I was so very thankful that I was a picture taking nut over the years. For when my spouse suddenly was killed I had so many pictures to tell stories of his life here on earth. I can remember sifting through the photo albums and envelopes of pictures that had not made it into the albums yet picking out just the right pictures to use on a piece of poster board that I was going to frame and use as a display at his funeral. He died on a Tuesday and the funeral was scheduled for that following Saturday and it hit me about 9p that Thursday evening to do this. It was like I was propelled and compelled so strongly to make this collage. I had already made a collage the previous year which included pictures of Gene from a baby to present for his 30th birthday party. It was so very important for me to have another collage of pictures of Gene with his family, children and friends. I did not want everyone to have seen him in the casket as their last memory of him. As far as I was concerned, that wasn’t Gene at all…. It looked like a statue of him.
So I am up late on my bed with all of these pictures scattered across the comforter. My oldest at the time who was 7 was sitting with me as I was trimming the pictures into various shapes. She started helping and together we made this collage. We picked all kinds of soft edged shapes. We glued them on one by one carefully selecting where they should go on the poster. I did this into the very late hours as Samantha ended up falling asleep on Daddy’s side of the bed. The next day I went to Wal-Mart to get a poster frame. It was ready. I had two collages to display at the funeral.
Later on, after the funeral I hung both of the collages low on the wall in the den so that all the kids could go up and see Daddy and talk with him whenever they wanted. Samantha was 7, Nicholas was 5 and Kayla Pearl was 2. Nicholas enjoyed the collages the most as he would frequently go to the collages and one by one study the pictures and then in his own way look up in query as he still does today and in his own language have conversations. I do believe Nicholas had a special gift and was able to communicate with his Daddy in some other way than the three of us girls ever have.
These collages remained on the wall for several years. The Easter following their Daddy’s death, I put together “The Daddy” book. I had asked everyone I could think of that had known Gene to submit a story or testimony of their relationship with Gene. I got so many and was so thankful that people were strong enough to participate in this project. I knew the kids would not be able to grow up hearing their Dad tell stories over the years and this way, they could have something that could promote the wonderful human being their dad was in the eyes of others. Some included pictures that I had never seen and they went in the book too. Eventually, the frames to the collages started cracking so I moved all the pictures to the Daddy Book. The kids (and now my granddaughter) look at it and read the wonderful stories and have all of these wonderful pictures.
On the other hand, the first Christmas after Gene passed away, my family was not the five of us anymore. My family was redefined and labeled. There were only four of us now. For some reason, getting family picture recording that fact was very compelling. I HAD to get a professional picture taken. I remember matching our outfits to a black and white theme and relying on K-Mart or Wal-Mart for the pictures. I was still in shock, numb, disbelief and on ‘auto-pilot’ preparing for this event. As usual the kids protested at first (no kid wants to participate in a family photo). I remember holding back the tears as I loaded up the kids in the car. It seemed to take forever driving to the studio and then in slow motion once we got there and getting the kids inside from the car. I honestly do not remember the shoot itself other than the person who was taking the picture looked so young and I got the feeling of her not being too experienced. It was all the same to her. She didn’t know the meaning behind getting this photo taken. She didn’t know what our family had been through. She didn’t know we all were struggling with our pain. I had to keep my strength up and put my happy face mask on to get through this ordeal.
So, we succeeded in the family photo. I even got individual shots of the kids. To this day (14 years later) the kids are framed up high on the wall in the den and our ‘family’ photo framed up high in the living room. Looking at those pictures today represents the new chapter of our lives we were thrust into. We stumbled, cried, hid in bed, yelled, and protested. However, over the years we have also remembered with joy, reminisced with laughter, and honored with pride.
Pictures say so much. I encourage everyone to take as many pictures today recording your life which can be the stories to tell down the road. When Gene and I got married, we did not hire a professional photographer. I regret it to this very day. I suggest if you have to cut corners planning a wedding, do not cut on the photographer. Diane Reynolds with Oak Moon Photography is fabulous and talented. She is experience with a keen eye for lighting and posing as well as sensitive and nurturing to the feelings behind the photos. Please keep her in mind at your next occasion you are looking to hire a photographer.