The Struggle to Preserve Photos of Loved Ones

04/02/2015 12:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

I finally did today something that I have wanted to do but avoided for over 10 years. Today, I found the strength and the time to go through and label photographic negatives (remember them?) from 1995 through 2004. I've been afraid to do this, as the project requires reviewing the timeline of my life as a young wife and new mother in kodachrome. 1995-2004 was the sweet spot for our family.


By odd coincidence, Charlotte died in August of 2004. For several months, I could barely function, let alone chronicle the events of the day, so it was not until early 2005 that I started keeping track of our family life with a camera. By then, we had gone digital. Charlotte's entire life is represented in the negatives that I sorted today. From the day she was born in 1997 until three days before she died in 2004. Writing about it now, I feel the knot in my gut growing. But this morning, as I worked on the project, I was methodical and somewhat disengaged as I worked through the piles.

The six-inch tall stack of sheets of negatives tells the story of our young family. It tells the story of BEFORE.


Reviewing the negatives, I feared, might take me to the bottom of the grief abyss again. It's harrowing climbing out of that deep hole and forging a new life after staggering loss. It's mighty hard work to weave together the fullness of the experience of what life was like before with what life was like after and find some way to feel any sense of comfort or sense of acceptance about it. And yet I MUST. We all MUST. And I waited and avoided and made excuses. I even had the courage to write a book and share it with the world over these past 10 years, but still, I waited on the negatives.

I was afraid of them. But today, I did it. I did it.

Sitting here quietly and scanning the piles before me, I am aware of my feet on the ground, my heart beating quietly in my chest and the breath moving through me with ease. I feel a sense of completion and relief to be sending them off to be digitized. The effort will be worthwhile. Our family records will now include a full history in pictures. Charlotte's older brother and younger sister will have free access to the full archive of our family life and their childhood. I did it for them, but I also now know I did it for me.

I'm looking forward to scrolling through the memories when the negatives come back to me as jpgs on discs. I'll savor them. I know I'll weep, but I'm also looking forward to that deep dive back into the outtakes of photos not used in albums, but still worthy of keeping. Photos of painted faces on Halloween, birthday parties, family trips and sports activities. I'm so glad that we have them, so proud to have found a way to finally complete the project, and so relieved that I didn't fall into the abyss as I did the work today.