Give Sorrow Words : Book Excerpt

The Last Photograph

Writing about your child who has died is a deeply moving and profound experience. For over three years I wrote in the early morning hours before anyone was awake. I scribbled thoughts down in my car as I waited to pick up my daughter. I even wrote on a beach in Florida and on my dock at the cottage. The act of writing gave order to my newly chaotic life without my son.

From the comments I've received it appears that readers are able to access a very difficult subject through witnessing the ebb and flow of an ordinary family. I did not shy away from the truth. In fact, it was paramount in understanding what had happened to my son. I could no longer live in denial. One reader writes: Your extreme openness is so very disarming, it seems to strip away any possible prejudice, leaving the emotional content so clear and so ready to be absorbed."

Readers tell me that they are taken with how much I share in the book. For me there was simply no other way than to write honestly and openly about depression and suicide, if others were going to understand what we could not.

Book Excerpt: The Last Photograph

Bonita Beach, Florida, March 14, 2009

On Emily's fifteenth birthday in March of 2009 our family made plans to spend the afternoon on the ocean not far from where I'm sitting now. The coolers were loaded and the beach toys and towels were stuffed into the stowage lockers of our boat. We had decided to head out for an afternoon on the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico followed by a picnic on the beach. Excited, we drove our truck to the marina, not knowing that the memory of our picnic would soon become bittersweet.

After hours of floating on the indigo sea, soaking up the sun, Bruce turned off the engine and we dropped anchor near the beach. We gently rocked back and forth in the waves while Daniel walked up to the bow of the boat and flipped open the hatch where the anchor was stored. He hauled up the heavy iron anchor and tossed it into the sea.

My son packed most of our gear on top of his head, stepped off of the transom of the boat and waded to shore. I will never forget his look of exasperation when he realized his family was still on board.

"C'mon Mom, you're supposed to be a triathlete and you can't even swim twenty feet to shore?" Daniel shouted. "Aimee and Em, jump in! I can't believe I have to carry all of this stuff myself."

After Daniel's teasing, we gathered up what was left on the boat and jumped into the refreshing sea, making our way towards our "Captain DK." That March day, I felt as if I knew real happiness. We played beach Frisbee and when it became too hot to stand a moment longer on the burning sand, we dashed into the foamy waves. I rushed after my two teenage daughters and my son, thrilled by their willingness to spend holiday time with their parents. We seemed to make each other better just by being in one another's company. There seemed to be no end to our togetherness as far as my family was concerned.

When we came out of the ocean, an older couple strolled by in the fading daylight and offered to photograph us. The man complimented our family, adding that we had produced a "unique blend of attractive children." Perhaps from his point of view we represented a model family, blessed with unconditional love.

I also took several photographs of our kids on that March day. In my first photographs, their toes are buried beneath a thin layer of white sand on the shell-encrusted beach. The sky at dusk casts a shimmery ribbon of purple and orange above the calm sea while the tide moves gently away from shore. In the foreground, my three grown children stare out into the vastness of the Gulf, as if they saw their future on the horizon. Each figure is almost perfectly equidistant from the other and all three are on their feet; the oldest girl stands crossed-legged while the younger one waves a hand in the air. The young man with the upright posture is pointing his fingers toward the sand in an inverted peace sign. A moment caught on my digital camera. The flip side of this image was taken minutes after the luminous sun had faded into the sea.

In the second photo, my kids are sitting on the warm sand, looking at me, their photographer. The young woman with the shining eyes gives me a generous smile. She has spent a day on the beach with her family and she can't hide her joy. She is sensitive and kind, wiser than her years. The teenage girl on the other side of Daniel has pink painted nails, and her hair is a mass of windswept curls. The baby of our family, she is our family peacemaker because she sees both sides of every story. She loves animals. Next to her Daniel sits on top of a colourful surfboard. A Bud Light beer rests nearby on the sand. His sandals are covered in a putty mix of sand and water, his sunburnt toes barely visible. He wears brown board shorts and his legs are covered with insect bites and bruises. His head is tilted as he looks into the lens of the camera, his smile taut. His creased brow and staring eyes catch me, making me think he loathed the whole process. However, at sunset that day he went along with what his mom wanted him to do. The sense of togetherness that day was too powerful for him to refuse. Our three grown children had each other's backs. As parents we had raised our children to become strong allies and have compassion for others.

These photographs were never meant to be critically analyzed. It was a moment in our family history -- an image that will stand through the years as a testament to the raw beauty of family experience. We don't see the darkened corners of our lives through these images. The bits of life and the pieces that pull us along and apart aren't visible to the eye in this photograph.

This excerpt published with permission from the author.

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