Forward Living: The story of a life shown in pictures

They say every picture tells a story. Last month, I flew to California to attend my son Jeff’s marriage to the lovely Cassandra. Before the wedding, the bride and groom assembled a beautiful photo display portraying their lives so far. This simple gesture pulled at my heartstrings, then blew me away. Studying the photos, I became a time traveler, except that my feet were firmly planted on the ground.

Oh my! A picture of me “big with child,” carrying Jeff. My older son, Greg, age 4, was looking up at me. How young I looked! Scrutinizing my expression, I saw a mixture of surprise and a fair amount of fear. I had that “what was I thinking” look.

I was blindsided by a photo of me pushing Jeff in a stroller, walking Greg to his first day of school. When I said goodbye to him, there was a growing lump in my throat. Once out of Greg’s sight, I began to weep. Little did I know that was the first of many goodbyes.

A photo of “us”: me, Greg, Jeff and George (their dad and my husband) smiling into the camera. I was a young mom, working by day and attending school at night. With tears threatening to ruin my mascara, I recalled how supportive and progressive my husband was. The women’s liberation movement was in full swing — and no, I didn’t burn my bra. However, my husband recognized my quest for knowledge and didn’t feel threatened like some men. He encouraged me to fly and I did!

A picture of Jeff about 15 years old and me in a nurse’s uniform cracked me up. We sported twin “smart aleck” smirks. Greg was off to college and I suppose Jeff thought he was king of the hill. I had my own “crown”; I’d finished school and was proud to be photographed in my white cap and starched dress, complete with white stockings and shoes. Jeez; awful getup!

Still an intact family, there were photos of college graduations, Greg’s wedding and holidays. These were freeze-frame moments — moments we thought would endure — but nothing lasts forever, as we know.

And then there were three: A picture of Greg and Jeff and me after their dad died captured the grief in our eyes. I gazed at that photo for a long time. I was trying to be brave for my sons; however, my psyche had not yet adjusted to this blinding assault. William Shakespeare said it well: “What wound did ever heal but by degrees.” I eventually healed but was irrevocably changed.

A “sunburst” photo: I was happy — and why not? With me were Greg, Jeff and my new husband, “Sweet Frank.” This photo was taken on the first of our many trips together to the West Coast.

And then there was one: Unbeknownst to me, Jeff snapped a picture of me at my “sacred spot” gazing out at the bay the summer after “Sweet Frank” died. I was incredibly angry, wondering if I could ever find my way out of that confusing maze of grief — again. Walking the beach one afternoon, I realized that death is not a termination; it was a transformation for me and for those who have gone before.

A recent photo showed me with Greg and his wife, Julie, Jeff and Cassandra, all gleefully smiling into the camera. The old Ceil (not chronologically old!) was back, happy and peaceful. It was time.

I turned away from the “picture story” feeling a hodgepodge of emotions. I recalled these lyrics from a show-stopping tune from the play “Fiddler on the Roof”: “Sunrise, sunset, sunrise sunset, swiftly fly the years, one season following another laden with happiness and tears.”

I wondered what future photos would show.

I dismissed the thought immediately. These days I live in the now and “now” is pretty good. As far as the laughter and tears, it’s the fullness of life — and how grand life is, despite the heartaches. Agreed?

Iannelli_CMs. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.