I look at Joseph’s picture every day for a few days before Christmas. We put two of his photos on the computer, make them black and white to hide some of the discolorations, and send them to an artist who is going to do a pencil portrait of him for us. We meant to delete them right away. Keep them safe and private on the CD the hospital gave us, tucked away in Joseph’s box. And yet we didn’t.
Looking at those pictures, deciding which ones to send the artist, writing out the details of how we want him to look in the portrait, was bizarre. I hadn’t seen Joseph’s pictures in months. Sometimes I thought about them, wondered if I was ready again, but then I wouldn’t get them out. I would look at his footprints, hold his blankie, rub the soft edge of his hat.
This time I felt like I had to be objective somehow, to try and see his features as the artist might, what the contrast in the photos is like, the shape of his nose, his eyelids, his lips.
But all I could think was, That’s my son. That’s what he looks like. That is his nose, and his lips, and his eyelids.
That’s my son.
Now, I look at the photo that has become my favorite and it doesn’t scare me anymore. That’s my little baby, tucked in the yellow blanket the hospital gave us, his head covered in a knit winter hat. That’s my little boy, featherlight, who I held for just a little while one year ago.
Memory is fickle, blurred by the shock and despair and fear. The room is dim. A and I sit side by side on the hospital bed, holding our son, deciding to name him. We look at him and don’t want to look at him, and all we can think is he’s gone, this is not him.
I wish I could hold him again. I wish I could squeeze him gently to my chest, rock him, brush my lips against his forehead. I wish I could see his face again, so that this handful of photos, this portrait we are getting, will not become him.
I wish I could hold onto him.
Not sure at first about getting the portrait, now I wait impatiently for it to arrive. Every few days I ask A if she’s heard from the artist. I check the mail hoping there will be a package. I want to see my little boy, my firstborn. I want to point to his portrait and say to people, “That’s my son.” I want this new baby, his sibling, to grow up recognizing him. To say to him, as A told me she read on another’s blog, “Goodnight, baby Joseph.”
I know some babylost mamas are cautious about fetishizing their baby’s memorial things. They avoid photos and baby blankets, throw away the trinkets from the hospital, holding on only to the memories of knowing their baby and the feeling it move in their womb.
I’ve always had a strong attachment to physical things. I save every condolence card, every record of donation in our baby’s name, every scrap of paper related to his birth. I know all of Joseph’s things are not him. I know photographs and this unseen portrait are no substitute for my little boy. But in Joseph’s absence, I need things to hold. Something tangible, to help keep him present in my memory, my heart, my life.
© Burning Eye