Several weeks after Sadie died my sister-in-law had the first picture we took of her painted on canvas for us. It is a beautiful shot taken as I held her for the first time, all chubby cheeks and serene newness.
It has been a focal point sitting on our bedroom mantle ever since. Most mornings I send a quick I love you, Munchie towards it before heading off to work. There have been times that I’ve sat on my bed in front of it, sobbing under the weight of how much I miss her.
My brother took my second favorite photo. In it Sadie is sleeping in her father’s arms. The pose of her tiny little fist curled up under her chin like a miniature, tired old man makes me smile. I’d probably have a wall-sized mural of it instead if I didn’t think it’d have every guest running for the hills, calling me a whacko over their shoulder as they went.
The honest truth is that I struggle between that sentiment and a lingering guilt over not having enough of them up.
The strength of our love for her merits having her image splayed across every surface we own. So why the hell should I worry about whether or not it makes our dinner guests fidget in their seats?
We probably took several hundred photos of Sadie over the course of her six weeks with us. At any point I can open those files and look back for as long or as little that I care to. They allow me to remember every curve of her perfect face. The video clips remind me of how hilarious we found it when she grunted her way through a poop. They allow me to grieve as and when I choose.
These images we keep tell our heartbreaking truth: that along with our memories, they are all we have left.
Our only pictures of Silas are from when he was still in Lu's womb, and after he had passed away. His presence was too brief and traumatic to capture while he was alive.
It is almost impossible for me to look at photos of Lu while pregnant, but I need to see his beautiful and serene face in the collage Lu created in the months after he left us. In it he is newborn and perfect, a gorgeous little kid. The photo was taken by the hospital staff and given to us in a box along with imprints of his hands and feet in clay and in ink, a lock of his hair, the tiny hat he wore at the hospital and several other beautiful photographs of him.
There is absolutely no question that this collage or a photograph of Silas will always be displayed in our house. He was our child and although we did not get to have him long, the physical presence of his life and existence is vitally important to us. Frankly, I've never for a moment considered any other arrangement, or even if having his photo displayed would make guests feel uncomfortable.
Just the idea that someone would want for us to do this differently to make them feel better makes me extremely upset.
It is our choice to remember our son openly and honestly in our home. If any friend or family had any other opinion they would be well served to keep that entirely to themselves. It is up to them to deal with their own inability to face reality and not at all my problem.
In the framed collage Lu created is his photo, the ink imprints of his hands and feet, a haiku I wrote about missing him, a photograph of his name written in the sand on the beach at sunset, photographs of the tattoos Lu and I both have in his honor, and a small print of the constellation Orion, his middle name. It is not nearly enough or anywhere what we deserve but it is what we have, and somehow, it will have to do.
What I think about displaying pictures of dead babies in one's house is that no-one but the parents gets to have an opinion on this. A picture, bazzillion pictures, where, how-- none of this is up for discussion. Anyone who doesn't like what the parents do is welcome, and is hereby courteously invited, to shut the fuck up. People's homes, coincidentally much like their grief, are theirs. Both are about them and their family, not about anyone else's idea of what's done or what's proper. Even when an anyone else in question is a close friend or relative. Particularly when it's a close friend or relative.
You'd think that with attitude like that I'd have at least a couple pictures of A up around here. But we have none. Back then my hospital didn't offer contact information for NILMDTS photographers. Even if they did, I don't think at the time we would've been comfortable letting a stranger into that room. Scratch that-- I know I wasn't. It bugs me now, because now I would be. And because what we ended up with are the few pictures my sister took with my blackberry. The quality isn't great. It's not awful either, but it's not great.
I've edited some of the pictures we have, cropped, played with effects. Over the years, I posted two of these edited photographs on my blog. I have all of them, original set and my edits, on my laptop. I can look whenever I want to.
There were stretches of time when I looked every day, sometimes several times a day. But there have also been stretches of months when I haven't looked at all. Not because I "moved on" or any such platitude. I think of A every day, I miss him all the time. But I don't need to see the pictures all the time.
All of these things are true, but none of them are the real reason we don't have the pictures up. The real reason is that parents is plural. There's two of us in this, and JD didn't want the images displayed. He doesn't usually look at them either. He doesn't need to. Not to remember, not to love, not to grieve, and not to miss. I think, truthfully, that in the photographs JD sees too much of his own pain, that the pain he sees clouds the beautiful baby whose pictures those are. I think he sees more clearly in his mind's eye.
And so we don't have any photographs up. What we do have are the two framed drawings of Monkey's, family portraits both. One she started while A was still alive, all of us lined up in front of our house, A with a hypothetical future dog. She had done the outlines in pencil and had started on coloring it in with markers before A died. In the days following our return from the hospital, cleaning her room with her, we stumbled upon the drawing. I asked if I could have it, and she said no-- she would finish it and we would hang it on the wall, for everyone. Finishing the drawing was hard on her. It took her weeks, and in the end some of the coloring is sloppy, too sloppy for what she was normally doing back then, and in darker colors than her usual palette.
The second is the portrait she did in art class last year. It's in paint and is fairly impressive artistically, for a seven year old. As in, for example, people have recognizable features. There are two small boys in that one. Nearly identical, with one slightly larger than the other. She proclaimed the larger one to be A, and the smaller (duh!) the Cub. The boys in the painting are holding hands.
So this is the idiosyncratic place our little family finds itself on the pictures thing. But like much else in this whole babylost experience, it is not etched in stone. A's actual photograph might still end up on a wall in our home. For a while now I have been thinking about creating a collage type arrangement in one frame, floating or otherwise, with pictures of all three of my kids. I think I want to have something of all of them together, since, you know, I can't have all of them together. I am not sure when I'd do it, or how, yet. I was thinking of using the picture of A's hand in mine, but I am not sure what pictures of Monkey and the Cub to use with that. So it might end up being a picture where you can see A's beautiful little face, or maybe both. See how figured out I am?
And if I do manage to make something that I like, I don't know where I would want to put it. In my office, where most wouldn't see it, or somewhere more conspicuous? It depends. Depends on what it comes out looking like-- too tender and intimate to share with just anyone or something I am ok with people seeing? And depends, of course, on how JD will feel about it. I guess, again like so much in this strange world of ours, we will figure it out when (if) we get there.
How do you feel about displaying photos of your baby in your home or in other personal spaces? If you've chosen to feature them in your life, how have your photos been met by loved ones and friends? What do photographs of your child mean to you?