A picture may be worth a thousand words,
but it seldom tells the whole story.
On July 1st Mary Denman arrives. For twenty-one years I’ve avoided professional pictures, but now I need head shots—for a radio interview, for business cards, for a blog. I apologize in advance and warn Mary this might be hard.
Hard because I don’t photograph well. Because I’ve never figured out how to pose. Because nothing about “say cheese” comes natural to me. Because, after four years of braces, my lower jaw decided to grow and when I smile big it sticks out and, as my son says, my eyes “go Chinese.”
Mary smiles and tells me to relax. “I’ll get the pictures you need,” she says. “Plus a couple for your husband to put on his desk.”
I keep secret the main reason I’ve dreaded today, however, although I think Mary might know. My daughter, Jenna, should be a high school senior. Mary ought to be photographing her.
I imagine Jenna standing in my place. Smiling. Posing. Radiant. Glowing. Instead, it’s me who’s left, with a story I wish I had no reason to share. The twisting in my gut reminds me of how much I hate suicide.
Mary suggests we start outside on the back patio. She motions to a bench, and I sit. She puts me at ease, snaps away, speaks kind words. But I can feel my forced smile, my dull eyes, and I’m sure that even the most gifted photographer can’t capture joy that isn’t there.
Next we move to the steps. They’re marked with my husband’s footprints and coated in South Carolina’s staining red clay. I sit against the twisted-iron rail anyway.
“Just be yourself,” Mary says. I loosen up and lean back. The railing wobbles. It’s broken, so I smile—a genuine grin—picturing what the photo would look like if it were to give. Mary captures the moment.
Afterwards, following a quick change of clothes, Mary motions me to the opposite sun-rotten bench. As I sit, I remember being in the same place nearly three years ago.
“Jenna,” I’d called, “could you take a picture for me?”
Gently I placed my new Nikon in her hands, slung the strap around her neck, showed her how to auto-focus the camera. I smiled at her, my effervescent 14-year-old girl, while she pressed the button.
“I’ve taken three, Mom. Is that enough?”
“Snap a few more, Jenna,” I said, “just to make sure there’s a good one. I’m ready to change my Facebook photo—to replace the one that’s five years old.”
Shrugging her shoulders, she sighed, obeyed, then set down the camera and ran off to write.
As Mary shoots, I wonder if I’ll have enough courage to let go of the photo Jenna took.
“Look over there,” she tenderly says. “Think of Jenna. No one will see this photo. It’s just for you.”
I remember, but no tears come. There were plenty in private earlier this morning. I’m guessing they’re all dried up.
But Mary’s aren’t. She shoots the photos, then lowers her camera as tears for me slide down her cheeks.
Finally we finish then return inside. Mary flips through the pictures she’s taken and assures me there are enough decent ones for what I need. Relieved, I breathe.
We stand at the front door and gaze at my lawn. It looks like a meadow.
“Once I took pictures of Cindy Sproles lying in the grass,” says Mary. “They turned out great.”
Cindy. The director of a writers’ conference I attended, the author of Mercy’s Rain. Recalling the photos, I turn towards Mary.
“Could we?” After all she’s done, I scold myself for daring to ask.
Without hesitation, she answers. “Let’s do it.”
Having spent a lifetime avoiding cameras, I can’t believe I suggested this. Maybe it’s because it resonates with the kid in me who never fully grew up.
Settling myself on the unmown lawn, I extend my legs and make myself comfortable. That’s when I realize the mistake I’ve made.
Fifteen feet in front of me looms the giant oak—the tree Jenna stood beside for her Facebook photo. I remember her there—see her barely seven-year-old brother videoing her with the flip camera a week before her unforeseen death—and my heartbeat quickens.
Then I remember the cul-de-sac, where she took her final breath, is less than two hundred yards behind me. I don’t think I can go through with this.
Preparing to say I’ve changed my mind, I glance at Mary. Wearing a lovely red and white sundress, she’s on her stomach, stretched out atop my unkempt yard, determined to get this photo.
I shake my head in disbelief. Because Mary is choosing to be more than a photographer. She’s selflessly choosing to be a friend and enter into my mess.
At that moment I see beautiful story—a healing balm to the bittersweet. And then I laugh inside, because the unexpected sight is crazy-filled fun.
My eyes light up, I smile, and Mary captures it—the picture for Speak Up radio, the picture for the blog, the picture for a new Facebook profile photo.
A photo that reminds me there’s hope.
I must designate an entire box of tissues for those moments when I read your blog, sweet friend. Your words stir within me much sadness, and yet much inspiration and joy. It's your perspective that makes the difference. Thank you for sharing the story behind the picture.ReplyDelete
And thank you, Mary. You're an amazing friend to many, and I'm thankful to be counted among them.
Love you both!
I wish the bittersweetness didn't make you cry. I wish it didn't make me cry. Thank you, Cathy, for embracing the story in so many ways. Thank you for being a faithful friend. Much love to you. Always.Delete
Oh. My. Goodness. I'd give anything in the world for your story NOT to be this one. But I'm so blessed by the fact that you are sharing it with us. I know heaven is celebrating at your obedience and grace. Luv u both!ReplyDelete
I'd give anything too. Thank you, Edie, for sharing perspective. You give me courage to continue to enter into the story and let it come out. . . and I am grateful.Delete
Beth, every single blog post you write is so incredibly powerful. Thank you for allowing God to use your heart, and your words.ReplyDelete
This means so much coming from you, Rebecca. You're welcome. And, thank you.Delete
Keep telling your story, Beth. I know God is using you to help others find hope and joy, tooReplyDelete
I hope that He will bring much good from it. Thank you for your encouragement, Melissa.Delete
Beth, I will love you and Jenna always. Your selflessness is immeasurable. Emma sends her love.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Kathy. I continue to go back to the good words you spoke to me a few months after Jenna's death. And, when I write, I often look at the beautiful drawing Emma sketched of Jenna. Both of you have been friends and given treasured gifts. I love you too.Delete
Thank you for sharing your heartaches and heartjoys. I’m so sorry you had to go through such pain but I’m sure the Lord will use it for your good and His Glory ‘cause He loves you so much.ReplyDelete
I believe and receive that, Marjorie. Thank you for reading the story and sharing such encouraging words.Delete
Beth, I walked beside my best friend after her son's suicide. Thank you for your words. I'd love to connect her to you. I lost my daughter to cancer when she was 16 months old. There are no words to comfort a mom. That was 38 years ago. What I can tell you is you'll never forget. Something will jar a memory when you least expect it and the tears will slip down your cheeks. But somewhere on this journey to healing, you fill that emptiness with precious memories whose balm heal you from the inside out. You'll never be the same. You'll be a more tender version of you. God will use you in ways you never imagined. And while you may never understand, you'll see that indeed He makes all things good. Love and prayers.ReplyDelete
I hurt for you in the loss of your daughter, Carol. Your words are priceless though. They're hard to read--because it's not the road any mom would choose to travel--but they also speak comfort and hope. I've read them several times. Thank you for taking time to reach out and share this with me. I'm so grateful that you did. And, please feel free to connect your friend and me. Grace and peace to you.Delete
So beautifully, poignantly, sensitively relived and put out there to bring hope and encouragement. The pictures are priceless too. Hearts full of love your way.ReplyDelete
Relived. I'd never thought of it that way but, yes, that's what it is. Thank you, Marcia, for reflecting back to me what's hard for me to see. Thank you for being a friend.Delete
this is so much of an encouraging for me, that u are starting to lift up your matters away!! :_) when i saw Crista up there the other night praising the lord like crazy with her arms lifted, i wished Jenna would have gotten that out of herself but its so wonderful, that even though her sister took sucide, i think thats moment when she opened up to the Lord and never went back!! :D im soo glad for u and Crista to see the bright side of doubt. im still trying to not forget but not feel like im a bad friend for not reaching to her more than others have.. but after two years. its getting better and better... im sorry that this is a long comment. but i thank u for sharing this, and im thanking the Lord for shining the light on Crista!! :DReplyDelete
This is a beautiful comment, Cresa. No need to apologize that it's long. :)) Please feel no guilt. You have been a wonderful and true friend to both of my daughters. I love who you are and am thankful for you.Delete
Oh Beth, thank you for sharing this beautiful story of hope slowly being restored. Thank you for your transparency, for allowing us a glimpse of your precious memories, a little taste of life with Jenna. I praise God for His tender gift of joy.ReplyDelete
And Mary...thank you. What a beautiful tribute to you and your gift of love.
It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized that, even though everything has changed, I'm still Jenna's mom. And every mom delights in sharing about her son or daughter. So thank you, Vonda, for allowing me the pleasure of introducing Jenna to you. I'm honored that you would want to know her. That's yet another tender gift of joy He's given.Delete
Dear Beth, He shines out from your words but especially from the smile in your pictures! You and Jenna, a team now, touching people's lives as you touched mine so many times. I've thought about both of you whether I was on one end or the other, and the absolute beauty of the sweetest of girls at the sweetest of ages, and her mother, who made her so, and who reached out to others in the midst of it all. I am very proud to say that I know you at all. My deepest love from that place of knowing.ReplyDelete
This is so beautifully said, Barbara. Thank you. I've read it several times and am both encouraged and humbled each time I do. You brought much good into Jenna's life. I'm honored and glad to know you too.ReplyDelete