Dear Photograph: Old memories in a new time

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

dear photographThis post is inspired by ‘Dear Photograph’, where people take pictures of pictures, from the past, in the present”; where the romance of our memories meets the reality of the present; and where our loved ones may exist in a world that has gone on without them. Here at ‘What’s Your Grief’ we believe in using photography and other creative outlets to deal with your grief and to feel close to those who have died. This project helped me on a bad day, you should give it a try too.


Guys, being a grown-up is hard. Seriously. Bills, children, accountability, employment, unemployment, relationships, political affiliations, midlife crises, health problems, existential panic, Princess Grace, Peyton Place, trouble in the Suez…we didn’t start the fire…it was always burning since the worlds been turning.

I’ve already gotten off track…but while we’re on the subject of 80’s Pop music let me brag about the time my older sister and I memorized the lyrics to both ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ and ‘Killer Queen’ in one afternoon WITHOUT the help of the internet.

When life gets hard, I long for afternoons like these, when I could spend 2 guilt-free hours memorizing the lyrics to some stupid pop song just for the fun of it. Or Friday nights watching my favorite TV shows in real time because there was no such thing as DVR. Or evenings spent at home anxiously waiting for the boy I like to call because LORD KNOWS if he calls while I’m out my mother will forget to give me the message.

These were innocent, easy times when other people made my decisions for me, my consequences were small, my responsibilities we’re laughable, and my world extended no further than a few miles past my front door. I know these days are gone, but boy do I ever long for them when times get tough. Sadly, so far as I know, time travel has not been invented, although I did read that scientists were looking for time travelers on Facebook and Twitter (so if you see something, say something).

I guess most of all I long for my mother. She was the only person on Earth who, no matter my age or issue, could make me feel like everything was going to be okay. I long to pick up the phone and hear her voice. I long for the feeling of comfort and security she allowed me to feel.

Those who have lost someone important know the death of a loved one changes life’s landscape forever. The people we’ve lost are like missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, without them the picture can never be whole again. We can try to recreate the scene, but there are elements of life before loss that can never be recaptured. Things have changed, we’ve changed.

When I’ve been away from a special place for a long time, I’m always a little bit nervous to return. My mind has a tendency to romanticize places and I know I will find it much smaller, shabbier, and unimpressive than I remember. I’m sure I’ve done the same with memories of my younger years and the people in them.

We are never so kind as we are to people, places, and things that are gone; which I suppose is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I always have a safe haven to return to when life gets overwhelming (albeit in my mind). On the other, no embrace will ever measure up to one that was given by someone who is forever gone.3It’s not fair, measuring the past against the present. They can never be reconciled, the ‘now’ can never win. I look at a photograph and I see me and my parents smiling on my graduation day and I think – ah yes, they were proud of me, I was happy – I don’t recall whatever worries were bothering me on that day. Whatever barren, winter landscape was hiding behind our smiles, is now forever melted by the warmth of my memory.We have some great posts coming up in the next few weeks. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a thing.

Let’s be grief friends.

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10 Comments on "Dear Photograph: Old memories in a new time"

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  1. Wendy Hughes  August 30, 2019 at 12:27 pm Reply

    My relationship with my partner began when we both turned 40; he died when he was 68. I can’t say we never bickered, but we both knew how lucky we were to have mutual unconditional love. I’d had two ugly marriages – and I knew what inadequacy and unlovability feels like. With him I not only felt lovable, I was bulletproof. No matter what else was not going according to plan, at work, with family, budget problems, I was ready for anything.
    When he died, that all changed. Not all at once, but gradually, over the first year, I made so many mistakes, I became fearful and indecisive. Now it’s three years since he died, and I’ve gotten used to the vulnerability. It never occurred to me in your words: The people we’ve lost are like the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. I’m functioning, but without my other half, not as well. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. Kathleen  February 15, 2017 at 11:07 am Reply

    Eleanor, I know this comment comes late but I hope you’ll see it. While reading this post I had an “ahhh” moment with lots of tears but also a huge sigh of relief because finally I found words that EXACTLY capture what I’m suffering the loss of and what I miss so much about my son but didn’t realize until I read your words. It’s what I’ve been searching for through all the many grief books and articles and blogs and cards and even within my own written words but haven’t found or been able to express so perfectly as you have done with your words. I’m going to copy and paste part of your post here so you can see exactly what I’m referring to . ” I guess most of all I long for my mother. She was the only person on earth who, no matter my age or issue, could make me feel like everything was going to be okay. I long to pick up the phone and hear her voice. I long for the feeling of comfort and security she allowed me to feel.” (copied from Eleanor’s post above) When my son heard my voice on the other end of his phone he knew no matter what time, age, or issue, he felt exactly as you did. The longing you feel for your mother is the longing I have to be that mother. I long to be that safe haven. I long for the unconditional trust he had in me, and yes I long to be needed in all those ways. He had friends, a fiance, he has sisters, all to whom he gave of himself and enjoyed the different persectives on life. But I was that one person who he never held back from no matter what. When he needed a morale boost, encouragement, advice, or when he needed someone to remind him that the world did not revolve around him alone and even when he wanted someone to help him laugh at himself he called his mother. I long for that mother. He was a strong, independent young man preparing himself for medical school but I was the voice and the hug where he found his comfort and security… throughout childhood, through the horrors of Iraq, through the ups and downs of his relationships and even disagreements with his sisters. I was his voice of reason, his biggest cheerleader, his soft place to land. Thank you Eleanor for sharing how much you long for your mother and for allowing me to use your words to express how much I long to be the mother I can no longer be. I long for us both. Kathleen

  3. Berry Akkermans  December 18, 2016 at 5:20 pm Reply

    What a great idea! Love it!

  4. Lauren  June 18, 2014 at 8:07 pm Reply

    Hi Eleanor. Thank you for blessing me in so many ways. Whenever I visit my parents’ house I walk many times past the table that holds a precious picture of your mom and the acorns that also remind me of her. I hold her in my heart, and when I see her I also think of you, and that is so important. I look forward to reading all that you write and I have passed your site along to friends that are grieving. Thank you, again. Don’t stop writing or capturing the memories we all hold so dear.

    • Eleanor  July 16, 2014 at 8:56 pm Reply

      Hey Lauren,

      I’m sorry I’m just now responding to this comment. Between a full time day job and the blog I often get behind on reading and responding. Thank you so much for your kind words. This is going to sound odd but it’s somewhat comforting knowing that others are thinking of my mother and missing her. I guess it’s just good to know she lives on in so many different hearts and minds. Thank you for passing along our site, I hope we’ve been able to help. I miss you guys and I really hope to see everyone again soon. It’s been too long.


  5. Your Brother (Owen)  January 8, 2014 at 11:46 am Reply

    You’ve gone and done it this time – hit the nail on the head. When you lose a person you also lose whatever role they played in your life – in your case (and mine) the person who made everything seem okay – like she had some power to tip the scales toward the positve and keep them even when life was just piling on the bad. At the risk of sounding overdramatic – perhaps I already do – you also lose whatever part of yourself that that person brought out of you. Sometimes I have a dream of mom and there is a feeling of deep warmth – you know the emotional kind – that I haven’t felt since we lost her. That feeling is no longer a part of my life – its lost to me now unless I’m fooled that mom is around in a dream. My memory of it while awake feels less lucid. I love other people in life, but they all give me a unique sort of emotional responce. So there is no recapturing what someone meant to your life once their gone.

  6. denise  January 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm Reply

    When my husband passed away I made up a big poster of him from when he was young and right up until he passed away,I got a lot of comments about it.

  7. Shannon  January 6, 2014 at 2:22 pm Reply

    You are a beautiful and talented person. This blog really touched me as I have so many wonderful memories of my dad that I keep in a “safe” spot. You are a fabulous writer and photography. Keep doing what you are called to do!

    Shannon and the Armsworthys

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