The Third Photograph

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hMy cousin’s e-mail subject heading caught my attention immediately. “Some pics of your mom.”  I opened the e-mail, skipped the message, then clicked on the digital attachments eagerly, one by one. The first two pictures were familiar to meimage3.jpeg. They both show my mother, a vibrant bride, gowned in antique lace on her wedding day. She was 19 years old, and so much, that I know of, still lay before her.

The third picture was new to me. 34 years after her death,  I don’t often encounter a new picture of my mom. She was 38 when she died unexpectedly and I was 14.  She died unexpectedly. I just realized that I always link those words when I speak of my mother’s death.  Perhaps I just want everyone to know, without going into details, how blindsided we were and that we never got to say goodbye.

This third photo framed in a golden oval is a candid shot, close-up, of her smiling. It looks like it was taken not long before she died, or at least she looks like I most remember, warmly familiar, but also somehow like a stranger in this new context. A beloved stranger. How odd. How unsettling.

Now, a decade older than my mother ever was, I study this new photo. I look into her eyes, so similar to mine, and wonder about all that never was. I realize that my grief isn’t static–it’s dynamic–constantly evolving in a way my mother never had the chance to do. I never knew all the women my mother would have been and was. I knew her only as my mother. When I miss her now, I’m missing not only who she was, but also my version of who I think my mother would have been, and a relationship that I am only imagining. How odd. How unsettling.


12 thoughts on “The Third Photograph

  1. Dana says:

    That was a beautiful way to express your loss, Molly. Your mom is proud of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kimberley says:

    I wonder if you might write a version of her story. Of where she would have taken it had she not passed away. I wonder if it might help you in other ways as well. How very painful to have lost her and to lose her again each time you see her photograph. Thank you for sharing this. I will think about it long after I close the tab that is your site.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. peggybrick says:

    Dear Molly,

    Tears fill my eyes as I type this message. What a touching vignette of your mother, your memories, and the possibilities never realized. Your words touched my heart, and took me to a place I have visited with my birth mother. She is alive, but has dementia, and I often yearn for the closeness and honesty we cannot share. She smiles broadly each time we meet, says something like, “Oh you’re back, I’m so glad to see you again.” We exchange a hug and a kiss, but she has no idea what my name is. I am thankful to have a chance to say, “I love you, and I’ll see you soon.” when we say good-bye. We’ve never shared a moment when I could say, I know you loved me when I was born, but you couldn’t keep me, so you did the very best thing you could for me, and gently placed me in the arms of your older brother and his wife, who felt blessed to call me their daughter. Oh the what-ifs! I end up feeling grateful for any time I have with her. She is not the same person she was, but neither am I, and I like to think of time spent with her as a gift I wasn’t expecting to ever open. Thanks for touching my heart this morning.



    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue says:

    You urge me to consider how I look at my mother’s photos; I know it’ll not be with the pain that you express. As well as her eyes, you have your mother’s smile also, and your hair parts like hers and has that same swirl/curl upwards, but on the other side. It’s wonderful that your cousin shared this gift with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tara Smith says:

    Such a special post. I love this line:”I realize that my grief isn’t static–it’s dynamic–constantly evolving in a way my mother never had the chance to do.” So wise.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Linda Baie says:

    As you live those years that your mother didn’t get, your words about changing/evolving grief feel right to me. My father was killed in WWII, when I was two, & I don’t remember him at all, but knew him only through others telling me about him. So as I age, each milestone makes me wonder what he would have been like, done. This is a special piece to read.


  7. I can imagine the grief is still palpable given the loss you experienced when you were so young. What a gift it is to receive a new image of your mom. I’m sure you will treasure it for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What an interesting way of looking at your loss. I know it is so hard to pass through life without a loved one’s input on all the moments – good and bad. Wondering is hard


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