A photo to remember the way mom set up her dining room.

Let me explain how a simple act can give you peace and helpful memory reminders for years to come.

It was November 2010 and I was desperately looking through old family photos. It had been 11 months since my mom passed away and I was missing her like crazy. I found endless perfectly posed photos. Photos of the dogs, random sunsets, and birthday parties. Finally, I found the picture I was looking for. It was the dining room, with the large table fully set for our last family Christmas gathering. I had taken this photo not knowing it would be our last family dinner together before my mom would die unexpectedly just weeks later.

What I loved most about the photo ironically was not the actual dining table. It was way I could once again see the way my mom hung a wreath in her window or the mirror hanging on the wall that she had faux finished with paint to make it look like the paint was crackling. It was the pewter tray she loved so dearly holding the tree candles. It was the how she hosted, all of her personal touches, her showing her love for us for that day. 

If I could tell every person who has just lost someone dear to them one thing it would be, “take photographs”.  Go into your loved one’s space and take a photo of the way the reading glasses are sitting on the side table, how the spice cabinet looks or the jacket hanging on the hook. Photograph the wall of framed photos, the collection of ball caps or figurines. Capture the yard, the tools on a workbench in the garage, the view from the kitchen table, even your favorite chair. 

After my mom passed, my sisters and I had spent many months helping our dad to go through things, declutter, and clean up. Our dad is more of a minimalist and mourning our mom took up most of his energy that first part of the year. He had very little emotional attachment to the stuff. None of it connected him to her.

For me however, I see my mom in all of it.  I see her hands arranging the flowers into the vase on the table. Her turquoise ring and sterling silver jewelry adorning her fingers and wrists remind me of seeing her hands peeling vegetables. These things, especially now that she is gone, give me a piece of her again. They make me feel connected to not just my mom, but her energy and her spirit.

In the time after someone passes away there is a brief period when the way they had things is still in place. For me having photos is something that I did accidentally. I wish I had done more. I wish I had photos of every room. I wish I had a reminder of how her side of the bed looked. I wish I could remember her lamp, what she was reading, what color was the comforter on the bed.

That November when I was looking through photos, my goal was to put together little albums for each of my siblings. These albums were filled with images of the houses we all had lived in. The photos brought us images of the bold wallpapers, wall hangings and the way the bamboo plant sat under the stained glass panel in the trio of kitchen windows.

Photos have served as a strand of connection to my mom and to that time of my life. A simpler time. It’s been ten years now since she passed away. I only wish I had more photos to connect me to that life when she was here with me.

Take photos. Even better, don’t wait until people pass away. At your gatherings, don’t limit your photo taking to those of perfectly cropped, smiling faces. Zoom out and capture the room also, Get some photos of the decor, the things that have blended into the background, the people who aren’t expecting to be the center of attention. 

You won’t regret taking too many pictures. We can’t bring our loved ones back, but we can honor them and love them. We can remember them, their human life and the way they lived it through these photos. We can share these images with our kids and grandkids as we tell them about their relatives. We can feel a deeper connection to not just our loved one’s face, but their essence, their style, and their human-ness through photos.