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Why I Wanted to Delete This Picture of My Child, and Why I Didn't

Have you ever been going about a completely ordinary day when suddenly, an unexpected memory surfaces?

Maybe you are in the middle of playing with your kids or going for a jog or wandering aimlessly through the aisles of Target when it happens. Seemingly from out of nowhere, you catch a whiff of Curve cologne, for example, while perusing the Dollar Spot in Target, and you are immediately transported back to 1998, your first school dance and “the one that got away.” Or a familiar sound catches your attention and you are instantly reminded of a familiar person or place you wish wasn’t so familiar — like a hospital waiting room and a doctor telling you what seems like devastating news. Sometimes the memory leaves you with a smile. Sometimes it leaves you in tears. It almost always catches you off guard.

Just yesterday, that happened to me. I was searching through old pictures on my phone for a DIY Pinterest picture project I will likely never complete. A smile spread across my face as I looked at an image of my oldest daughter’s first day of kindergarten — her front teeth missing, two brown braided pigtails, her backpack twice the size of her tiny body. I laughed at the picture of my daughters in the tub with beards made of bubbles on their little chins, silly expressions plastered on their faces.

But for whatever reason, I was unprepared for one image and the feelings it brought with it.

happy baby smiling

On first glance, the black and white picture looks innocent enough: a 2-month-old baby, wide-eyed with an even wider smile. I took a deep breath, preparing myself for tears. I sat transfixed on the image before me, and I was transported back to a distant time.

Not that long ago, this picture was new. It was an absolute favorite of mine. I remember posting the image on Facebook. I remember the comments of, “She is such a happy baby” and “You are so lucky to see that happy smile each day.” I remember she was a really, truly happy baby, and I was really, truly lucky.

A few days after this picture was taken, our lives fell apart. At least, that is what we thought. Looking back, it was only a brief moment in time. Three years. Seven doctors. Two hospitals. Two therapists. One PICU stay. Too many tests, evaluations and blood draws to count. And yet, reflecting on it all three years later, it was nowhere near as painful and terrifying as it had once felt. We survived. We are surviving. But at that time — that very moment — it was the end of the world.

Yesterday was not my first “run-in” with this picture though. A couple months after taking the picture, I stumbled upon it and almost deleted it. I can still distinctly recall the tears welling up in my eyes as I looked up at the ceiling to keep them from rolling down my face. I remember the anger creeping into my body, filling my lungs and making it hard for me to breathe, let alone answer when my 6-year-old asked, “Mommy, is everything OK?”

From that moment on, the picture served as a constant reminder what we once had: a happy and healthy baby who was — at one point — “typically developing.” For the next few years, each time I came across the image, I would recall a comfort, simplicity and peace I was once accustomed to but no longer knew, because nothing in my life felt comfortable, simple or peaceful. More than once, my finger would linger over the delete key, prepared to strike the image from my computer screen and my memory forever.

But I could never bring myself to do it.

And then yesterday, the picture crossed my path again. This time though, tears did not fill my eyes. Anger did not fill my heart. I looked at that smile in the picture — sheer joy — and I smiled too. For the first time, I noticed something new: the happiness in my daughter’s smile didn’t stop with this one picture. Mixed in with screenshots of directions to the hospital and Google search results, were images of so much happiness in our lives. That happiness was still there despite everything else we were going through, and it is still present in our daily lives. It is present in my daughter’s face when her sister lays next to her on the floor, playfully tickling her feet and sweetly telling her “sister secrets.” That happiness is present when I hold her in my arms and rock her to sleep as she snuggles softly into the safety of my arms. It is present each time my eyes meet hers, each time my ears hear her giggle, each time her hand grasps for mine.

As time passes, I am able to tell our story with minimal tears and without my voice quivering. I am able to find the beauty in the everyday moments I once took for granted. I am able to say that while the grief may not entirely go away, it has become manageable and moved from filling the entirety of my day to simply sitting in a corner of a room I rarely visit.

I glanced at the black and white image again. “I feel better,” I said to myself, “maybe now is the time to get rid of this image for good — on a positive note.” But instead of hitting “delete,” I printed the picture — not for my Pinterest project that will probably never come to fruition, but to remind myself that even among stress and complications and conflict, happiness can and does still exist.

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