Whenever I talk about why research for metastatic breast cancer is so important for me, I typically post this picture, which was obviously taken when I was just a wee one.
When I have mentioned that my mom died of breast cancer and then I post that picture, it recently dawned on me: “Huh, I wonder if anyone seeing this picture thinks that she died when I was a baby, not when I was in the second grade.” That’s what got me wondering and subsequently asking my dad, “Hey, are there any pictures of just me and mom?”
My dad could only find two pictures, and it wasn’t any posed pictures of mother and daughter, it was two stolen moments that my father, an amateur photographer, caught. He tried to explain why and how this happened, “Well, she didn’t like to have her picture taken.” For the first time in a very long time, I felt really mad at my mother.
Someone reading this might think, “Well, the 80s were different. It’s not like nowadays where everyone has a camera phone and it’s selfies 24-7.” My dad has been an amateur photographer since his 20s, and he usually had his camera nearby. My dad is the guy with the camera. He sure as heck brought it to family events. My mother dodged the camera. She scowled and protested at my dad when he tried to take more pictures. My mother was well known for her camera avoidance.
Ever the peace keeper, my dad’s response when I expressed disappointment via email regarding the lack of pictures of mother and daughter: “Memories can be sharper than images.” She died when I was 7 years old. I do not have memories of her – they are more like snippets. Plus, the snippets I have of my mother are from when she was sick from cancer treatment, not as the mother she probably wished I remembered her as. Oxygen tubing, hospital visits, wigs.
As a 33 year old woman, the thought of being mad at my mother is so foreign to me. Like, real, justified adult anger at a very deceased woman. I feel pissed at her for not getting over her hatred of being photographed and just sucked it up. I wished she would have said to my dad, “Hey, grab the camera. Take a picture of Lara and me.” Nope, she didn’t do that. She ducked and dodged my dad’s camera like he was a landmine she didn’t want to step on.
In her defense, she was sick for a long period of my life from ages 2 to 7, but I would have still cherished a picture of my mom hugging me, showing some sort of maternal affectionate for her only daughter. Some tangible proof that she was here and she loved her daughter, a daughter she worried (according to a friend of hers) would also have breast cancer. I wouldn’t have cared in the slightest if I had pictures of my mother when she was sick if I was in the picture, too. Her illness was a part of our lives, but I imagine that’s not something she wanted my dad to capture.
When she disappeared from the pictures, she disappeared from the events that took place. One of the snippets I remember from a family vacation we took the summer before she died took place at a go-kart place in Panama City Beach, Fla. My brothers were each driving their own go-kart, and I was in a go-kart with my dad (since seven years old aren’t allowed to drive those things). My mother stood off to the side, watching us and hanging out by the railing. She wasn’t participating, just watching. When I think about that memory, it makes me sad because I have wondered if she was just disappearing right then and there. My mother disappeared from my memory, and now she’s been this abstract figure in my life, as tangible as a dream.
My plea to parents, and this goes to anyone really, don’t disappear from the pictures. Who cares if you think your hair is frizzy or you have a “weird” smile or whatever hangup or lie that we tell ourselves, and don’t want to be in the pictures? When you have children, forget all that and just get into that picture. Smile. If you are the one usually taking the picture, because as the photographer at events I know how easy that can happen, then hand the camera off to someone! Strangers are usually cool if you ask them, “Hey, can you take a picture?”
I’m not 100 percent sure why my mother avoided having pictures taken while she was sick. Maybe given her hatred of the camera before cancer just meant that the hatred multiplied by 100 after her diagnosis? Maybe she thought if she didn’t let my dad take pictures of her bald or with a horrible wig on or other hospital-related scenarios, that we wouldn’t have to remember a horrible time in our lives. Guess what, we still do. Whatever it was, she did a disservice to me, her youngest child. I was robbed of my mother, and then my mother robbed me of the ability to have a precious keepsake of just her and me.
10 thoughts on “Don’t disappear from the pictures”
Oh gosh, this tugs at my heart strings. I wish you had more photos of your dear mom. I wish you had more memories of her too. It’s hard to get by with snippets… I’m very sorry your mom died from this wretched disease. As you know, my mother did too and I know I was fortunate to have her in my life for a whole lot more years than you had your mom in yours, but it still wasn’t enough. And the photos of us together are limited even though we had all those years. So yes, your advice, “don’t disappear from the pictures” is very good advice for all of us for a whole lot of reasons. The two pics you shared here are quite priceless by the way. xxxx
Aww, thanks, Nancy. Actually the two additional pictures that my dad sent, I couldn’t figure out a way to post them. He sent them as PDFs, not jpgs. Still, the fact that I can count on one hand how many pictures there are of my mother and me still gets me mad at her.
This entry hurts my heart. ❤ I’m sorry for your loss.
Have you been able to get the pictures saved as .jpgs yet? If not, I’ve worked around that before by making a screencap of the image and pasting it into photoshop and saving it that way. If you’d like, I’m willing to do it for you. You mentioned you’re still kind of new on Twitter, have you sent direct (private) messages before? If not, just tweet at me and let me know if you still need help with the pictures, and I’ll send you a PM. ❤
I am sorry that your mom didn’t like having her picture taken too. Yet as you mentioned it really was a different time when it came to photos as compared to now. I am sure you want so many more memories and your mom was sick for five years from when you were 2 years old. This disease robs of so much. I am sure you mom especially would have wanted to make sure there were great photos of you especially when she was healthy for your first two years and she didn’t know that she was going to be sick and the opportunity would be lost. What a shame for both her and you but I am glad you have this photo and the other two PDF’s that you weren’t able to get into the post. If you can print them you may be able to scan them in and save them. Your advice about not disappearing from pictures is so important!
This is a great post. I’m sorry about your Mom. This is why I try to take pictures with my daughter even though I don’t love my hair or think I look very good. I want her to have memories of me and know how incredibly much I love her if not I’m not around when she grows up.
My mom died when I was 6 of breast cancer too…I am so very grateful to have pictures to remember her by. When I read a piece about the importance of particularly moms being in front of the camera, my immediate reaction was of how grateful I was my mom was in front of the camera so I have those memories. I also have a diary of her’s, which is also nice to have for that connection (though much of it is hard to place in the timeline of her life). Very nicely expressed.
That’s so great that you have a diary of her’s. That must be a precious keepsake to have of her’s.
I am so sad for you to have so few pictures of your mom. you’ve done a very good thing sharing your story and your feelings and sending a message to other mothers to be aware of how much photos of them will mean if their lives are cut short. and I know that being your mom’s only daughter must be particularly painful when you have so few pictures of just the two of you.
I send you lots of warm hugs to comfort you
Thanks for your post. I am just like your Mom and I have avoided the camera my entire life. I refused further treatment and was given a short time to live so I decided to get some family photographs done for my children despite not having any hair. I am so glad that my children will at least have these pictures. I have found that I am still avoiding pictures because of the moon face that prednisone gives me and I was so worried that the pictures will capture the sick me for my kids (in their 20s), but your blog post made me realize it doesn’t matter what I look like. Thanks for sharing.
Thank YOU for sharing with me.
I assure you 100 percent that your children will cherish the family pictures you have taken, especially if you’ve avoided the camera your entire life. It’s an amazing gift to give them, and they aren’t going to look at pictures of you and see all the faults you’re currently seeing in your appearance. They are just going to see a mom they loved and who loved them back.