I’m writing this post to explain my silence over the last couple of months, a kind of catharsis if you will. I hope it will also serve as a reminder of the role that photography plays in preserving our memories.
I was at the Baltic Sea in Germany in July, when I got an unexpected and most unwelcome message from my Dad. My brother had suffered a massive heart attack and was in hospital awaiting a triple bypass. ‘He’s fine though’, said my Dad, ever the parent trying to allay his little girl’s fears.
I was shocked. Floored really. I don’t remember much of that day. I do remember a lot of tears. A lot of coffee. Very little else. I know that it involved a puppet show for our 4-year-old… I’ve seen photos from the day, so now I also know that there was some face painting. And strawberries, which our soon to be 2-year-old just loves. The day was beautiful, Germany at its best. What did I care? My husband and I talked. A lot. I decided to fly home. To leave my husband, and my beautiful little girls at the beach enjoying the rest of their holiday. To visit my big brother – my only sibling.
I managed to get a flight to Auckland from Amsterdam, where we were meeting friends for the weekend. Good friends. The kind of friends you need when your world feels as though it’s falling apart. The kind of friends who drive you to the airport so that your children don’t see your heart breaking. Feeling as if I were made of lead I boarded the plane, not knowing whether I would still have a brother when I got off at the other end. Never has a 30 hour trip felt so long. I watched more movies than I have in the past 5 years. I recall none of them.
I arrived in Auckland, and found a taxi to take me to a nearby hotel. I slept. Fitfully, but more than I had in the previous 48 hours. My alarm went off just as I finished showering and drying my hair. I checked out, and went to collect my rental car. I drove. Like the proverbial bat out of hell. Albeit a very scared and exhausted bat. Just over 90 minutes later I walked into the Waikato hospital. A lovely old lady volunteering at the information desk took one look at me, stood up, walked around to the front of the desk, and hugged me. That was all the permission I need to let out an eerie wail that had been building up for days.
Armed with a map of the hospital I set off to find him – my brother. After a couple of false turns, I rounded a corner, and there he was. Standing right in front of me. I bawled. I don’t know what I’d expected, but the relief that he was alive never mind standing in the corridor was immense. Mum and Dad walked in a few minutes later, and suddenly we were that family again. Just the four of us. Mum, Dad, Steven and I.
The family that I’ve always been part of. The family whose shared experiences form the jigsaw puzzle of my childhood. Some pieces of the puzzle are actual memories created in my mind at the time. Others are comprised of snapshots. Photographs that froze moments of our lives. Events that may have seemed mundane at the time were given a sense of permanence. I can no longer differentiate the memories created in real-time, from those created by looking through our family albums. Nor do I want to.
What I do care about though is making sure that I do the same for my daughters. I owe it to them to preserve their childhood memories, to create little legacies of their lives. Our lives. Our time in this world is not unlimited. There will come a time when all that is left are the photographs. And the memories.
I saw a wonderful quote by Susan Sontag last week. One that I stumbled upon as I wondered how to express myself. How to tell this very personal story. A story that I’m very pleased to tell you ends well. With my brother recuperating at home after his bypass, and me back home in Moscow with my husband and girls.
“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Have a wonderful weekend everybody. Get out there and create YOUR little legacies. Coralie XoXo