I keep this picture of my mom on my desk. You can see her standing just outside of her front door. She’s leaning casually against the railing and there is a big smile on her face.
It’s one of my (many) favorite pictures of her. It personifies who she was and how she lived.
If you were someone she loved and you appeared at her door you would be greeted with an exclamation of how delighted she was to see you. Then she would hug and kiss you.
Sometimes she would be so excited to see you that she would forget to say hello. So a few minutes after your visit began, she would stop whatever she was doing, look at you and say ‘hello‘. I can still hear her, “Hello, Beth“. It was as if her excitement at seeing you got the best of her and when she started to calm down she would remember the importance of a traditional greeting. Of course, no one who received her warm welcome thought twice about her skipping the formal hello.
This picture captures how she loved. Behind the glass screen door is the front door but you can’t see it in the photo because it is wide open. That openness embodied how she loved. You were welcome anytime. The door to her heart was always open.
There are other things I’m reminded of when I look at this photo. She often looked younger than she really was. She dressed casually and it gave her a youthful look. She never quite mastered the art or desire of dressing up. And her hair….once a startling red….had dimmed to a soft brown. It never truly turned gray. All these things, along with her quick and easy smile made her approachable.
Her casual lean against the railing belied how her body felt. Her smile was genuine but her body was often uncomfortable and in pain. In the picture you wouldn’t guess it looking at her and that was just like her as well. She rarely complained and when she did she quickly felt badly both for burdening you with her struggle and for not being able to handle her discomfort without expressing it.
She felt weak when she complained. But there was nothing weak about her. She was happiest when she could help relieve you of any part of your own burden. She was rarely one to try and solve your problems. But oh how she could listen!
She would often be surprised when a total stranger would open up to her and share some struggle they were having. But to those of us who knew her, it made perfect sense. Strangers seemed to sense that she was someone that they could trust. Her openness would never betray that trust. You could tell her anything and if you asked her not to tell anyone, you could rely on her keeping it to herself. Not once in my entire life did she ever betray my trust. Even once her battle with dementia began…she continued to be the best secret keeper I have ever met, never forgetting what she shouldn’t share.
It’s not that she was without fault. She would be the first to tell you she wasn’t perfect. But this photograph captures all of her best traits. When I look at it, I am reminded of her warmth and generosity. I see a kind and good person whom it was safe to be yourself with.
All these things….so much love…captured in a single photograph.