Life's Picture Album
They share these memories with those who were there that weekend, who revel in the photographs but compare them more to the mental images they recorded. The mothers share them with acquaintances, who say the appropriate things, but unlike her, have no memories. They can only compliment the album and imagine that they too would have enjoyed the celebration. The mothers carry the albums until they are ready to let go of the fact that the celebration was wonderfully intense, but now it is over. They carry the albums until there is no one else to share the aging memories.
I was never one of those moms. In fact, I used to make fun of them. I don't even remember if the colors matched on our celebration tables. For Sarah's Bat Mitzvah, we hand painted the decorations. They were oversized carrots to feed the obsessive theme of her life: rabbits. For Anna's we celebrated in shades of purple. I am ashamed to admit to these other moms that the shades of purple were those offered at the local balloon store, not custom matched to her outfit or found in out of the way party supply stores.
But now I understand those photo albums differently. I carry one myself.
September 13, 2004 was unarguably the worst day of my life. It was the life-changing day when we lost our 16 year old, Sarah. Sarah was in her third week of her Junior year. She loved school, specifically chemistry class and orchestra. She loved learning. She had an unmatched exuberance for life.
That Monday started like any other. Sarah wanted to go to school. Because of a fever the night before I said no. As she dressed, she too realized that school was not the best choice that day; bed sounded much better. A few hours later, Sarah was fighting for her life.
We still don't know what happened to her. At first the doctors thought it was meningitis, but soon found that was not the case. Six weeks later, the doctors are still trying to piece together what happened to this vibrant teenager. They have gone through a laundry list: something she ate, something she contacted, or something that bit her. We still don't know.
What we do know is that Sarah loved life and lived it with an energetic zest. So often she spoke faster than my ears could even decipher. I was continually telling her to slow down. I'm not sure that was possible. The vibrancy of this young life ending in the piecework of a full autopsy is not an image I wish on anyone. Better replaced with a photo album.
My husband and I have always been proud of our daughters. Anna continues to shine; Sarah's flame has been extinguished. But her life's yellows matched in a quirky mismatched kind of way. As her middle school principal told us, "Sarah was the total package." The photo album of her life reflects that: her love for music and her viola, for science and rabbits, and her being the silly sweet 16 year old whose infectious smile lit up her classrooms and had nothing but the future in front of her.
What we have left of Sarah's life now are the memories, the most recent of which have been memorialized in a photo album. They are in a photo album because it is something tangible to hold, since I can no longer hold my daughter. They are in a photo album I am so ready to share, like the Bar Mitzvah mom before me. I share it with those who knew Sarah, although their mental images of how they remember her differ from the pictures I have chosen. And I share it with those unfortunate enough not to have been invited to the celebration of her life.
And I expect to carry it for a long time.
Perhaps I am not ready to let go of my wonderful experience. Perhaps I am scared that if I do not share them, the memories will be forgotten. This celebration, whom we call Sarah, was wonderfully intense, but is now over.
Perhaps I am not so different than those Bar Mitzvah moms.