This week I reached the final phase of cleaning out the clutter from my life: tackling boxes of photographs. When we first started out as a family, I kept our photos organized in albums. But soon that became impossible for me with raising kids and working– so the pictures went into boxes. Over the years of double print photos developed at Eckerd’s, we accumulated quite a few. Once we started using digital photography, there were photos on my phone that I never organized into folders. I guess some things don’t change!
Last December I’d read Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy. Her advice was to save sentimental items until last “as the final step in your campaign”–which is how she refers to putting your house in order. What’s been different for me, is that I’ve been putting a house divided into order– separating out what belongs to us individually versus what my husband and I shared. Instead of having one stack of photos for us as parents, I now need to divide our pictures from over forty years.
I’d waited until the move and Divorce Mediation were behind me so I’d have energy to go through pictures. My goal was that each family member would have a collection of photos that showed the story of our life.
I found myself looking back at the photos and thinking how different things are now from what I’d expected. Life in pictures presents a one dimensional take of that moment in time; behind the photos are forces that were at play at that time which we didn’t realize. We look back at photos of people we should have told the truth to, friends that disappeared after a season, gatherings that were more filled with tension than fun. We also see the love of those we held close that we didn’t fully appreciate at the time, now wishing we could say more directly how much they meant to us.
Going through the boxes of photos, I felt grateful for the things that had been central in our life: our extended family, church family, and involvement in sports, scouting, and school. I saw how present Mama was in my boys’ lives– often blowing out birthday candles with them, giving rides in the cart behind her lawn mower, attending their honor courts and band recitals. So many pictures that showed her love.
I saw the love that my in-laws had for us, especially their grandsons, that overwhelming grandparent love. I feel a kindred spirit with them, now understanding that joy from my two grandsons.
There are bittersweet photos like one of the last pictures taken with my Daddy. It was the summer after I graduated from college and before he died suddenly of a heart attack in December. Looking at the photo, I remember that good place we were in, with me more mature and less ‘sassy’ and Daddy proud that I was working as a nurse and supportive of me dating David–who met with Daddy’s approval. I remember how he smiled when he saw us dancing to Chattanooga Choo Choo by the Glenn Miller Band in that same den–pulling back the gold and brown braided rug and swing dancing to ‘Daddy’s music.’
Like others who are going through divorce, perhaps it’s most difficult to choose which pictures to save that represent the marriage; which ones were true and when did those images change? Many I keep, knowing that our family grew out of us as a couple and there are good memories that shouldn’t be lost: our early days as a couple, five years in South Carolina during graduate school, vacations with our boys, weekend trips with extended family, sons reaching milestones of graduating high school and college, receiving Eagle Scout awards, confirmation at Evergreen Methodist, Brooks and Emily’s wedding.
The photos that are hardest, are the ones with my weight at its highest. I look back with regret and think to myself, “Why didn’t I see that and change it at the time?” I also notice that in many of those pictures I appeared tired– stressed by a too-busy life, sleep deprivation, and not enough focus on myself–that’s how I think of it in hindsight. I tore up some of those pictures that were too painful to view.
And now, in reading Spark Joy, I see that was probably the right thing to do.
Marie Kondo advises to “take each photo in your hands and keep only those that spark joy.” She points out that one of her clients only kept pictures in which she looked good. ( p. 227)
Some people leave this going through things for their children to inherit after they’re gone. Mama had never culled through her sentimental items and boxes of photos– and left them for her three daughters. But the advantage of doing this now, is that I get to look at my life in review and process the ending of our marriage and moving forward to my next chapter.
It also affords me the chance to collect more blackmail photos to use as needed with my sons.
When Brooks married in 2012, I had collected prize photos that I used in his ‘roast’ at the rehearsal dinner. What sweet payback that was! Now he is dealing with the tantrums of a two-year-old while in the midst of his sleep-deprived days with their infant son. I found one photo that I’ll show him of how he and Ross presented similar challenges for us. While I’d turned to answer the wall phone back in 1986 when Ross was about 3 months old, Brooks took it upon himself to diaper his brother and shower him with baby powder.
There are many stories from our life in pictures. Some of them need to be left in the past, and some of them need to be carried forward. In the days ahead, there will be new photos as the next chapters unfold.
May we look back at our pictures with gentleness and acceptance– knowing that each has a place in the story of our life.