I opened up an email with scans of my recent film photos and immediately burst into tears. A month prior, I had picked up my film camera for the first time since college and started shooting again. I sent my newly shot rolls of film to a dark room lab, and this email — the one I was now sobbing over — contained those scans.
Nestled among those photos were pictures of my mom, which wouldn’t be odd if she hadn't suddenly died 5 years ago in a car accident. I must’ve unintentionally grabbed an old roll of film from my camera bag to send in for development, not realizing what I was doing. I opened up those photos expecting to see pictures of the ocean and friends and road trips. Instead, I had the shock of seeing forgotten photos of my mom alive, walking, holding my dad’s hand, and smiling — it took my breath away.
And in that space of absent air, a certain kind of feeling crept in. Some call it grief, but I wonder what that even means...
And in that space of absent air, a certain kind of feeling crept in. Some call it grief, but I wonder what that even means, because it falls short of truly capturing that moment. It was one of coexisting joy and sadness. It was a feeling of longing — a wishing I could roll myself up into that roll of exposures and transport myself back to the time I saw in the images before me. One where I was smiling behind the camera and breathing in fresh mountain air. A time before my dad started heavily drinking and chasing a girlfriend who didn’t love him. A time before my older sister — seen in this photo, walking hand in hand with her boyfriend — wasn’t living with PTSD and a fuse so short that we all treaded lightly near her. I was longing for a time I couldn’t have.
The feeling I get from these photos is the same emotion I have about Mother’s Day — a longing to celebrate with my mom, but knowing it’s impossible. For years after the accident, Mother’s Day came and went and I was left feeling isolated, like I had no way to be seen on this day while families around me were able to enjoy their togetherness. It was as if Mother’s Day happened to me, and I had no choice in it.
What if we see our grief as a vessel for love and connection — as a way to honor those we’re missing?
But what if we get to choose how we show up for hard moments? What if we have agency over how we respond in situations that seem hopeless? What if we see our grief as a vessel for love and connection — as a way to honor those we’re missing?
I found my own way to respond to Mother’s Day — it’s not important what that response is. What is important is to understand we all have different moments that we wish we could return to, different situations that once felt incredibly safe and familiar which now make us feel lonely and scared. By allowing ourselves to fully feel those emotions, we give ourselves permission to search for a new perspective, one which honors our agency and autonomy by giving us a way to move forward.
No matter where you are this Mother’s Day, or any day, may you allow yourself the space to explore a new ending — one that you get to choose, rather than one that chose you.