Photographs as family history

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Last week was a bit of a rough one for my family. My stepfather Steve's dear dad Loring passed. At 91 years young, he had been slowly deteriorating and hardly the strong man we all recalled in his final months. Steve's mom and Loring's wife of more than 60 years (it would have been 66 this Friday!), Polly, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago and heartbreakingly didn't know her family or her surroundings, spending most of her time stationary in bed at a care facility. Following Loring's death, Steve's sister Barbara visited Polly to tell her of his passing even tho she or the news didn't outwardly register. Barbara continued anyway, and told Polly that it was ok for her, too, to let go, to go see him... Wouldn't you know, a few hours later, she did just that, peacefully exiting this life to go find her love. She was 89 years old.

Wow.

It's a chilling love story. Simply amazing.

Their double funeral was in their hometown church in Rutland, Massachusetts, where they were longtime members and Polly led the choir and pageants for years. The pews were packed and the tears plentiful as family and friends remembered this dear couple. Personally, I've never done well with death. From dogs to dear friends and relatives, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the why, how and what's next. My cousin Jeff (whose wedding I photographed in 2001- my very first one!) read a poem from Henry Van Dyke during the service, a nod to Polly and Loring's love for Maine (they vacationed in Ogunquit, hence why my mom & Steve, cousins, etc., have summer cottages there too), that actually helped me quite a lot. It's a beautiful metaphor and I hope it is ok to share with you here in case it offers some comfort for you, too.

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…

Later everyone filed downstairs for tea sandwiches and sweets, sharing stories and offering hugs to one another. I was taken with an extensive display of photographs; I loved studying the vitality and youthfulness, the smiles and joy, milestone moments and grace of which both Polly and Loring aged. Their wedding album, a deep red and worn through the edges at the corners, sat on a table for browsing and after thumbing through its fragile pages again and again, I asked if I could take it home with me to scan to make sure we have these images for always. Captivated by the poses, the outfits and the traditions, I had several looking-from-the-outside-in double-takes of identifying so strongly with the loss for my family AND the power of my profession. Both as a historical marker and medium for a family's legacy, in that moment I truly understood why people say the one item they would grab while running from a burning building would be their family wedding album. I can't imagine not having these to share with my family and pass down to theirs and so on.

Thank you, Polly and Loring, for the reminder and for sharing yourselves with us all. You are dearly missed and forever loved. xoxo

 

2 comments:

  1. So, so amazing and beautiful, thank you for sharing. Truly sorry for your loss, Em. Hold them dearly in your heart always. Their story will surely stay in mine.

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