Several years ago, I decided to take on the task of digitizing the immense number of old family photos stored at my mother’s house. The pictures dated back to the 1870s with the quantity taken per year exploding in the mid-1980s. There were photos of old houses, old pets, and old friends. All-in-all, it was a deeply emotional experience.
For the most part, the task is now complete. It’s hard to give an accurate number of photos because some smaller ones were scanned together in groups and haven’t yet been separated into individual files, but the number is well over 8,000; possibly much higher. However in all of those photos there is not one single image that contains me, my sister, and both of our parents together. Every other possible combination is represented multiple times. Me and my mum? Check. My sister and my dad? Check. My mum and dad? Check. But not one single photograph holds us all together. Not one.
My father passed away suddenly when I was five years old (which is admittedly very early in my life). We had five years to take that photograph. Five whole years where all four of us lived together under one roof. My dad was an avid photographer and my sister even worked in a processing shop—yet it apparently it never occurred to anyone to grab a camera and take that one photo. These days I’m hoping that a picture might one day show up in a relative’s album, something snapped at a family get-together that I’ve never seen before. But as elderly relatives slowly decrease in number and the elusive shot I’m hoping to see continues not to materialise; I have to admit my hope is starting to wear a little thin.
This Mother’s Day you might be getting together with your family and if you are, I’m going to ask you do to do something. Take a photo. Grab everyone together and take it today. Don’t worry about the lighting, or whether someone’s a bit tired or hasn’t quite got over a cold. Just take it. Set up a timer if you can or just hold you phone out at arm’s length and snap a selfie. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is capturing that moment. It might seem morbid to think about loss on a day like this—I’ve never been very good at judging what others consider depressing—but you really don’t know how long you have together. Before we know it, people leave and the opportunities become fewer and fewer. So today, take out your cameras, gather everyone together and take that photo with everyone together. If nothing else you can frame it and give it to your mom next year, present sorted!