What do you do to keep some connection with a deceased loved one?
I tried wearing my daughter’s clothes, singing because she loved to sing, and serving sushi because that’s what she ate. I went to Australia because she loved Australia. On a beach in Australia my daughter had stood holding her arms out like she was hugging the world. In the photo, my favorite photo of her, her face is raised up and she is smiling like she is saying, “I finally found home. I could stay here forever.” Her body says, victoriously, ”I have won the war!”
Who does this? Who gets to go to a beach on the other side of the Earth and hugs it before a friend with a camera? Who looks up at the vast sky, smiling before a vast ocean, and stretches her arms as far as she can and has it photographed?
I tried it. I went alone to Australia to scatter her ashes and I found myself staring at the very same spot on that same beach in the photo. It was an empty beach, no people around. It was emptier still, a flawed haunting landscape before me, because she was supposed to be centered in front of the jagged jutting point, arms lifted skyward. I stood there glued to that spot for a while, holding her stuffed Puppy and waiting like I expected to get beamed heavenward or struck by a thunderbolt or met by her ghost. Finally I scattered some of her ashes. When a tourist eventually passed by I asked him to take my photograph. I stretched out my arms like she did and tried to look heavenward, maybe to her.
When I saw the photo later, it occurred to me that I looked like I was frantically begging for help, strangling her stuffed Puppy, and on the verge of a breakdown. It looked like a picture of a distraught mother looking for her lost daughter on a beach. I learned you can follow your loved one’s footprints and you can try walking in her shoes, but you can’t expect them to always fit.
That special photo is a gift. I can point to that photo and see that she was happy.
There, in that place at that time, my daughter was happy. And I have the power to keep her that way forever. Do you ever find yourself talking to your loved one’s photo?