Reflections of the Past

After Jeff died, I was sorry that I didn’t have a current photo of him. The one I do have had been taken ten years before, and it didn’t even look like him. Or at least not the “him” he was at the end. (It was a perfect image back when the photo was taken.) I refused to look at the photo, afraid I’d only remember him as the man in the photo, not the real person, but as the years went by, I realized that neither image — the one I had nor the one I didn’t have — told a greater truth. He was both. And neither.

Although we always feel like us, that “us” changes over the years. We adapt to how we feel, and it’s only later we get a glimpse of the changes we have gone through, whether physical or mental, spiritual or emotional. The person we are at the end isn’t more real than the person we were at the beginning. Each is a facet of the whole shimmering being we are.

Some people theorize that since time is mainly a construct of our minds, each of those people we were all exist at the same time, and it’s our brains that divide time into past and present.

Others theorize that time is a matter of distance. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so today we are a very long way from where we were 9 years 11 months and 18 days ago when Jeff died.

But whatever the truth of time, for the purposes of our life on earth, the past, whether near or far, is always the same distance from us. We can no more touch yesterday than we can touch a hundred years ago or a thousand. It’s all just out of reach. Gone. Past.

So does it matter that Jeff’s been gone one year or ten? It matters to me of course, since it’s been ten years since I’ve seen him, but he was just as gone the moment he died as he is today. So any photo of him, no matter what age he was, is an adequate image.

Although he and I weren’t picture takers, never liked having pictures of us (or anyone) hanging around, I am grateful for that photo on my bedside table. He might be gone, far out of reach, but I take comfort in having this reflection of the past.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

8 Responses to “Reflections of the Past”

  1. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    Such wise reflections, Pat. I don’t have a photo out of our daughter who died, and occasionally I think visitors must wonder why not. But no one photo would capture our memories of her. (And in her case, most memories are accompanied by the hurt we associate with her later life and death anyway.) I do have family photo albums that include pictures of happier times. But our lives are different now; days are full of our married children, our grandchildren AND great-grandchildren. Current photos reflect our family dynamics as they are now.

    I used to have the side of our fridge covered with all their individual photos, but I finally stopped trying to keep up. LOL. They’ve gone into the albums, too. Only two photos are displayed now, both in our bedroom — one recently taken of my hubby and me, and the other of our three adult children together, taken during one of their recent visits. I like seeing the faces and yet they can’t possibly portray the truth of my memories.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s interesting how different our lives are. My family is shrinking, yours is growing. You have lots of photos, I have one. But the thing we do have in common is the knowledge that no one photo can capture the memories of those who are gone.

  2. Sam Sattler Says:

    Outstanding post, Pat. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  3. Uthayanan Says:

    Dear Pat,
    Two persons already said that that what I would like to say.
    Such wise reflections Pat, Outstanding post Pat.
    Me too. I don’t have any late photos of my wife.
    We never had photos at home even one except with the photos albums.
    Now more than two years I try to see one of her photo and I have failed. I have no courage to see her photos alone.
    After two years my’heart suffer the same way no more no less.
    Now I am pretty sure it will going to stay forever.
    After 10 years Jeff departures you write very well truthfully, heart fully your feelings.
    It is really wonderful help me to understand I have to make a long journey until my last day.
    When I read all your posts make me crying.
    I wish you good health.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It took me at least three years before I could put out Jeff’s photo. I simply could not look at it until then. And even so, I had to put it away sometimes because the reminder was too painful. Now, I like the reminder.

      Yes, you do have a long journey, but it won’t always feel the way it does now. The pain does mostly go away, though it takes three to five years, but even when that happens, we still have to deal with fact that our loved ones are gone.

      I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you’re doing fine. Truly.

      Wishing you peace.

  4. Joe Says:

    I have an altar, of sorts, where there is at least one photo of those who have gone ahead. I’ve reached the point where I can look at his photos and just smile a little. About a year afterward, there was a “Get to know us” video posted online featuring a place he used to volunteer at, and every few minutes in this 15 minute video, he’d be shown cooking in the commercial kitchen, or chatting with someone while a voiceover talked about the organziation’s mission. He was in a healthier and more mobile state in these clips, than he was toward the final year of his life. Unfortunately I couldn’t save the video to my hard drive, and the organization eventually took it down. So that’s lost to me now as well. I don’t seem to have any other videos or recordings, either, unless they’re stored on a phone or in someone else’s possession. 😦

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