The Pictures

So…long post ahead. For those friends of mine who have lost a parent and sometimes struggle with remembering that they’re still near, this will strike a chord.

Last fall, my dad gave me 5 huge totes full of pictures…like all of the pictures. 1975-present. My whole life and then some. Albums, frames, boxes of loose pictures.

My mom had done a good job of putting pictures in albums until 1990ish, when, for whatever reason, she decided she was done…and she was always trying to get me to organize them for her :). So really, I knew what I was getting into when Dad brought these. Mom still took lots of pictures; they just got put into boxes after that point.

My sister Hayley and I decided to take an evening last fall to start going through the boxes (we made it through 2), just to see what all was in them. In addition to our childhoods in photo form, we found some amazing pictures of both of our parents as children, too.

Part of one box was just an absolute hodge-podge: pictures of my kids, my mom pregnant with me, a few random family Christmas pictures we’d been sent over the years, cousins’ school pictures, and on and on…a good number of them were pictures that had been pulled from albums at one time or another and just never put back*.

There was one pack of pictures, all together in an envelope, in the box that I found a bit curious: my mom’s college friend Paula’s family Christmas pictures. Just her family pictures, 10-15 years’ worth probably. Paula and my mom had been roommates at EIU, and despite living 2+ hours from each other after graduation, kept in touch via letters for years and years. Paula and her husband had 4 beautiful girls that I can remember meeting a few times as a child, but mostly, I remember watching the girls grow up by seeing their Christmas card pictures every year.

It was interesting to me that in this mess of photos, Paula’s were grouped. I mentioned to Hayley that maybe I should send them to her…Hayley thought it was a good idea. And then, for whatever reason, I sat them on my desk and thought about mailing them several times over the next 2 months.

I didn’t know if it would be weird…the adult daughter of your deceased college friend, finding your family pictures? I finally decided to do it, prompted primarily by the idea that if someone sent my family’s pictures to me, I’d be thrilled, and not think it was weird. (Also, I realized that I might not have every year’s Christmas picture of my own family…bummer.)

So a couple of weeks ago, I wrote Paula a little note, stuck it all in an envelope, and sent it on its way.

I cried and cried when I got this email from her earlier this week. Grab a tissue.

To say that you are wonderful and that your Mom is looking over both of us is not enough praise! I got your envelope with all of the pictures that Arlene had saved from past Christmases.

I cleaned out my mom and dad’s pictures three years ago and found some Christmas pictures my mom had saved. So I bought a Christmas photo album and for three years it has just been sitting by my bed. So finally, I thought, “well Mollie is 30 years old, maybe I need to get going on this”.

I finished it by New Years but had several years that were missing and sure enough, they were with your Mom’s collection. Just fascinating isn’t it? Arlene was always helping all of us when we needed it in college. I just looked at those pictures you sent and thought, “my God, she is right here with me on this. She is filling in the blanks that I didn’t have!” Amazing! I cried and smiled the whole time I filled in the missing years.

For real. 5 1/2 years after she died, my mom was able to help someone with something.

I don’t know why Paula’s pictures were all together, and I don’t know why my dad chose last fall to bring me the buckets, but I’ve got to think it’s not coincidence that those things happened the year that Paula put that album together.

The rest of Paula’s email made me vow to do a better job with my boys about talking about what my mom was like. Luke and Bennett have scant few memories of her that are really theirs, and of course, Jack Henry has none, as he was just 9 months old when she passed away. In fact, out of nowhere a couple of times over the past year, he’s had little breakdowns about how it’s just not fair that he didn’t get to know her. Here’s just a little more of the email…

I am so lucky she was in my life. I still cannot believe she is gone. I think of her often and always with a smile. She was such a kind, kind friend…

Sometimes for me, the missing her is kinda far away, and sometimes it’s very near, and all this week it’s been just below the surface. That familiar mixture of it being not fair that she died at 55 and of feeling so thankful that she was my mom and we had the years we did, of “wow, it feels like yesterday” since she died, and “so much has happened since, how can it only be 5 years?”.

I don’t believe in praying to or for the dead, but I very much believe that God blesses us with reminders of those we’ve lost. I’m so thankful that I got a reminder this week.

PS…if you’d like to comment on this, will you do so here, instead of on the Facebook link? I’d love to have all of the comments here, particularly so Paula can see them, too. Thanks, friends.

*I think this justifies me being totally OCD about my albums.

12 responses to “The Pictures

  1. So nice Nicole. I’m glad you & Hayley are working on them together.

  2. Beautiful Nicole! How neat to see God’s hand in all of this…and in reminding you of how special your mom was to so many!

  3. I love hearing stuff like this!

  4. Nicole, I wrote a long reply. Then they asked for my password. I couldn’t remember and in the process of resetting it, I lost the reply……….hate when that happens. I told you in the post that even though I never spent a lot of time with your Mom, I just loved her, as I have told you before. She was so darned nice and friendly. She and some of her friends came out to my shop a couple times to paint. I ran across some pictures the other day of her and the friends painting a project. I think it was the night she painted the concrete paver with the snowman. There was much laughter and chatter on those nights. Loved it!!! You and your siblings were so blessed to have had such a great Mother and role model in your life!!!

  5. What a touching story! It brought back so many memories of your mom and the fun times spent with Paula and Jamie. She was a humble, kind person and I am so lucky to have her as my close friend for many years.

  6. Very sweet and touching! Thanks for sharing. I like to discuss and hear other people who can relate to a loss of a parent. Although, it’s different circumstances you feel like someone gets it and understands and goes through the same exact feelings you go through. Thanks for sharing and your mom is very much missed and would be so proud of you and your family! :)

  7. I’ve told you before about an experience I had with your mom when she was the one helping me, while she had her own struggle going on. So I love this story, but it doesn’t surprise me! Such a genuinely caring, unselfish soul:)

  8. I love this blog. So sweet :) Made me tear up a little too

    Shauna

  9. What a great tribute to your Mom and your wonderful family! Nicole, you are being such a good Mom and your Mom must have been a great role model. I was at your Mom’s funeral and it was very obvious that she was much loved.
    Judy Owens

  10. I can’t get over how much Bennett looks like you when you were younger.

  11. This pulled at my heart strings a bit. As we near the 1 year mark of losing my dad I have major anxiety about it. It seems like just yesterday and a million years all at the same time. If April 9th turns into April 11th in a blink I will be ok with that. Thanks for posting this great story. Your mom would be so proud of you and all your siblings. How blessed you are!

  12. So, I’m just now reading this. Don’t get over to the blog as often as I should, but tears are rolling down my cheeks as I read this. Obviously I can so relate with the “Sometimes for me, the missing her is kinda far away, and sometimes it’s very near, and all this week it’s been just below the surface. That familiar mixture of it being not fair that she died at 55 and of feeling so thankful that she was my mom and we had the years we did, of “wow, it feels like yesterday” since she died, and “so much has happened since, how can it only be 5 years?” It is so how I feel. Thanks for sharing this! Love you!

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