I walked into the house, the smell of a warm vanilla candle enveloping me as I set the diaper bag down next to a freshly-vaccummed rug.
Coats, boots, zippers, the releasing of children occupying me.
But I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see it.
Right there on the mantle, merely feet away, lined up inconspicuously with the rest of the family photos, nestled in like a warm sibling embrace.
My gaze continued around the house, pictures on the fridge, pictures on the wall.
She saw my gaze, smiled sadly at me.
“I know, it sucks, doesn’t it?” she said. “No matter what they say, it doesn’t get any easier.”
I nodded, gulped.
She gestured to one picture–a black and white shot of a brother and sister. An older brother hugging his younger sister, her blonde hair spilling over both of them, a bright, infectious smile on her face.
“If you look closely, you can see the tube we used to feed her in that one,” she explained. “And by that point, she couldn’t see…she had lost all of her sight.”
Unconsciously, I held Jacob a little tighter to my chest.
“How long was that picture taken…before…?” I asked hesitatingly, my words faltering.
She met my eyes steadily.
“Less than two weeks,” she replied.
A face distorted, swollen, so close to the end, eyes unseeing…and yet smiling a joyful smile.
My resolve wavered at that point, and tears spilled from my eyes. Embarrassed, I apologized, looked around wildly for a Kleenex.
“It’s ok,” she said. “At least you acknowledge her. At least you will talk about her. Most people pretend they can’t see the pictures.”
Our family pictures.
Displayed proudly on our walls. In our Facebook profiles. Scrolled through on our phones.
They tell our stories. Hold our hopes, dreams, and loves.
And sometimes, our sorrows.