Behind the Photographs
Every morning, I look at my “On This Day” from Facebook, usually right up there with reading the news and checking the weather. I have thirteen years’ worth of history to scroll through. As I look at photos, I usually try to remember the situation, event, feelings, or why I decided to snap a picture at that time. There is a lot that the captions don’t tell and often little context for day-to-day activities.
The other day, I saw a photo of myself with a large group of people, taken in May of 2016. I have a smile plastered on my face. Quentin is in my lap, having a moment – as he did NOT want to have his picture taken. Funny how young children have a reaction of “Why do I have to smile? I’m not happy right now.” I wasn’t happy at that moment either. I look like I always do: shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses on my head. I show no signs that I had been pregnant three-and-a-half months earlier, and lost Iris at 16 weeks.
There is also nothing in the photograph to suggest that the day before, we had scattered Iris’s ashes under a tree in the coulee where I grew up.
I remember posing for that photograph thinking “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here. Let me go home.” Many people in the group knew I had lost a baby, and no one said anything. It was forced small talk and “How are you doing?” without really expecting an answer.
I have friends that left social media after losing their babies. Seeing smiling faces, easy pregnancies, and chubby newborns were too much. As candid as I have been, beginning with writing about losing Nelle three days after she was born, I have placed a lot of separation on what I share. Much of my grieving has occurred within the confines of my blog, knowing that someone needs to consciously make a choice to click on the link to read more. It could easily be ignored by people who only come to Facebook for posed selfies while on vacations or videos of kids tripping and falling into buckets. After a few months, I even separated my writing into two blogs: this one, and another one I update with the everyday activities of my family. Giving readers the option of further removal.
For a long time, I never wrote about Nelle or Iris directly in a Status Update, sometimes leaving only a quote that would be understood by people who chose to understand.
Even more recently, I started a Facebook Page to further separate, knowing that people who chose to follow me there wanted to read about loss and grieving. Those that didn’t could go back to only seeing pictures of my kids or my complaints about modern parenting.
Recently, I was having a bad day and as I scrolled past the photos and updates from people I know, for the first time in a long time I was resentful. The content is so curated to what the individual wants to share and how life is given a certain slant. I know which people are moving across state, who is political, and who bought the latest gadgets. What I don’t know is who has a father that is really sick, who is worried about job security, or who has a marriage that is falling apart. Those types of statuses are few and far between.
In the past, I know that I have watched people share that type of information, only to be met with criticism, inexpert medical advice, or overly simplistic platitudes like “hang in there.” I am also guilty of thinking “Why are you airing your dirty laundry out into the world? Keep that to yourself.” Shame on me. That person is turning to a community for support, not judgment.
When I visit the Instagram world, it is filled with gorgeous photos and positive motivations like “Happiness is available – help yourself to it!” Like I could go and pick up some happiness at the grocery store: there for the taking, if I choose to select it. The opposite of what someone who is hurting wants to hear, an implication that they are just not doing enough to be happy.
“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” –Megan Devine
Perhaps we could all do a better job of supporting, rather than stifling, those that are hurting. Reaching out to someone whose shared content has changed, asking “Hey – is everything ok?” Realizing that a lot may exist behind the photographs.