Lately I have been making the big commitment - that is, hanging things on the walls of our new home. I'm taking it slow - making sure I don't hang things "just to hang things," but giving thought to what should go where.
Some of those things are photos. I created a wall that has profile photos of all three children with current photos beneath that I will change as I get new ones. Except for one...
I love this little arrangement, I do. But each time I turn the corner it is a tough reminder that there is one picture that will never change. Gavin's last school photo.
Brian will grow and Hope will grow and we will get older... but in our hearts and minds, Gavin is frozen as a 5 1/2 year old boy. It stings. Every single time, it stings.
I created another wall. I wanted to hang a family photo and individuals of the kids - but I hate the feeling that I'm leaving Gavin out. Usually I try to represent him in some little way - even if no one can notice. But in this family photo, I hadn't done that. So I decided to hang one of my favorite family photos with Gavin in it and make it an all-canvas wall. Once again, the photos will change... but the portrait with Gavin won't.
(As it turns out, it's not easy to take pictures of pictures!)
This past weekend we hosted my family for our annual Christmas party. My sister, Meg, from New Hampshire stayed at the house most of the weekend. My brother, Mike, came up from Virginia. And Tom and Bean came with their families and Granny. There were 29 of us. Unfortunately, two of my nieces and my nephew and his wife couldn't make it. And, of course, Gavin wasn't there. But boy - 29 of my 34 favorite people were there and our home was filled with love and laughter and playing and great food.
I'm grateful that we have so much space in our new home and I was able to create my "dream table." One long table that included everybody. There was no kid's table here - all of us were one unit and all the ages were all mixed up. Uncle Mike chatted with Brian and Isabella. Granny was surrounded by her adoring teenage nephews. Ed was across from his nieces. I grabbed my nieces "selfie stick" - got a quick lesson - and then promptly put my brother, Mike, in charge!
We were able to celebrate my great nephew's first birthday after dinner in a sweet way. William, the son of my oldest niece, Emily and her husband, Josh, just turned one! We all sang Happy Birthday and Brian accompanied us on his guitar with his cousin, Isabella, by his side. Those two were inseparable all day!
Before dinner, we all opened gifts from Granny (she loves to spoil all of us) and the kids opened pollyanna gifts from each other.
And the kids all gathered around when we gave Granny a photo calendar with all of her children, grandchildren, great grandchild...and another great on the way! We gave her other things, but this calendar was a big hit. She can look at all the people who love her every single day!
They all posed with her and I found it so hard to believe the beautiful little girl I carried around at my high school graduation is now a married mother... the babies I once held are now men... my nieces all stunning young women. I can't imagine how my Mom feels as she looks at each one of us!
But it was the huge group picture that I organized that still puts a lump in my throat. I set up my tripod and snapped a photo of all 29 of us. Later when I looked at it, I had to hold back my tears. Not for the missing nieces and nephew - because I know they'll make the next one. I choked back my emotion for the little frozen boy who will never again be part of pollyanna... and playing with his cousins. I'll never see him excited around all the chaos and fun... or break into a grin at the sight of his Granny. And he'll never again smile for a family photo.
But then I looked up. At the top of our tree, above all of his Aunts and Uncles and cousins and family sits the custom made angel that I had made after his death. It holds so much symbolism - the green and blue swirling together like the ocean he so loved... the starfish in her hair... the shells on her skirt. It's not the same, obviously. But it reminded me that he was there that day. I just forgot in my busyness to stop and see. But he was as there as Brian's giggles. He was there as baby William's determined crawling. He was there in our singing. He was there in our love.
It's impossible sometimes to navigate life after losing a child. It's the worst possible thing that can happen to someone, really. But somehow the great big love that we shared with him helps to melt our frozen, broken hearts.
I can still see all of us together in my mind - the love, palpable. And that picture will never change.