Some people listen to music for the melody or the beat; I listen to music for the lyrics, and that cheeky little carrot top, Ed Sheeran and all participating radio stations who have been playing his song “Photograph” have been responsible for my impaired vision on many a drive because the lyrics are so damn poignant.
When my dad died from colon cancer in 2006, we laid out all of the photo albums my mom had been compiling during their twenty-five years of marriage. There were black and white pictures from his mysterious childhood, and color photos from the start of my parents’ marriage in the seventies right up until death they did part.
It changed something inside of me to lose someone who had been such a big part of my life, and then to look back at the photos. Our lives as we lived them had often been difficult. In my memories of my childhood, there is a lot of pain and sadness, but when you looked back at the photographs, all you could see were smiles: happy birthdays, family vacations, graduations, triumphant sporting victories, holidays, school concerts, plays, awards ceremonies, reunions…
Looking back through those photos, life looked good. All the stress my father dealt with working at a job he hated was for those moments. The blissful life depicted by the family in those photographs were his life’s work.
As part of my grieving process I looked through every last album, and when I finished, I knew one day when I had a family of my own, I wanted to be able to give them all the happiness as pictured in the photographs, and additionally, I wanted us to be happy in the moments not captured on film.
2006 was also the same year Twitter was born and the same year Facebook became open to anyone with an email address over the age of 13. With the pending explosion of the popularity of image sharing via social media websites there became a new way for us to curate our afterlives.
Fast-forward to 2014 when I was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative cancer at the age of thirty-two, and it became a reality that I might not get to live a very long life. The albums would stop being made, and my life’s work would be suddenly finished while still in its larval stage. My husband and I had only been married for four years, and our daughter was only two years old at the time of my diagnosis.
2014 was also the same year Ed Sheeran’s song “Photograph” was released on iTunes.
Now it’s 2016, and I’m showing no evidence of disease. I just ordered our yearly album of family photographs from Shutterfly.com, and I lie awake in bed tearing up just thinking about those lyrics. Darn you, Ed Sheeran!
Mahalia Breen is the author of 30ish available in Kindle and paperback form on Amazon. She has recently repatriated after six years of living overseas and currently spends her days taking photos of her family in rural Vermont.