Last weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. It was a joyous occasion honoring a remarkable woman. It was also a devastating reminder that my mother is gone, that she will never celebrate her 80th birthday, or any birthday, ever again.
There is no way to prepare for the pain of losing a parent. It’s like being forced into an oddly exclusive club you never knew existed. Only after experiencing it can you understand the grief, the void, the all-consuming feelings of sadness.
When my mom passed away in early 2021, the following month was a blur—it was as if I was watching my life from outside my body. Getting up in the morning, making lunches, driving my daughters back and forth to school all happened because they had to happen. I became a robot performing tasks I was programmed to carry out.
Time alone was excruciating.
I found myself just sitting, paralyzed, in shock. At ages eight and four, would my girls even remember their Grammy? I couldn’t bear to think about it, so I started putting together photo books—one for each of my two daughters. I combed through thousands of pictures like a machine sorting coins. I collected photos of playing board games, celebrating birthdays, going out for lunches, reading books—anything and everything I could find that showed the girls enjoying time with their beloved Grammy.
A year later, both girls reach for their photo books often. Captions under each picture tell a story of the special bond between a grandmother and her granddaughters. Feelings of comfort and love resurface like flowers blooming in the spring, keeping her memory alive in their young minds.
As we sang to my mother-in-law on her milestone 80th, I couldn’t help but think about one of the last pictures in the girls’ books. It was a shot of my mom’s 73rd birthday, which, unbeknownst to us, would be her last. With a granddaughter on each side, Mom beams with joy as she blows out her birthday candles, an image that illuminates the happiness her grandchildren brought to her special day.
It’s how she would want them to remember her.
I am beyond grateful for my mother-in-law, and I genuinely hope we are celebrating her 90th birthday in 10 years. But losing my mom so suddenly taught me how unpredictable life can be. Turning 80 is a gift not everyone gets. It’s a special occasion worth remembering.
And so I was unapologetically camera-crazy that day. I snapped shots of my girls with their grandparents, my husband with his mother, my mother-in-law with her daughter and granddaughters.
When I saw a sweet moment, I captured it because I’ve learned that all we have for sure is the moment we are living in now—a moment that will become a memory. And that moment is everything.