I don’t know why but I’ve always been afraid of losing my memories, for almost as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s because of my family’s affinity toward Alzheimer’s. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had some sense of life’s brevity. Whatever the case, when I met Nick, my phobia got serious. I knew right away there was something special about this guy. And there bubbled up inside of 19-year-old me a desire to document as much as I could… immediately. So, I started a scrapbook.
And for the entirety of the 6 wonderful years that we were together I started a new book annually. And, I added pages regularly. Sitting at my kitchen table, first in my own apartment newly-in-love, later in the cramped condo Nick and I spent our first married years together, and eventually the house that we’d bought with hopes to turn it into our family home.
Six months after our move into that big old house, with rooms echoing with emptiness, begging us to fill them with children, my sweet husband was diagnosed with a rare cancer.
All of my regrets rushed at me, full speed. I was just 23. He was only 24. And that sense of life’s brevity suddenly became everything I could see, in sharp focus. Suddenly, a book full of photos for each year didn’t feel like it would cut it. I asked Nick for a nice digital camera that first birthday after his diagnosis. And while I still scrapped faithfully, my SD cards, computer memory, and phone were filled with more pictures than I could ever hope to print.
I felt like the more pictures I took, the more I documented, the better off I would be if the worse happened. I was motivated by fear. The fear of forgetfulness. I feared that if I lost him, I would forget it all.
When he beat cancer once and then it came back again… a short ten months later. We were 15 weeks pregnant with our miracle child. We were months away from becoming first-time parents. At this point, I really started to sweat. The worst was happening. Again. And the doctors were promising more bad days ahead. I wallowed. I spiraled.
What if I forgot the good days? What if I forgot all the plans we’d made in those ten months? The smiles we’d shared? What if the images of our best days together were buried by images of hospital beds and chemo treatments?
What if I couldn’t remember him well enough to share him with our daughter?
More than anything, I wanted to remember. So I took pictures like a mad person. Hoping to capture the beauty of an entire person with a camera.
What I’ve come to discover, long after I lost my person, is three-fold.
1. At first, grief will make it seem like this fear has been realized. I didn’t even recognize old pictures of husband at first, immediately following my loss. The full faced, vibrant healthy boy I’d fallen in love with looked like a stranger to me. In those early months, I could only remember him frail, eyes sunken in, skin sagging off of bones. Cancer and chemo and their ravages on his body, our relationship, his energy taking center stage over the memories we made before the diagnosis.
2. A camera could never capture all the dynamic, beautiful intricacies of a person. A picture won’t capture a soul, can’t trap a feeling. But, years later, no thanks to the pictures, I can remember it all... Or at least the things that matter. The months of agony, though still sharp when I (or triggers) call them to mind, aren’t the first thing that pop into my head anymore. Now, in fact, whenever I think of Nick or see his sparkle in our daughter’s eyes, I smile. I see him the way he used to be, almost glowing with joy as he entered the room.
3. We don’t have to fear losing the memories if some do fade with time. I’m only just in my mid-thirties now and I have no doubts that if I’m lucky enough to live a long life, decades piled on decades will take away some of the crispness. So I’ve done the research. I’ve looked at the truth in the Word. And I have no doubts that anything we are meant to remember will go with us into eternity. Does that bring you peace? It does for me. To know that our brains, like our bodies, no matter how faded they become here on earth… they will make them NEW in Heaven. I believe we will have our memories but our minds will recall them with greater clarity and incredible joy as we see how God used all the details in the grand scheme of it all.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s kept me from going entirely overboard in this too-much-information age the last couple of years. I could easily fill the cloud (the cool kids’ SD card ;) with literally millions of shots like I used to, banking snapshots to fight the fear. Because…
I’m living a rich life now. I have a brings-me-to-my-knees-number of people to cherish. I’m in love with another incredible human being that I don’t want to forget (my second husband, Jay - pinch me, I NEVER could have thought - wrote a book about how God saved me and that crazy blessing story here). AND, I’ve got four children who are beautiful and messy and crazy and changing every single day.
We live in a day and age where we can document everything. And that documentation, it seems, is often encouraged.
“If it’s not on Instagram - did it even happen, right?”
I don’t think so. I’m unsubscribing from this mindset. I’m letting go of the fear.
My goal in life is to live a faithful one. And in this season, raising our four arrows, living faithfully means using my hands to make, to love, to clean, to hug, to hold, to serve.
My memories from the past aren’t sharper just because I took thousands of pictures. And my life won’t mean more just because I posted it for “the masses.”
I have to wonder how much we are missing when we put a camera up between ourselves and the moments we are aiming to capture.
I’m still taking pictures. I still have an iPhone. I’ve still been scrapbooking (in the form of baby books). And you’ll still see me post on social media from time to time. But I’m getting more and more contemplative about how I spend my time.
I’m not NOT taking pictures (or telling you not to), but I’m being a lot more mindful about how many I really need and how often my kids just need ME to be present vs forever preserving the memory.
I used to spend my work hours curating content online. And while that brought us more clients for our fit tribe and a greater community (both of which we are forever grateful for), I keep asking myself…
What’s the point of living life if you spend all your time documenting it instead of BEING in it?
If the worst happened again, would I be glad for the happy moments I spent recording with my phone in my face or wish more of those moments were phone-free?
I’m still finding the balance, still answering these questions… walking through these fears as I find my way to free.
What of this resonates with you? Wanna walk with me?
Want more musings on this topic? Especially how it relates to grief. Here’s a little introductory video to this topic I recorded last week on YouTube with more thoughts about memories and loss.
I find myself gravitating toward platforms that don’t, by nature, encourage posting in the moment. So far I am LOVING this blogging platform where you are reading (Substack) and YouTube, so make sure you subscribe to both if you want to continue this conversation.
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