Six months after my husband passed away, I sold our family home and moved into the city to eliminate my 45 minute daily commute to work. I’m not really an interior decorator kind of girl, so the remaining hodge-podge collection of former home furnishings, artwork and family photographs adorn my new home, a 954 square foot condo.
I don’t care about “making it my own” just yet, mostly because I’m not sure what that even means. The whole issue of my husband’s photos, family photos, our wedding photo, his West Point degree, and other personal and professional decorations are all staring me in the face daily. I don’t know if having his photos and “stuff” hanging on my walls help me or hinder me in my grief. But for now…this is my “family” home. He is my girls’ father. He is still my husband, even if he’s gone and we aren’t married…which makes no sense whatsoever…but only a widow understands what I mean in that paradoxical mess of a concept.
I remember that my mother, also widowed in her 40s, removed all the photos of my father at some point after he died. That was how she dealt with moving through her grief. I hated it because he was still my father and it was strange to me that her home looked like he never existed. But it was what she needed to do for herself. But I knew that for my girls, I was not doing that to them.
There are still photos of my husband in my bedroom. Our wedding album even. Some grief experts say to make the bedroom a place that’s just my own. Remove my husband from my bedroom. After all, what if another man spent the night in my bed and woke up next to photos of me and my husband? How does that help me continue to live or learn to love again? I figure these are the types of things that I will figure out once I have to. But right now? I don’t have to.
The framed photographs strewn throughout my new home are the same photographs that were in our old one. I have not taken any new photos and had them printed and framed, Post Eric. Photograph-wise, it’s as if life stopped when he passed away.
The last family photo taken of the 4 of us was in Hawaii, less than 2 months before he died. We are all wearing matching Hawaiian print outfits. But whenever I look at this photo, which hangs above my fireplace and below his encased military sabre from the United States Military Academy, I can see in my husband’s eyes and face just how sick he truly was at that point. When I look at photos of him from the month before Hawaii, he didn’t look sick at all. Photos oftentimes reveal the open secrets that we cannot see in the day-to-day. That sure is the case in our last family photo.
This past May 12th, our youngest daughter graduated from college. When I received an online order form to purchase several graduation photo packages, I decided to take a peek at what was available from the official graduation photographer. I hadn’t even thought about this aspect of graduation. When my husband was alive, and childhood milestones were being crossed off the List of Parenthood, graduation photos were the sort of thing that was forefront in my mind: getting that perfect photo to frame and display prominently and proudly on the wall. But this particular milestone was more surreal to me than anything else, and instead, I found myself spending the entire graduation day looking for signs that Eric was there somewhere. After all, there is a lot of time to kill while waiting for hundreds of young people to cross a stage.
After scrolling through the several photo choices, I went ahead and ordered a couple of them. One is of our beautiful baby standing in front of a university backdrop while holding her degree. The other is of her shaking the hand of the university chancellor handing out the degrees after she crossed the stage (and dabbed…yes, dabbed).
When the photos arrived in the mail, I decided that I would frame the one of her shaking hands with the chancellor and hang it on the wall next to the fireplace.
This photograph – an otherwise typical family photograph that adorns walls all over America – is the first one that will make it to my wall in a world that does not include my husband. And like most landmines on this grief journey, this is another one that I didn’t see coming: The First Picture.