eggs and toast and decided to head to the courthouse to see what we needed to do to get our marriage license. We got there, asked our questions and he made a joke to a clerk that we should just find a judge to marry us that same day.
‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘We don’t do weddings on Fridays.’
We nodded and smiled and out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older couple standing in the corner. They had to be at least in their late 80’s, her in a simple dress holding a very small, delicate bouquet, him standing beside her, in a dapper suit. Just standing there. Waiting.
Before we knew it, a judge came out from behind the doors and made her way to them.
‘Of course, I will marry you today,’ she told them.
The judge extended her arm, as to show them the way, and the little couple shuffled behind her.
Our clerk, seeing this, shouted out to the judge, while pointing at us, ‘These two want to get married as well.’ The judge smiled and motioned for us to follow. I don’t know who freaked out more, him or me.
Twenty minutes later, we were saying our vows to each other. We were both in shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops as we said the words, ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.’
We did just that. In the 14 years we were married after that, we had all those things. Every up and down. And we stuck with it. We made it until the end. We honored our vows to each other, and we will always be my favorite love story. We didn’t get dressed up. I didn’t have a bouquet. He didn’t have a single rose pinned to his shirt. We didn’t have a photographer. We didn’t have camera phones then. We didn’t have a lavish reception. We didn’t even have cake. But in the end, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we had each other. And while he didn’t love taking pictures, he did love being funny, so when I would decide to send him an artsy picture, occasionally, he would give in and send me one back.
One time, I convinced him to do family photos. He didn’t really want to, but he did it. He knew it was important. The only problem was I happened to schedule our photo shoot a few hours after he had a root canal, and had I planned better, I might have been able to get way more pictures than I did. At the time, I thought we had more time. I didn’t feel as much pressure to record our life. I thought that eventually, as he grew older, he would see the value in it as much as I did, and he would come around. The problem was, he never got older. He died two years after we took those photos.
After his cancer diagnosis, we had 18 months together. Eighteen months of chances to take pictures, but by that time, we were both so consumed with fighting the disease that we weren’t really thinking about anything else. And when the time came that we both knew he was going to die, I secretly started taking pictures of him. He never knew. I would snap them when he was asleep, or when he was having a moment with one of his kids, and from time to time, I would convince him to take a selfie with me. I was racking up the pictures on my phone. I knew how important this was going to be. I knew I needed these to remember our life. And then after he died, I was obsessed with looking at them. I stared at them. I cried as my mind cleared up and I saw how sick he really looked. At the time, I don’t remember him looking that ill or that frail or that pale. At the time, he just looked like him. He just looked like the beautiful, strong version of himself that he had always been. The pictures broke my heart. That wasn’t him, but I could not stop from looking at them anyway.
And then, a month or so after he died, I thought to myself, ‘I have to get these pictures off my phone.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t want them. That wasn’t it. I wanted them. I still want them, but I just wanted to move them somewhere so I wasn’t looking at them every day and being reminded of how much pain he must have been in. I’m not very good at technology stuff, so I decided to google it later in the evening and figure out how to move them from my phone to my computer.
I never got the chance. By that evening, my phone crashed, and I lost everything. Every text, every video, every sad, painful picture. They weren’t in my ‘cloud.’ Three different repair people couldn’t get them back. They were gone. He was gone. Everything was gone.
I wanted to throw up. I wanted to crawl into bed and throw the covers over me and never come out. I wanted to rip my heart out and throw it on the ground because I was so tired of feeling so bad. But then I remembered something my mom told me the day I accidentally recorded over my 21st birthday video, that photos and videos are great to have, but in the end, it’s the memories we carry with us that are so much more valuable, so much more clear and so much more important, because while the visual might fade, the feeling we had at the time will never go away. As you remember it, your brain will not just be focused on the picture you see in front of you, but your memory will take you back to the whole event, to every sound, to every smell, to every deep emotion you didn’t even know you memorized when it was happening and you will quickly realize that you took unconscious snapshots. Beautiful, magical, wondrous panoramic snapshots. Snapshots that are carved into your soul.
You will always wish you had the real thing, though. Don’t get me wrong. I wish I had a lifetime of photos of him. I wish I had those pictures back. I wish, I wish, I wish. I will still search for them. I will look through all my photos and still wish to be surprised with one.
And sometimes, my wish will come true. Because just the other day, as I was looking for more pictures, I did a search on Facebook for something totally unrelated to what I found. Apparently, I had posted this picture in a group on the day my husband died. I don’t remember doing it. In fact, it was the one picture I clearly remember wanting back, but thought it was gone completely. But because I posted it before my phone crashed, it was spared. Out of nowhere, on a warm day in September, 2 years after he died, it came back to me, right when I needed it. Right when I needed to be reminded what real love felt like.
If I can give you some unsolicited advice – take pictures. Whether you like to or not, take them. And if you are left without pictures of the person you love, do not fret. Sit quietly, close your eyes, take deep breaths, focus, and your memories will come to you. Breathe it in. Feel it. It’s ok to feel it. It’s ok to smile. It’s ok to wish they were here. It’s ok to memorize it. But above all, I promise you from the bottom of my broken heart – it really, really, really is going to be ok, pictures or not.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her bestselling book, “Grief Life,” is now available in print and kindle. Experience love, laughter, loss and hope in this raw, emotional, honest look at grief. You can follow her work on her Facebook page. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:
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