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Snapshots of Grief: Reliving a Relationship in Photographs

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When my fiancee died, our life together was reduced to 782 photographs of her. Looking at them helps me feel more connected to her, but it also makes me wish I had done a better job of documenting our relationship. Had I been taking pictures of the wrong things?

Here we are at an amusement park, smiling at the camera. Here we are picking apples. Here we are dancing at a friend’s wedding…

My favorite pictures are displayed throughout my apartment like relics. They sit in frames on bookshelves, end tables and every other flat surface. I worry that visitors will think I am living in a shrine to her. Perhaps I am, but I don’t care. I need to see her face.

Here we are at the beach. Here we are at a party. She’s wearing her best black dress. My arm is wrapped around her shoulder…

To find the photos of her that I wanted, I had to search through over 10 years of images. Between the two of us, we took thousands of pictures. However, most of the pictures we took hold no interest to me. Snapshots of the giant sequoias of Yosemite, the alligators of the Everglades and other sites that I once considered wondrous are now worthless. I discarded them as quickly as I could because I resented every picture that didn’t have her in it. All I could see in those photos was lost opportunities. Every dull picture of a sunset could have been a picture of her looking at a sunset.

Here we are by the waterfall, our clothes soaked from the spray…

When she’s in the foreground of pictures, it makes the backgrounds worth seeing again because they can add context and unlock memories of what happened before or after the picture was taken, the little moments that weren’t captured on film.

Here we are at Thanksgiving dinner. She’s wearing the green sweater…

When we took a trip to Hawaii, we ventured out onto the old lava beds in the late afternoon and waited until nightfall. After sunset, with no other light in the island sky other than the moon and stars, it was easy to spot the hot lava burning in the distance. At the time, I thought that seeing an active volcano was a highlight of the trip, the part I needed a picture of. I was wrong. The part I really want to remember came after I had packed up our cameras in my backpack. It was the way we held hands on the uneven rocks as we hiked back to the car in the pitch dark. It was how I felt like we were kids at camp as we flicked our flashlights back and forth over the dark black lava looking for cracks, helping each other find safe footfalls and pointing out dangerous crevices ahead. It was how we planned the next day’s itinerary on the car ride back to the hotel. It was how she teased me about my timid driving as cars passed me on the winding roads until she fell asleep in the passenger seat. It was how adorable she looked sleeping there, exhausted and happy.

Here she is at her graduation. Her father looks so proud…

I have so many pictures from vacations and parties. I should have taken at least one picture of her brushing her teeth before bed. I should have taken a picture of her browsing through the new fiction section of the bookstore. I should have taken a picture of her sitting across the table from me at her favorite restaurant. But that won’t happen. All I have left is 782 pictures and regrets I can’t even begin to count.

Here she is talking with friends at a surprise party. Here she is laughing. Here she is. Here she is. Here she is…

I am retouching old scanned photos of her. I prefer to remove every scratch individually instead of letting a Photoshop filter handle it all at once. I’m zoomed into her face at a high magnification. Spotting a bit of dust from the scanner bed, I mouse over her cheek to brush it off of her skin. That’s when it hits me. This is how we spend time together now. This is the new intimacy.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 24, 2017
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