I love Facebook memories. I know lots of widows hate them, because it reminds them of what they’ve lost. But most of my memories are of my children, which I think makes it easier from a grief standpoint. They’re often photographs or videos that Shawn took and they remind me what he found hilarious or adorable about the kids.
When we were first parents, we were debating with some other parents about whether it was okay to put your kids’ images online. “I think being able to document their young lives is actually pretty cool,” Shawn said. “I mean, think about it. They’re going to have this great record of their youth that we curate.”
I agreed with him at the time, but I had no idea how important these memories would become. Not just for me, but for my kids. Even now, at least once a week something new comes up and we watch the video or examine the photograph. Sometimes I get to tell a story along with it – often one about how their dad saw them as young kids.
The other day, a video popped up from three years ago. In it, Tommy dances around the living room. First, he’s alone, and then Austin joins him and finally Claire enters and does a few ballet moves. They are all laughing and clearly performing for their father.
At the time, Shawn wasn’t yet displaying significant symptoms. It took a few more weeks before the intense stomach aches and trips to the doctor began. This video may have been the last one he captured before we thought anything was wrong. It was also one of the last bits of pure innocence we captured of the kids before our world fell apart.
I could not stop watching it.
As I played it for the 20th time, I kept thinking one thing: They were so little.
I think one of the reasons I kept watching it was because I started to realize what other people must have thought when they saw my family in late 2017 and early 2018. When I brought the kids to the hospital, they saw kids that were that size. When hospice came to our house, they saw one littered with diapers and toys. When I went to the grocery store with all three kids and ran into a parent I knew vaguely, this image is what they saw.
And I didn’t see it.
Of course, I knew that being with my dying husband during the day and reading “Goodnight Moon” at night to my 3-year-old was not normal. I knew that life with three young kids on my own was really hard. But I honestly didn’t realize how I must have looked to the outside world.
I was just trying to make it. I was just trying to get through each day, and in a way, I was blind to my own situation. I struggled, that’s for sure. But I didn’t constantly think about what I was doing. Instead, I just kept moving through each day. I’d reflect when I was writing, but mostly I was just trying to keep the baby wipes stocked and cram some chicken nuggets in three little mouths every night.
When I look back on it now, it is almost shocking to realize how little my kids were when their father died. Just three, six and eight.
The video from three years ago gave me a glimpse into what other people must have thought when they saw my family back then. It was shocking to watch, in a way, even though it was my own family I was looking at.
I guess it’s better that I wasn’t constantly shocked at my own situation back then. Yes, I understood that my life was not easy. But I moved through it, as many people do with difficult things. In a way, I was protected from the shock, because it was just my life. And when it’s just your life, there is a level of acceptance you sometimes have to have in order to keep moving forward.
Three years is not that long. And yet, it’s long enough for me to now look back and be shocked by what I was facing just a short time ago.
The other day, I was going through photos and found the one displayed on the top of this blog post. Chris’s sister, Becky, took it one day after church. Shawn wasn’t with us because he wasn’t feeling well, but I remember laughing a lot that day with Becky and our kids.
Just a few weeks later, Shawn was actively dying. Becky had given me the photos before he went into the hospital, and as he was recovering from surgery, we looked at them. “These are so great,” he said, and then told me that we were lucky that she captured the kids when they were so young.
At the time, I remember thinking how they had all gotten so big. They weren’t babies anymore.
But really, they were. I just couldn’t really see it.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.