The Joy (and Pain) of Remembering: Photos

When Remembering When Makes You Cry

There is a risk inherent in remembering when you are grieving and missing your loved one after a death. A risk of opening the wounds of loss, the reminder of being left behind, the desire to change what can’t be undone of past words and actions and events. But there is also a risk of remembering what feels good – recalling memories of happy times, holding photos and seeing video that brings stillness to life, taking comfort in activities that were once carried out with a partner, or child.  The risk to open your mind to the joy of memories is at the expense of confronting the pain of those same memories.

After a death, life changes. Whether you had spent your day to day life with this person or saw them only occasionally each year isn’t important.  Once, your loved one was available to you whenever you needed. Now, that is no longer true. You may be reminded of your loss at odd moments, such as when you hear a certain phrase, drive down a particular road, or watch a favorite movie.

Tangible reminders of your loved one may be all over your home: a child’s bedroom, photos on the wall, clothes hanging in the closet, the family photo album.  How does this comfort you? How does this bring pain? Should you get rid of it all? Keep it all? Sometimes we choose our path by doing nothing at all. However, if you choose to embrace these items of reminder, you can actually turn your feelings of loss into memories of gratitude.

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

Photos are one of the first items to come out immediately after a death. Stacks of loose pictures are used to create slideshows, memory boards, funeral programs and accompany the obituary. Then suddenly they are boxed up and returned back to the closet as if to say “stop remembering.” Weeks and months pass, and facing the photos becomes a sad reminder of loss and past.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. What if you could open up that box of photos with a thousand words of joy instead of pain? Is that possible? It can be when you plan to remember.

Turn your Thoughts into Something Tangible

The fear of forgetting is strong and one of the reasons we stay in place with grief. When you open yourself to the memories that photos evoke, take time to indulge the feelings and really remember. Decide to create something from your memories. It may be a storybook, memory box, a poem, a collage… What is important is the story from these memories. So write it down! Don’t forget, act! Don’t fear, remember! Recall the laughter, the warm feelings, the love, the experience that was important enough to mark with a photograph. Isn’t that why you took the photo in the first place?

The Steps to Looking through Photos with Joy

When you give yourself a specific task, then you give yourself control and opportunity to establish a happy outcome.

  • So first, determine your motivation for opening your box of memories. Do you just want to visit some memories? Are you tired of feeling sad? Would you like to commemorate an upcoming special date, such as a birthday, holiday or death anniversary? Are you moving and need to face the memories? Is this for you to create your Storybook for Healing?
  • Second, set a time frame, long or short based on your motivation. Make sure you don’t try to do too much for too long. Decide to either complete a task, “find the photo of mom and dad on their 25th anniversary,” or spend a named amount of time on your task, such as sort photos for one hour on Tuesday and Wednesday. Give yourself permission to start as well as stop when you need to.
  • Third, make space for this work. If you have the space or an extra room, set up a desk or table that you can keep the photo albums or boxes safely left out so you don’t have to keep boxing up and opening up the pictures (just close the door).
  • Finally, keep your goal in mind. Focus on what is important to complete your task. If you seeking a particular photo, such as a wedding photo, or a child’s birthday or one that illustrates your task at hand, then schedule time to find that photo first. Otherwise you’ll be sidetracked and unanticipated memories can overwhelm you. For general reminiscing, you will still want to “do” something such as write a story, tell a history, organize into albums or time periods, or prepare for scanning for saving long term.

By setting a goal for your walk through photos, the pictures and stories become a tool for you to actively grieve, love and remember.

Alone or With a Friend?

Some people like to spend the time alone looking through their photos. Others may want the support of family or friends to share the memories. Either way, you can do this with a bit of patience for yourself. And, if today is not a good day to open the big box of photos, start with a story from the photo on the wall. The others will wait for you.

Opening the box of photos can be daunting at first, but there may be a boxful of joyful tears inside. You have photos all boxed up for safe keeping, but if you never open the memories, how safe can they be? They fade whether they sit in a box or brought out into the light. Your photos and memories need to be used to create enjoyment. Discover a new story today in your photos!


Now what?

Action ideas for The Joy (and Pain) of Remembering: Photos

  • Start by making an easy to do custom project that uses only one photo, such as a coffee mug, cards, canvas, memory box. You can pair the photo with a favorite inspirational quote.
  • Take paper photos and documents scanned into digital formats for sharing and making projects.
  • Write dates down on the back as you go through them. Alternatively, you can number the photos and use a voice recorder to tell the stories (just say the number before each story!)


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