Sunday, September 4, 2011

What Makes a Family

I'd like to think that we're already a family. Before Andrew. Before losing him. I'd like to think that Ray and I were a family of two.

Our church is starting this series on Family Ties next week. They have a photo booth set up to photograph congregation members and regular attendees (that's us) to display in one of their excellently-crafted videos (no really, they have talent and all the Apple equipment necessary) what makes a family. The whole premise is that families come in all shapes, sizes, and formations.

But like all things related to stillbirth, I'm sure it'd make everyone uncomfortable if we sat down on that bench and held up that heart-shaped urn holding {most of} the remains of our son. What about the rest of him that sits in a container within a box typed in Courier font with his precious name picked so perfectly for our firstborn? He's a family member and will always be remembered as such. I never thought the idea of a family photo would be so numbing and painful.

When asked by a friend if we were going to have our "family" photo taken this morning, I replied with a stern, "Not a chance." He then responded with, "Not even for a church thing? I'm making the video this week and we could use your photo." I'm pretty sure they won't be missing one solitary photo in the pile. I told Ray on the drive home and he commented sarcastically and appropriately, "Sure, let's just go home and get the rest of our family." Not so simple, is it?

Most of me understands this concept. Families are made in many ways. Some are adopted families and not of blood. Some are single-parent homes. Some are same-sex partnerships. Some are inclusive of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. Whatever it may be, there are many variations of the same. It all boils down to a group of people who have chosen one another to love and care for. It's not very complex.

Or is it? Because I can tell you right now that bringing my deceased child and displaying him in our photo would represent a very bleak and uncomfortable image of family. I'm pretty sure our Lutheran church would much easier accept a same-sex partnership (with kids!) over the image of our reality. I'm also sure no one would stop me from this photo opportunity, but it would be unlikely that we'd make the first half of the video, as to not upset people or make anyone else uncomfortable. Part of me wants to have a b-roll over my photo (which will never be taken) of me saying in my best Jack Nicholson voice, "You Can't Handle the TRUTH!"

What does the future of our family look like? Are families only comprised of those with children? Will I feel a void in every single photo we ever take as a "family" together? Will I put Andrew in my pocket for a photo-opp? My lap? Hold up an ultrasound photo or even more uncomfortable, a photo of my deceased son in my arms?

I can tell you this. I will always, always think of how wrong it is that our entire family could not "make it" in the photo. That we will never be completely whole. At the very least, I did walk away feeling okay this morning. It was baptism Sunday but we decided to go to the early service (which we never do) because we were awake and ready. It turns out our service had no baptisms but all of the other services did. Thankfully so, otherwise I'd probably have to awkwardly slip out the back of the auditorium because I can't handle it. Small victory I guess. Shameful that I even give out a sigh of relief because I was "lucky" enough to avoid seeing babies and their happy parents. Their families. Their complete (maybe?) families. I'll never be too quick to assume that all families, even with small children, are ever complete because we all do have our struggles. Who would have ever thought that I'd be here. I sure didn't.


Solange, Nik and Caitlin said... [Reply to comment]

I think of you guys as a family. I did before Andrew and I still do. Whatever you choose to do is up to you and I hope you don't feel pressured into doing something you're uncomfortable with. Miss you and love you.

LookItsJessica said... [Reply to comment]

Sometimes I get so used to talking about babyloss and Liam with you guys in the blogs that I forget that it is taboo for others. For example: if you posted a pic of you guys with Andrew's urn on your blog, it would be the norm and no one would think anything of it.

I definitely understand you guys not wanting your picture taken. Not to get too personal but I grew up in a same-sex parent household after my parents divorced and I was sometimes uncomfortable about showing my family photos to people who didn't know (even though I LOVE my family so much).

But I know that people would be SO much more uncomfortable with a picture of Jordan and I and the urn than any family photo I had growing up.

Your church is really cool to be showing that families come in all shapes and sizes.

JoyAndSorrow said... [Reply to comment]

The loss of those "family" photos is something that tears me up often. Sitting in the hospital for our "family" photo...but our son was already gone. It's just so wrong, and so hard, and so unfair. (((hugs))) I hope "family" photos get easier someday, for all of us.

Renel said... [Reply to comment]

Photos. Taking a picture with Andrew's urn may be uncomfortable but it certainly is reality. A reality I wish never happened. I was just writing a blog about this myself. Maybe it's the physical manifestation of what our family is supposed to look like. Photos are just really hard because they will always be -1. The 1 we love, the 1 we miss, the 1 we wish was here with us. I am so sorry Andrews living breathing baby boy self can't be in your photos. I guess he will have to be captured in your heart. Xxoo

Tiffany said... [Reply to comment]

i vote for bringing Andrew. i totally understand. i worry myself about what our family will look like in fam pics; how a member of our family will always be missing. and though some may be uncomfortable. the truth is, we live with this discomfort and more every single day of our lives b/c our boys are gone. i often think about how we will represent Julius in pics since he's not there. but i know he will always be represented. because not representing him would make the pic something other than a family pic, and i couldn't do that. i think if you guys *want* to take the pic, do it, and stay true to your hearts and do what you need to. don't worry about how people will feel, or how you all will be perceived. no one else has to live the horror of losing your precious Andrew. you are just doing what you need to do to navigate this world without him, to bring you a bit of comfort. sending you lots of ((hugs))...

Darcey said... [Reply to comment]

I have also struggled with this and we have a weighted (Logan's birthweight) teddy bear from the wonderful non-profit called Molly Bears that will be Logan's place in our family photos.
The fact that I have to have a "Logan" bear symbolize one of my children breaks my heart, but it is what we have chosen to acknowledge his existence and he will be there in every photo for all to see.
I am so sorry he is not here for all to see :(

Kelly said... [Reply to comment]

I have also grown to hate family pictures. My sister took family pictures of us in May, and I wore a picture necklace of Adam around my neck to include him. I still haven't hung them up. It's not the same. It's painful to realize that a "family" picture will never again be complete.

Tiffany said... [Reply to comment]

I think if you guys want to have your picture with Andrew, then do it. Do what feels right to you guys (of course, nothing feels right when you have a dead child...). I have not allowed many pictures of the remaining three of us to be taken since Ellie died. For sure no professional pictures. But last weekend we were at a fundraiser and a photographer was there taking pics. We were just going to get Max's picture taken, but the photographer was set up next to a table that had all the pictures of the kids that had passed away in the last year. Our neighbor had asked to include Ellie in this display. So at the last minute I grabbed her picture and let Max hold it while we took a picture- all three of us. It broke my heart to do it, but it would have broke my heart to not do it too. It just all kinda sucks now doesn't it?

Brooke said... [Reply to comment]

Somewhere on the internet, I saw a blog that had included the Christmas card they sent out. It was a smiling family, two parents, three kids, and at the bottom of the picture it had everyone's name printed under "Merry Christmas!" And underneath all of their names, it said, "With Caitlin in our hearts."

I don't think you need to participate--it sounds painful and sad to have to take a family photo that looks so different from the way it should look. But if you wanted to take it, with Andrew represented in that photo however you chose--his urn, a blanket, a photograph, a locket--I wouldn't worry at all about whether it made other people uncomfortable. He's a beautiful part of your family even if he isn't here. He's real and he matters and he'll always be remembered. He may not show up in every family picture you'll take down the road, but of course he'll always be in your hearts.

Amelia said... [Reply to comment]

I like Brooke's ideas. There's no good or easy answer to any questions involving the loss of your beautiful Andrew.

Hope's Mama said... [Reply to comment]

Family photos are still such a sore point for me, three years on. Hard to imagine we'll NEVER have a complete family photo. Ever. It breaks my heart.
You guys are a beautiful family. Broken yes, but so beautiful.
I also agree with Brooke in that you should participate in a way that makes you comfortable, and screw everyone else.
And like LookItsJessica, I sometimes forget how "taboo" it can be for everyone else when it is such a part of my normal every day life now to talk about and see photos of dead babies.
Much love to you.

Ben and Katie said... [Reply to comment]

you are a blessing.
you are loved.
just sayin.

Kristin said... [Reply to comment]

I didn't even bother with Christmas cards last year because of this exact thing. It killed me to just include a picture of us, but I thought we'd totally freak people out by including a picture of Stevie. And we don;t even have an urn to take a picture of. I got so freaked out by her ashes, they are still in the plastic box they came in, hidden from sight. I teared up reading Brooke's comment. I love the simplicity of "with Stevie in our hearts." I'm so sorry you are in this situation. It really sucks how the sad reality of the whole losing a baby experience creeps into every single area of our lives. Thinking of you.

Kat Sparks said... [Reply to comment]

I have followed your blog for some time. I can not fathom what you have gone through. You are a family of 3, you always will be a mom. I personally wish that you did have your picture taken with Andrew's urn. I had a friend who went through a child being born still. She and her husband had a small necklace that had a pendant. In that pendant held some of her sons ashes. She has worn that necklace every day since she got it 10 years ago. It makes her feel like he is always with her. I pray for you regularly.

e Liz said... [Reply to comment]

It was helpful to read everyone’s posts. Recently we hung a collage family photo of both sides and it didn’t feel right - empty and odd since Autumn wasn’t in it. Family photos certainly feel incomplete, often awkward, and sad. I’ve been thinking about doing a family pic like the intro to “modern family” style (pic inside a pic inside a pic) – first pic being an ultrasound shot (thinking one of A’s head close up), second pic being us now, third TBD. I’ve always viewed family as different shapes & sizes, and for us, that has always included the image of us as a couple prior, and now, as a family with our first baby in heaven and in our hearts. Another BLM shared with me the idea of having a pic (transparency?) made into a small window hanging (pressed between two pieces of glass), finding special beautify when the sun would shine through. Who would have known growing up (especially in a family with 6 kids) that this part of family could be so difficult? To one very beautiful family from another <3