Recently, we welcomed our fourth child into the world, a beautiful baby girl named Gemma Rose. It was time to consider family photographs. Except, we didn’t.
Since my son died at the age of five months, I have been unable and unwilling to consider a professional family portrait.
Daily, on social media, I see mothers asking for advice on cute coordinating outfits for the family.
It’s fall, so vibrant, autumnal colors abound – deep reds and browns and navy. I see cute babies partially submerged in piles of leaves or posing with pumpkins.
Families beaming at the camera.
But I can’t do it.
Since my son died, we haven’t had a real family portrait. It’s too hard.
Should we leave a space where he would be?
Maybe one of the girls could hold a special stuffed animal?
Or we could hold a portrait of him?
The answer has continually been “I don’t know.” I have no idea how to honor my son’s memory in a family portrait.
Nothing we substitute will be him.
He is gone.
The family portrait exposes the hole at our center.
Our son is gone. He will never be in a family portrait again.
My husband pointed out that we will never have a picture of all of our children. It simply cannot be done.
And it rips my heart out.
There is a gap that will always be there. The family portrait represents our lives now, and the empty space at the center of it.
It feels like moving on without him.
My son will always be a part of me. I close my eyes at night, and I see his face, his bright blue eyes, and his crazy brown hair.
He was mine. I held him, loved him, cared for him all the days of his life.
He is as indelibly a part of me as my other children.
Yet, the outside world doesn’t see him. He is invisible.
A family photo makes this painfully obvious.
You cannot see him. He’s not there.
Was he even real?
These are the questions that haunt me at night.
Taking a family portrait seems almost to dishonor him because our family is incomplete.
And it always will be.
How can we have a family photo when there is a piece of our family forever missing?
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
I am mother to three children, two beautiful girls and one gorgeous baby boy, James. James was diagnosed with trisomy 18 at 32 weeks gestation. He was born Aug 1, 2016 and lived 154 amazing days cradled in the love of his family. He died on Jan 2, 2017 due to complications of pulmonary hypertension. Because of him, I learned that a mother’s love has no bounds. My grief is enormous, but only because my love is enormous.
Our sweet son is buried in our backyard. We brought his body home and had a home visitation and home burial. This was facilitated by a Cuddle Cot. Due to this, our baby boy never left our arms. He was with us from the moment he was conceived until the moment we gave him back to the earth. Since his death, we have been trying to educate others about the beauty and healing of a home burial.
We live in western NC. I am a veterinarian and mother. My husband is a mathematics professor. We are expecting our fourth child, a baby girl, in July 2018.