To the mama holding a teddy bear, not a baby …
As my husband and I rounded the bend in the road on the day we met, the mountain we were visiting came into view.
It was hunched over like a crippled old man. Breathtaking — but clearly scarred. The beauty of spring could not hide Mt. St. Helen’s history.
As our family van neared the parking lot to begin our 7-mile trek around the nearby lake, you, sweet mama, also came into view.
“Oh Ryan,” I sighed. “That’s the saddest thing ever.”
Confused, my husband wondered why I was just now getting sad over an eruption that happened before I was born.
“No, babe, not the mountain. The couple taking a photo in front of the mountain. Them, see?” I discreetly pointed from behind the shaded window, until he saw what I did . . .
You two. A young husband and wife, or maybe a girlfriend and boyfriend. Clearly in love. His arm wrapped steadily around your shoulder.
Posing, smiling, for the camera with the mountain to your backs. Your hand holding tightly to a blue teddy bear propped next to you.
A fleeting moment burned in my memory forever.
For all you knew, two strangers passed you by in their minivan, off on their own adventure with their kids, unaware of what that moment meant. I wished I could have told you that we saw you. We truly saw you. And we recognized the person who wasn’t with you.
A mom and dad should never have to take a family photo with a teddy bear, and not a baby.
How I wished you could have taken your baby with you, alive and well, and shown him the beauty of Mt. St. Helens.
It should have been the first of a lifetime of adventures together.
I want you to have the chance to know if he was the kind of boy who would turn into a mountain man like the one I married — or if he would be an artist, or a dancer, or a writer, or an athlete.
How I wished you would have been able to know him each moment he was supposed to walk this earth, uncovering the layers of his personality and gifts as time passed.
You should be able to take a lifetime of photos with your child, and not his bear.
Dear mama, taking photos with a bear and not a baby … I just want you to know you are seen. And your grief is seen.
We know that a bear could never fill your aching arms which will always reach for the baby who is no longer here — but we also honor how sacred that bear is.
That he represents all that is unseen: Your deep love, your devotion, and your steadfast commitment to making sure your child is always a part of your family, even in death.
Your photo, I’m sure, was beautiful.
But no matter how beautiful, it could never be the photo you wanted. Not the life you wanted. But like the mountain, spreading its glorious wonders behind you — this life is beauty from ashes.
Please keep taking those photos, mama.
You hold that bear, and you take him wherever you longed to take your son. You hold tight to it whenever you need and however long, even to your dying day. And please share those photos wherever and with whomever you want. People worth keeping around will embrace the truth that your son belongs as you document your life — even if in the form of a teddy bear.
And mama, please keep adventuring. Please keep showing up. Live the life you wished you could share with your son.
If Mt. St. Helens has anything to teach us, it’s that life still has a way of creating beauty even from the most devastating of circumstances.
With all my love,
Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash