Life In Pictures

I hadn’t wanted to look back at our family albums… but maybe they could actually be the key to looking forward

As I sit here in my living room waiting for my lift, I’m feeling quite proud of what I’ve achieved over the last twelve months.

It all began when my son-in-law, Paul, asked me for some photographs of my daughter, Carrie, his wife…

Like most families, our photographs have accumulated over the years.

First there was just Brian and me. Then along came Caroline, followed two years later by Jane.

And every step of the way there were the photographs, recording for posterity every birthday, every Christmas, every holiday and all the other family occasions.

Yet over the past twenty years, the only time I’ve even glanced at the photographs has been when one of the girls has had them out for some reason or another.

The rest of the time, the two plastic boxes have remained under the desk in Janey’s old bedroom, ignored and unloved.

In the larger box there were four photo albums, though the fourth one was less than half full; the empty pages I’ve seen as a metaphor for my life ever since.

The other box was full of photographs still in the envelopes they came in.

So when Paul asked me for some photographs of Carrie throughout her life, to put on the poster he was making for her thirtieth birthday, I really had to brace myself.

This time I couldn’t just glance at them. This time I had to go through each album page by page, and then open every single envelope…

There’s a good one of Carrie blowing out her candles on her fifth birthday, with her little sister looking on. Brian is standing next to me and we all look so happy.

Yet only weeks before Carrie’s birthday both girls had had chicken pox!

But none of this is showing on the photograph. None of the stress of having two sick little girls to care for is anywhere to be seen. On the photograph all is wonderful, all is perfect.

Just like the Christmas when Carrie was ten; we’re all sitting around the table with our paper hats and cheesy smiles, yet out of sight, under the table, Carrie’s right foot is encased in plaster – the result of a fall off her bike!

But once again, on the photograph, everything is perfect.

Over the following year or so Brian isn’t in many of the photographs and the ones he is in, he looks a bit shifty.

How didn’t I see it back then? I was such an innocent.

Or perhaps I was just a normal trusting wife and mother who isn’t looking for signs of betrayal when she looks at her husband.

Anyway, shortly after those photographs were taken, Brian left us.

Carrie was eleven, Janey was nine and I was thirty-eight.

And there we have it – the reason I haven’t wanted to look at the family photographs all these years. I didn’t want to be reminded of what I’d lost.

Going back to last year. When I gave Paul those photographs of Carrie through her life, he immediately flopped down onto the settee and began to go through them.

Then as he passed one of the larger photos to me, my son-in-law said, “You know, Fran, you’ve got a lovely family.”

And there we were, in all our finery at a recent family wedding: me, the matriarch, surrounded by, yes, my lovely family.

And what are we doing? We’re all smiling for the camera, of course!

That was the moment I realised: what photographs show isn’t really the story of our lives; they just show glimpses.

And even these glimpses aren’t always a hundred percent true.

Let’s face it, a smiling face can hide any number of things, like a recent illness, a broken ankle or even a broken heart.

Nevertheless, I’ve now collected all of these ‘glimpses of our lives’ – good and bad – and put them into eight rather lovely albums. I’ve even done a small album for each of my girls.

Which brings me back to my feelings of pride today, and my feelings of gratitude to my son-in-law.

In asking for those photographs, without knowing it, Paul was forcing me to look at what I had, instead of dwelling on what I’d lost.

OK, I may have been lonely “on the relationship front” all these years, having had just the odd date here and there. But that doesn’t mean that my life has been empty.

On the contrary, my life has been full – full of family and full of love.

Then I hear a car door slam and footsteps coming down the front path. Minutes later I’m on my way to my daughter, Carrie’s thirty-first birthday party, with a bag containing gifts and two small photo albums.

It may have taken me time to realise it, but if anyone has lost out, it isn’t me.

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