The Light of Other DaysPublished 8 years, 8 months past
Every day or three, I upload another batch of photos to Flickr, trying to work my way through the backlog and get caught up with the present. This is a habit I enforce inconsistently, because I’m bad at maintaining regular habits even at the best of times. That halfway explains the backlog. When I do enforce it, my habit is to upload no more than 10 or 15 photos at a time, so that I can properly tag and geolocate them without having to invest hours in the process. That explains the other half of the backlog. Right now, as I write this, I’m about six weeks behind.
Which means that yesterday, I uploaded the first half of the pictures from Rebecca’s sixth birthday party. It’s been over five weeks now since she died, but in the Flickrverse, she still has six days to live. She’s still tired but essentially herself, riding the Rocket Car and eating mini-donuts and chasing bubbles and hula hooping and blowing out the candles on her half of the enormous Frozen-themed cake shared with Ruth, her best friend in the whole world, the girl who shares her initials and whose birthday is only a few days apart from hers.
She still doesn’t know, none of us know, that the experimental medicine has failed and the tumor has been growing unchecked for weeks, compressing normal brain matter and now only days away from killing her. Just two days after her birthday party, an MRI will reveal the horrible truth, but in the Flickrverse, that day has not yet come.
Flickr and my laptop combine to become a digital slow glass, bathing me in the light of days past. I look at those pictures, tag them, adorn them with metadata, sort some into albums, and all the while I remember how we felt that day. We were worried, Kat and I, but we still had hope. Everyone there still hoped that she’d find a way to survive, and that hope was not unreasonable.
And so the party was not a wake for a still-living child, but a joyful celebration of her life and the simple fact that she’d lived long enough and well enough to enjoy the party. There had been times in the previous few weeks that we’d thought she wouldn’t make it that far. Had we held the party six days later, on her actual birthday, as originally planned, she wouldn’t have.
We didn’t know that then, but I know that now. As I witness those days past, trying to taste some trace of what life was like then, I also have the horrible foreknowledge of what will happen in the days to come. I know without question that the MRI will happen, that the news will be dire. That she will sink into herself and lose so much of what we fought so hard to preserve, and that it will be lost quickly, in the span of a few days. That we will believe she is leaving us the day before she actually does, and be surprised when she wakes and has a semi-normal evening, believing when that happens that she has a week or two left. That the next day, the week will end with her actual birthday, the day that shatters us, the day she dies.
Today or tomorrow, I’ll upload the second half of the party photos, and her birthday party will once more be over and that final week will once more begin. I could stop there, just walk away from uploading forever, and a large part of me cries out to do exactly that — but doing so would arrest more than just the glacially slow expansion of my Flickr account. If I allow myself to stop there, arrested in the days when we could still feel hope, it will be that much harder to reconcile the past and present. Without that reconciliation, it is very likely I will never feel hope again.
For myself and my future, the future we were unable to bring her into but must inhabit anyway, I have to keep going. I have to upload the photos of that last week, relive the horror and anguish, the moments I captured as well as the moments I didn’t but will never be able to forget. I have to let her go again.
And so the light keeps coming through the slow glass we’ve built, emerging from distributed panes aglow with the light of other days, pushing closer and closer to the unwelcome present.
This line is so poignant in today’s digital age: “I have to let her go again.” Living life online can make it harder to control when we are confronted with the past.
I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing TO say, but I’ll thank you again for being willing to share all of this with us and to let us see the smiles and the tears and everything that made Rebecca’s life so well lived.
I think we are afraid that letting go of grief means we have “moved on”, but I don’t think that is true. I find that as you slowly let go of the horrible pain, there is more room in your heart for your lost loved one, and room for belief they are never really gone, and that you will be reunited in time ♡
Inhabiting your future without her must be the challenge of a lifetime. I know it can be done; my grandparents did it, and current friends, too. But I’m nonetheless stunned by the thought. One day after the next until you get used to it I suppose. Thank you for sharing your strength and inspiration, in this, our digital age.
Aw, man. She was beautiful. It’s stunning that she was so full of life six days before she passed. In the picture with the batman face-paint she looks just like Emma Lynn. I’m really sorry.
Eric, there are no words to say. Through this blog we are getting to elucidate a tiny, infinitely small sliver of what you are going through, and of course, there are no words. I’m really sorry, Eric. Tremendously so. Never the pieces of our lives are reunited again, but I sincerely hope you can ever be at peace with what happened. You are in our thoughts.
Keep going with your uploading but go back in your Flickr time machine whenever the present becomes particularly unbearable.
On the wall above my desk at home I have large printouts of photos of my recently dead partner of forty years. Being able to glance up and see her smile, her form, her features helps – a lot.
For what it’s worth, Rebecca looks like she had a wonderful time at her party.
This made me cry. I have some photos and a video taken in the days leading up to my daughter passing. They are a precious few that stir the joy of the moment up with the momentous pain to come. I’d never be without them though, they are a proof, but they are also finite. The greatest sadness is that there will never be any more, the greatest joy is that there are any at all. Thank you for having the courage to keep going.
There are no words, yet I have these…what’s not to love about that face, that light.
From my distance (and an admitted position of ignorance), you sound better. Even as you get caught up with the present, you are still Rebecca’s daddy. You always will be. My hope is that that can be an affirmation to make you feel more joy than sorrow as time goes on.
Peace and love to you and your family.
I linked to you from unvirtous Abby. I’m so sorry for your loss. Prayers for you and your family.
There is a Hebrew poet that wrote about this. i took comfort with his poems when i was grieving. I did my best to translate this so i can capture the spirit of things.
Eric, you are an inspiration and a beacon.
צִיַּרְתִּי לִי מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם
לְזֵכֶר כָּל מֵתַי.
וְהֵם שׁוֹמְעִים אוֹתִי קוֹרֵא בִּשְׁמָם
וּמְשִׁיבִים לִי בְּחִיּוּךְ פָּנִים.
עָצוּב בִּלְעֲדֵיהֶם בַּחֲדָרִים
שֶׁבָּם הִשְׁאִירוּ אֶת הֵדֵי קוֹלָם.
אֲנִי נוֹתֵן לָהֶם חַיִּים –
וְהֵם חַיִּים אוֹתָם שֵׁנִית
אֲבָל עָצוּב בִּלְעֲדֵיהֶם בַּחֲדָרִים.
I drew the sky of heavens,
to remember my dead.
And they hear me call their names,
And return a smile,
It is sad without them in the rooms,
where they left their echos.
– I give them life,
to all my dead,
and they live their life again,
but it is sad without them in the rooms.
I almost can’t find words; I’m deeply moved by what you write and by the beautiful photos on Flickr. Your family is in my thoughts.
The wonderful love you have shared must truly shine through this sadness. What a precious gift, even for a moment, an hour, if not for a lifetime. The photos are magnificent.
Thank you for posting the pictures. I have never met you. I have never met your family. You have given me knowledge through your books that is all. Until now. Now you have given all of us a piece of you and a glimpse into your family. So thank you.
Your sharing gives us all strength.
Sorry for your loss Eric. I came here for your CSS reset and was poking around your site, and read some of your posts about your daughter. She was a beautiful child and is now a beautiful spirit.
Very sorry for your loss.
Eric – I’ve relied on your work and thinking countless times, for which I am in your debt. I came here to read about methods for organizing an (S)CSS project. I didn’t know about your daughter. Your writing is as succinct as always but this evening it is a reminds that – try as we might to categorize, comment, and clarify – life is disorganized. It is a jumble, it is a mess, and it rarely works they way we imagined it would.
With 1/3 ♡ and 2/3 respect.
I’m thinking about little Rebecca a lot today, and I am thanking God that she was so well loved during her time here.