Inspiration and regret

There are no pictures in today’s post, but there is a reason for that. I hadn’t planned to write this, because it’s more personal than I had planned to be on this blog, but I feel like it’s somewhat relevant.

I think the reason I fell in love with photography can be attributed to my grandmother. She always had her camera ready to capture all those little moments. She must have filled hundreds of albums over the years, from every holiday and birthday, weddings, school events, childhood milestones, and sometimes just us grandkids on impromptu visits posed in front of her refrigerator so she could finish off a roll of film and take it to be developed.

She was a vibrant, loving person, who traveled the world but always had time for her family and friends. When I was in college, she wrote me a letter every month and enclosed a $20 in each one. Sometimes she’d mail pictures, too. I saved every letter and tucked them away in the back of a photo album.

Alzheimer’s stole her from us. I watched her fade quietly away and tried desperately to find some piece of her that I could hold on to and keep for myself forever. I learned to sew and made blankets for my cousins’ kids, her great-grandchildren, just like the ones she made for us when we were small. I learned to knit and made pretty scarves for my friends (she crocheted a little, but I couldn’t get the hang of that; knitting was the next best thing). I learned her recipes, served her meals at my kitchen table, and baked hundreds of cookies to give away at Christmas.

None of it felt quite right.

And then I picked up my camera. My albums go up on Facebook instead of the hutch in the family room, but they’re there…Every birthday party, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, engagement parties, and welcoming new babies into the family. Weddings when the bride and groom are okay with it. Whenever, wherever, however my family gets together, I’ve got the camera or I’m snapping pictures on my phone.

Grandma didn’t raise me, but she was the person I counted on as a child, my constant. My mom is mentally ill and my dad was always at work. They weren’t affectionate, and there were times when things bordered on abusive; I was frequently pushed aside or ignored. My parents did the best they could, given their personal issues, but Grandma was the one who showed me what it means to be compassionate, selfless and kind, to cultivate friendships, and be a part of a loving extended family.

Alzheimer’s may have stolen my grandma, but it left me with one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Without it, I might never have discovered the capacity I have to love others. I used to think I was cold and heartless, but as the Alzheimer’s ran its course and took her farther and farther away, I tried to hold on to her tighter and tighter, and I realized that I would love her no matter how much she changed. It opened my eyes. It taught me the value in holding on to people unconditionally, which is something I had never fully understood before her diagnosis.

And that brings me to the point of today’s post:

I don’t have any good pictures of the two of us together; somehow we traded places behind the camera and, although I have plenty of pictures of Grandma, I never thought to ask anyone to take a nice, posed photo of Grandma and me.

Until yesterday. She died two days before.

There are some candid shots where we both happen to be in the frame, looking in opposite directions, and one picture of us when she was in the hospital sleeping, but nothing that really captures the bond we had with each other. And now there will never be any.

So make sure you step out from behind your camera sometimes. When you’re busy capturing those family moments, make sure you don’t forget to capture your own because one day you’re going to run out of chances to be with the people who are special to you. Ask someone to take over for a few minutes. Or use a tripod and your camera’s timer, or a shutter remote, or even a selfie stick.

Just don’t make the same mistake I did.