We had family pictures taken yesterday.
This is only the second time in the eight years since he’s been gone we’ve done so, at least professionally. Though his absence is always with us, on occasions like this the longing to have him here is even greater.
For our first photo session, the pain was still very raw and fresh. Austin had only been gone a little over two years at that point. My husband was the most hesitant to have them made, but he went, out of devotion to me if nothing else. The fact that my cousin was the photographer helped ease our worries of breaking down in the middle of a pose.
I remember that we were all unsteady and awkward in the beginning – unsure of where to stand, what to do. Our youngest, Noah, and my husband soon began rough-housing and precious snapshots were taken. But our planned pose was in the back of all our minds. And, if you look closely, beyond the smiles, you see glimpses of the pushed away pain from our eyes.
After losing Austin, we had a blanket made from his favorite t-shirts. Woven together, it is a tapestry of him and all the things he loved. Baseball tees, vacation mementos, fire department shirts he proudly wore, and more. These were clothes in his hamper, not his closet, because they were his daily attire. The blanket now hangs over the back of our couch. Soft and comforting, pieces of him that are always near, when we need to be hugged with memories.
We brought it with us for that first photo, as a way to remember and include him. Purposefully leaving it for last, those final captures of our smiles quietly ended in tears, as the camera was put away. A milestone moment of moving forward on this child loss journey nobody wants to walk.
The photos hang on opposite sides of our great room, where we spend most of our time. Thinking about our youngest and how much he’s changing, growing, evolving, I realized we were past due for a new set. Noah was only eleven in those pictures, still very much a boy. As he’ll be a high school graduate next year, he now stands before us nearly a man.
Folding Austin’s blanket in preparation for our photo session, I sent a quick message to the photographer so she could be prepared. Sadly, she has also lost a child, so I knew she would give the moment the respect and honor it needed. And that she did. How gingerly she laid it across the hay, taking great care that it didn’t touch the dirt.
This time, we took photos with pieces of him first. And this time, there was laughter among the smiles.
Time has a way of healing us, even though it may seem impossible when loss is fresh and new. Though we all felt the loss, we also felt his presence. I know Austin was smiling down, as love and joy surrounded the photo shoot. The assistant even misspoke once, while positioning us, and said, “the four of you.” She brushed it off but I like to think his presence was so strong even she could feel him there.
My favorite photo of the day was unplanned and not posed. She simply caught us in the midst of happiness. And it is one I will forever treasure. Because it wasn’t long ago I wondered if days like these would ever come again.
What ways have you remembered your child in family photos or other special moments?