I am sentimental, but not maudlin. Anniversaries of deaths are not front and center to me. This year, however, I have been wrestling thousands of pictures into chronological order, to create a disciplined story of the Dahl family. I trapped myself.
I over-photographed. I stopped putting things in albums long ago, and tossed them into thematic tubs: Pat’s Senior Year, Cruise, London. Those musty haystacks of pictures are now being reunited with other photos from the associated year. If only Kodak was as simple to arrange by DATE as I Photo. And speaking of I Photo- there are 10 years of memories captured only in digital format. That is Phase 2. For now, each boy will receive his Life in One Album, a Baby Book, A School Records folder and a tub of certificates and programs. I hope to winnow down 20,000 photos into an album per decade for the family. Trust me, some decades begged to be photographed….some, not so much. 1995 seems to be a bit of a black hole. I did, however locate pictures of Steve’s last day of drinking. Like Dorian Gray- he is aging backward. I hate that, as the reverse is true for me.
My methodology has been to take each pre-sorted year and spread the pictures out by months. Thursday I reordered 1998. January of 1998 was full of Joliat family, because Mom and Dad took us all on a cruise. As the year arrived, we were all together, in silly hats, with leis and noisemakers. Mom had a crown on, and a sparkly vest. She looked elated to see her beloved Tom, 6 kids, and 13 grandkids forming a circle…or a cha cha line of love.
In August, we all returned to Royal Oak to celebrate Dad’s birthday.
PHOTOS: Dad blows out candles, adoring Mom by his side.
The unspoken fact was that Mom was having aortic valve surgery. We were all false in our levity. She was frightened. Dad was stoic- he had lived great years since his bypass. She checked into Beaumont Hospital, looking like a little bird under the covers.
We waited. She made it. I took no pictures of my Mom in recovery. Some moments are best left to the editing function of the brain.
I left before she was discharged. Life for three teenagers beckoned….
300 miles away, I photographed my 3 boys, immortalizing the first day of Pat’s Senior Year, Mike’s homecoming, and Matt’s life as an 8th grader.
October 17th, Mom’s rejiggered heart stopped as she slept. A gentle passage, sudden for those of us who considered her a “given” in our lives. Dad was strong. We muddled through, all holding each other up. Pictures: hollowed out family at dinner after the funeral, Mom’s sad old dog, Dad going to the office. We signed some papers. Divided the thank you note job. Then we scattered again, and life resumed.
Next pictures: Dad,Thanksgiving morning, making his first turkey, ever. Up at dawn, chopping and manning the frying pan of innards for the gravy.
More: All of us jammed around the table with glasses raised to toast the tighter knot of family. Deep sadness in our eyes. Kids’ table. Doing dishes, by hand as per Mom’s expectations.
And onto: Christmas, this year in Florida, so I could greet Dad when he went for the winter. New traditions.
It was a stunning grid of pictures that I had arranged on the kitchen island. Joyous life, death, family, continuation …in 12 piles of 4 x 6 gloss. How sharply the arc of life can descend. 8 months. Life over. Family reconfigured. Onward….
Like a bolt out of the blue, I was lost in grief. Not just for Mom, but for the loss of Dad, exactly 3 years ago, on March 25. He soldiered on, embracing his “new normal” with spirit. He walked the walk of making every day “tip top”. He was never self pitying, not for a moment. He had a great life: good kids, adequate golf, Florida Winters and a cupboard of Scotch. He knew he was dying, but he never told us, and he never stopped living.
I wondered if he ever sat at the kitchen table and just cried for all that was lost, all that had passed? I sincerely doubt it. Out of respect for his iron will, I pushed myself from the counter and went outside. Bees were hovering. Flowers had erupted, and the pear trees had blossomed.
On the flagstone path in the yard, a Monarch butterfly was struggling to work its new wings. Somehow, I think it was a reminder. Life for a butterfly is about 58 days. Almost all of that time is spent doing the hard work of coming into the world. By the time the Monarch is drying and strengthening its wings, it has very few days left. My visitor probably already laid its eggs and died.
I, on the other hand, have been blessed with many days since I grew wings and flew. Those wings were made strong by watching both parents navigate the complications of life with faith and grace. Missing them is a gift- it acknowledges the good fortune of my life story.
I blazed through my last decade of old school pictures. No time to dwell on the past, time to embrace the NOW that gives ME great kids, a fine husband, loyal dogs, amazing friends and cupboard of Vodka. It’ll be 5:00 here today, and in Dad’s name- I will raise a glass. Thanks for the memories, Pop. I intend to keep making them. However, I will not print the next 50,000 images. Life goes on….digitally.