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Pictures of You: Grief, Love and Memories

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We never had the opportunity to establish a home together. So when Dana died, I was left with only a handful of physical things from our relationship. It consisted of some gifts she had given me, letters and cards as well as a lot of pictures. Our relationship was long before the modern day cell phone “selfie” era, but we always took a lot pictures. We traveled often and did so many fun things together. We always seemed to have our camera nearby. We would take the finished rolls of film to the local Thrifty Drug to get developed. We always ordered doubles so we would each have a set of the developed photos.

She would sometimes make me a photo album or a photo collage. Our favorite photos would end up in frames that would be prominently displayed. We would buy each other special frames, usually at the local Hallmark store. The pictures that ended up not making it into a frame or album sat in envelopes in my desk drawer. After Dana died, I was amazed at truly how many pictures we had taken together.

Collage of photos of Bob and Dana

In the first several years, I kept many of them displayed. I eventually put them away. They ended up in a box in the closet. This box also contained the letters and cards, as well as some gifts (such as stuffed animals) she had given me. As the years started to pass, I would look into this box every so often. Every time I would look, I would become overwhelmed with emotion. This usually resulted in uncontrollable tears. So for many years, I could not bear more than a quick look at a few of the pictures inside the box. I couldn’t handle the pain and emotion of diving into the contents and looking through the dozens of envelopes of pictures.

I have a truckload full of love and pain in my head and heart that I carry with me each day. But I also have this box. This box has made nine moves now. My wife Shelly would ultimately put it in a safe spot as we would get settled into our new home. I would always know where it was, but I could rarely get myself to look inside it. Sometimes it felt like a cloud hanging over me. In my years of anger, I remember thinking, “I had something so special, and now all I have is this box to show for it.”

Last year we moved from Idaho back down here to Arizona. As I was attempting to get organized and unpacked, I decided to dig into and organize the box. Wow, the emotion and raw, vivid memories overwhelmed me. I sat there and looked at every picture, read every letter and card. I was blown away by the emotion of it all. I had traveled this journey of loss for over a quarter of a century now. It was with me each and every day. But as I finally came face to face with the detail of this box, I was stricken by how much detail I could remember surrounding each picture, each card, each letter. I cried, I cried a lot. I think I cried every day for at least two weeks after my initial organization of the box. But I also felt an amazing sense of peace and happiness surrounding it. It seemed to validate that what I had was extremely unique and special; it could never be taken from me, and it deserved to be celebrated.

I have since dug into the box several times. Last year on the anniversary of her death, I posted a few of the photos on my Facebook page. It touched a lot of people. I will do that again in a few weeks as the anniversary of her death comes again. I actually just settled on the three pictures I will use. I am so thankful we took so many pictures. As I age and so much time passes, some of the detail of specific dates and events had started to fade. That really has bothered me. But by possessing and celebrating these pictures, the detail of so many fun and special times will continue to be with me.

Dana and Bob

Follow this journey on Ten Thousand Days.

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Originally published: October 30, 2017
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