I sat down last night and wanted to make some updates to the blog. I get stuck, like I often do, writing about myself and my philosophy. In fact, I haven’t changed the bio part of my site in years. I get myself all stuck on how seriously I take my job. After all, I know I’m not curing cancer or running the Large Electron-Positron Collider or anything. I take your pictures. That’s what I do. No biggie.
Then I want to tell you.
Then I think to myself that it’s too much information. It’s too sad. It’s weird to share on a public blog and I’m somehow trying to profit off of something tragic. It’s Gracie’s story so much more than mine and I need to be very careful about what I tell and how I tell it.
Then I find a way to write about it and instead of horribly depressing, it sounds flip. I have a wickedly dark sense of humor with a healthy streak of sarcasm. I worry how you will read it. I don’t want to come off like a cold heartless witch. I don’t want to hurt people I love.
So I wait. And I write. And I save unpublished. And I delete. And so goes this cycle.
But today I woke up and realized it was his birthday. It would be his 43rd birthday if he were still with us. And I feel compelled to write about it. Not so that you will feel sorry for us. Not even so that you will find yourself in a mad rush to hire a photographer. But so that you understand a little why I talk about the things I talk about and why sometimes I probably take this job way too seriously.
7 years ago this coming July, I was in Seattle when I got the call that nobody wants to get. David’s car was in an accident and the driver had perished. I didn’t need to wait for a positive I.D.. I knew. I still want to say so badly that he was my husband. But the truth is that our divorce was final about 10 days prior to the call. Our split was (at least on my end) not for a lack of love. Sometimes love just isn’t enough and this was the case with us.
One more disclaimer. I don’t want to sound like the only person who has lost someone they love. If you’re my age, you’ve probably experienced an untimely death. My grief was no easier or more difficult than anyone else’s But it is a unique kind of grief to lose the father of your young child. It’s crazy making to feel like a widow when you officially are not. Grief is a solo trip. No matter how much love and support you have around you, you’re on your own shitty grief train by your lonesome. It doesn’t hurt worse, it just hurts different.
In the interest of keeping Gracie’s story her own, I won’t go into all of the details of how everything went down in the following days. Other than suffice to say, having to break that news to her was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. I planned to tell her in the morning and yet, I found myself avoiding her. I watched her play with her cousins and be happy and joyful. Seeing her happy all the while knowing that I was about to tell her something that would completely reshape the rest of her little life in the most painful way. It was horrible and I never wish that conversation on anybody.
Gracie and I had taken the trip to Seattle for my dear friend, Elizabeth’s wedding. Elizabeth and I have this weird symbiotic relationship. It seems when one of us is up, the other is down. I can’t think of a more extreme instance than this one. We take care of each other that way. This photograph was taken on the night before we left. He brought over pizza and those weird pizza dough cinnamon rolls for dinner. He read Gracie books, and for whatever reason the light was beautiful and I pulled out my camera. In Gracie’s arms, her “pinky” (pink blanket) and her Papa.
I took a lot of photographs of David in my life. But even with the skill and the equipment at my disposal, I shudder thinking of all of the images I missed out on. Many because I was too much of a snob to take a snapshot. If the light wasn’t perfect, I didn’t want to bother. I hardly have any shots of us as a family. I was always the shooter.
I shouldn’t complain, but even with all of the photos I have, they will never be enough. When I look at them, I smile but there is always this lingering pain in my gut knowing I won’t get anymore. There won’t be any new ones. Gracie is almost 11 now and in all of the photos I have of her with her Papa, she will never be older than 4. Every once in a while someone will post a photo of him on Facebook, or show me one I haven’t seen before and it seriously feels like Christmas morning. Those random snapshots are a gift that I can’t even explain.
So now maybe you can forgive me for all of the “you’re gonna die” posts I offer up here and on Facebook. Because this experience has changed me in that way. I don’t do this for the Christmas cards. I do my work always with a small notion in my head that life is short. That your children love you and adore you. I look at the portraits I take of you with your kids and I ask myself if they are going to love it when they’re 75. If the answer is no, then I move on to the next. All of the cliches apply. Life is short, time flies, they grow up too fast, etc. The only guarantee you have is right now. Right now in this moment you can think differently. You can create a new memory with your family. You can photograph it.
If my work ever inspires anybody to do anything, I hope it is to take the time to document all of the pieces of your life. If not for you, for your kids.
To David, wherever you are. We love you and we miss you every day.
Debbie downer, over and out.