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Sunday, March 01, 2020

Photographic evidence

Take photos of your loved ones—lots and lots of photos. Take too many photos, way too many, because when your loved one is gone, you won’t say, “I wish hadn’t taken so many photos of them.” What you’ll actually think, no matter HOW many photos you took, will be, “Why didn’t I take more?” Trust me on this: I know.

I’ve started going through my photos of Nigel, starting with what’s readily available on my computer because the rest are stored elsewhere. Next I’ll go through them, too; it’ll be a big job. My plan is to put the photos all together so that anyone in the family who wants them can have them—or not, their choice. The point is that I know the photos matter a lot to me, especially now, and I want others to have those photos because they’ll matter to some of them, too. Again, if they want them.

I noticed some patterns in my photos. There are a lot of the furbabies (of course!), and some that were for blog posts. However, among them were far too few of Nigel, mainly because we seldom took photos of each other, and it was even rarer to have photos of us together (and many of those I’ve already shared). It turns out, though, that I have a lot of photos of Nigel sleeping because the furbabies were cuddled up with him and it was such a cute scene that I had to have a photo. I never planned to share them with anyone, but I did show them to Nigel who, generally speaking, liked seeing the kids, but not himself, in the photos. That’s one of the main reasons I have so few photos of him (while he was awake…): He usually hated having his photo taken. I wish I’d ignored that.

The photo up top was taken in 2014, in our house in Auckland’s North Shore, and was one Nigel asked me to take. So is the photo of him and Leo down below, which I took at our last house together on August 4 of last year—some seven weeks before Nigel died. Talk about a bittersweet photo! He wanted both photos taken because of the furbabies—our babies.

What began this whole thing is another photo, a much older one. It was in a box I unpacked, didn’t know where to put it, so I set it out on display in the lounge. Because of that, I’ve had a lot of time to look at it.

The photo that started my project.
The photo was taken sometime between 1997 and 2006. I know this because we bought Nigel’s Orioles shirt on one of our to trips to the USA, in either 1997 on 1999 (I forget which one). At the other end of the timeframe, the person whose house it was taken in shifted out in 2006. What’s important about it, though, isn’t the date, it’s the pose.

I said to Nigel at the time that the photo was nice enough, but I also told him that to me it looked like, “me and my good friend Nigel”. At that time, there were few photos of us showing any affection with each other. No idea why not—we just didn’t take photos like that for some reason. Nigel laughed, but he also saw what I meant (of course he did—he knew me better than anyone). But, as usual, he also took in what I was saying, and after that we started taking more photos in which we were clearly a couple. I have a few of those.

What I want, though, is a breadth of photos showing the Nigel I knew and loved, and who knew and loved me. I want to remember his big grin, often tinged with cheekiness when he was joking and wisecracking. I want to see him doing the things he loved—karaoke, sharing food with guests, or just hanging out with family. And I want to look at photos of our ordinary daily lives. I want all that because I don’t want to focus any more on the way he ended, especially his final day and hours, which is still seared into my brain.

I bet others in the family want the same thing.

I won’t share many of the photos publicly, even though I can now. That framed photo that started me thinking about all my photos is one Nigel wouldn’t want shared if he was alive because he was bigger back then. But the reason I won’t share most of them is mainly because I hope there will be so many that I just won’t be able to. I think I’m right about that, but I’ll know for sure soon enough.

Leo as a hat, August 2019.
Looking at the photos today, especially the candid ones he didn’t know were being taken, I was struck by how full of life Nigel was in them. It’s obvious in his smile and in his eyes, something in stark contrast to all the photos of me at the moment, as I said early last month. My hope is that by focusing more on the happy photos of Nigel, it’ll help restore the smile in my own eyes. It certainly can’t hurt.

So, that’s why you need to take lots and lots of photos of your loved ones, because there will come a time when you’ll want to remember those better and happier days. And while we’re on the subject, let loved ones take photos of you, too: If you die first, they’ll want those photos as much as you’d want photos of them. Be kind to them then by being generous with them now.

Trust me on this: I know.

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