I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or trend that’s recently led me to several online articles and posts discussing whether to keep and/or display photos of deceased loved ones. When I originally started writing this post I began discussing those who I think are talking about this topic ‘well’ and those whose advice I find downright disturbing, but then I stopped myself because who cares? You’re here and hopefully you trust what we have to say so I’m just going to get right down our thoughts on the matter.
Whether or not to display photos of deceased loved ones, in my mind, ought to be a benign conversation. I know how I feel – photos are a beautiful and treasured reminder of loved ones who are gone. However, I also understand there are plenty of people who prefer not to display photos for perfectly good reasons. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.
I’m sure this has been a non-issue for many of you, but for others it’s not quite so straightforward. It just makes me immensely sad to think of some widow or widower stuffing photos into a box because someone made them feel that leaving photos up is wrong, abnormal, or an indication that they are stuck in their grief.
There are reasons why people hold on to photos and there are reasons why people don’t. Here are a few, but not all, of those reasons.
Why People Hold on to Photos:
For children and/or other family members…like brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters. When someone dies, his or her branch on the family tree doesn’t just fall off. That person is still a part of the family and hiding reminders of them, even if you would prefer to do so, can make other family members feel like their loved one’s memory is being erased.
Because you’re still a family: I have 5 brothers and sisters and, as I’ve said in past posts, we all still consider our mother to be a part of our family. She exists in memory and she continues to influence our family to this day. Whether her photo hangs on the wall has no bearing on her prominence in our family; but memories and moments involving her are an important part of our history. So why shouldn’t they exist in our homes?
Photos also give future generations a chance to connect with their deceased ancestors and family history. How else would you know you have your great grandmother’s nose or see aunt Carol smiling with her prized roses? Anyway, what was the point of taking photographs of these people if you didn’t plan on looking at them later on down the road?
Nostalgia and Memories: This is the most common-sense reason and why many people take pictures in the first place. Photos preserve memories like pre-school graduations, birthday parties, kids posing happily with artistic creations, weddings, etc. You know these moments are fleeting and in time our brain will no longer be able to remember them with the same vivid imagery, so you take photos.
Photos can make you smile, laugh, cry and remember. If you don’t believe me just ask Kodak, Canon, Shutterfly, Instagram, Facebook or Apple. Mankind’s penchant for taking and sharing images is stronger than ever.
Photos are tangible: One of the most difficult things about losing someone is the feeling that their memory is fading. Their smell, voice, and the feeling of their embrace – you wish for them to appear in a dream just so you can remember these things again. Photos are an accurate and literal reminder of your loved one.
They like photos: Dude, some people just really like photos. Put an avid camera clicker together with someone who really likes their family and what do you get? You get photo album after photo album of family members and friends. Accept it.
An appreciation for history: Some people just really care about history. My older brother, for example, is a history buff. He will leave no stone unturned in archiving our family history. It’s pretty cool and I’m certain our family’s next generation will appreciate his efforts; but seldom does a letter, film negative, or VHS recording that goes unturned in his pursuit.
In honor and remembrance: Many people prominently display photos of deceased individuals to honor them. I have wasted an irrational amount of time walking down the halls of Johns Hopkins Hospital looking at dead doctor after dead doctor. Why are they all hanging there? To honor and give them their place of prominence in an institution they helped to create and grow.
Portrait paintings of the rich, powerful, important and influential have been commissioned for countless microcosms throughout history. Walk the hall of any government building, club, or business and you will see this is true. In the same vein, it should come as no surprise that someone might see the family portrait as a way of honoring and paying tribute to individuals they love and adore.
Why People Don’t Have or Display Photos:
Photographs are a grief trigger or are too hard to look At: As we’ve established, many people find looking at photos of their deceased loved one to be very difficult. They may not choose to get rid of photos, but they might choose to put them away for a while. Sometimes people will continue to display photos even though it’s hard because they feel putting them away is disrespectful or means they are forgetting.
I think it’s probably incorrect to look at the act of putting photos away as a signal someone is ‘moving on’. Part of grieving well is learning to integrate the deceased loved one’s memory and being able to look at photos of deceased loved ones and feel happy or positive emotion is often a signal someone is doing better.
Grievers should feel okay about putting away photographs if they need to, this in no way means you are forgetting. Just because you put their photo away doesn’t mean the photos are gone forever. Though they may be too hard to look at right now, there will hopefully come a day when you can look at them and also remember fond memories.
Important Note: If you have children in the home, I would consider this more carefully. Consistency and connection are important for children and they may not understand the complicationed emotions and actions of adults. Please e-mail us if you want more clarification on this topic.
Photos are a grief trigger for others: Although you may be okay with photos, others in your house may not be. Together you may decide to put away photos away or you may arrive at some other compromise.
There aren’t any: Sadly some people don’t actually have any photos of their loved one. This is often the case with the death of a young child or baby, when someone has been distant or estranged, if the family photos were lost or destroyed, or if the person was just generally camera shy.
To avoid judgment or having to explain: Some may worry that others will judge their coping; some grievers may feel internal and/or external pressure to put the photos away, and some people may put photos away to avoid having to answer questions from visitors who didn’t know their loved one.
Bad memories: Not everyone has a past full of happy moments and fond memories. Old photos may be a reminder of a past they would just as soon forget.
Photos make them feel stuck: For some it may feel difficult to move forward when reminders of the past are everywhere. For this reason they may choose to put a few or all of the photos away.
Do you display photos of your deceased loved ones? Why or why not? Leave a comment and don’t forget to subscribe to receive posts straight to your eMail inbox.