I recently heard my friend Linda Sewell describe it as ‘being given gold’ when a friend of her son Tom sent her some images that she had not seen before.
I understand entirely what she means.
I treasure all the images of James that I have, and because like me, he was a keen photographer, there are boxes of them; some of which I have yet to scan in to keep on electronic file. Most of his photos were taken with a film camera, so they are hard copy rather than being on the computer, given that digital photography, online photo sharing and storage was in its infancy at the time he died.
I have many images of James stored in various places – a tribute gallery, on my hard drive, externally backed up … and in albums.
I love looking at the photos, but I need to be in the right mood so that they do not leave residual distress.
Naturally, I feel a deep sense of loss that there cannot be any new pictures… this is a facet of my grief that is hard to assimilate at times.
But … imagine my delight, when I was contacted on Facebook out of the blue a few months ago by Gemma, one of James’s college friends. She made some lovely comments, including,
“As so many others have said to you, James really did touch my life. I have some photos of him from those sixth form years …James always looked handsome and had a big grin on his face! … I treasure these … before the advent of the camera phone I am glad that I had at some point had an actual camera and taken actual films to the actual shop!”
Best of all, Gemma sent me a number of images and I am sharing some of them today.
What a gift! – seeing those happy, joyous moments of James’s life when he was simply sharing fun with a friend. Yes, it makes me sad to know that they were finite moments, but it is still a pleasure to see them and vicariously share in his happiness from the time they were taken.
Gemma also said, “James would have loved the selfie craze”. And I concur entirely with that. He would have been one of the first people to buy a selfie stick, definitely!
And I bless the fact that Gemma, like other of James’s friends, kept the photos because they still mean something to them and he was a part of their story too. Gemma was the third of James’s friends to contact me for the first time this year, and they all have my admiration for being brave enough to get in touch.
They must have been anxious that they might upset me. But it is true to say that any new reminders of James do not make me sad, rather they are like gifts dropped into my loss.
These contacts are like little nudges from James, virtual visits that bring warmth to my heart.
I think it is fair to say that bereaved parents develop an extreme sensitivity to emotion. Regardless of how we lost our child or children, our compassion to the newly bereaved becomes more evident as time goes on. We perhaps feel more able to reach out to others, rather than spending time introspectively processing our loss.
Maybe, we literally feel things differently because of whom we have lost and I think this applies to positive as well as negative emotions.
Our responses can be dampened down in the early shock of grief, but when they regrow, they generate in a slightly offbeat way, slightly out of kilter with those who, with the best will in the world, cannot walk our walk.
I know that my radar for others’ moods is greater than it used to be.
I can speak for Linda when I say I understand that her awareness of emotional distress is far greater than before.
We have learned, perhaps, the right things to say, through our own difficult lessons.
People usually worry that they will offend or distress the bereaved by mentioning the person who has died, but it is quite the opposite. I cannot envisage a time that I will not wish to remember James, to talk about him, to share reminiscences and anecdotes.
James was no saint – he could be immensely irritating, and I often laugh at those memories too. As a child he was a terrible screecher.
He was often in trouble at primary school, he was on report more than he was off it and I was frequently called in to see the Head, always with great trepidation as to what he had done.
One of his worst misdemeanours was to persuade one of his classmates to have his ear pierced. This event took place on a school trip! …. It may be funny in retrospect but it certainly was not at the time. In particular, because the child in question was under age, the school could have been held responsible. In the event, the offending ear-ring was removed, the child’s ear closed up and James was forgiven.
Just imagine if it had been a tattoo!
I like to eke out sharing my memories of James, so that I do not run out of them too soon. They are by their nature limited.
But the contributions of others, and things that might jog my own memory, are indeed like gold to me.
Keep them coming, please!