Lately, I’ve been thinking about my iPhone lock screen photo. For the last six years, it has been a picture of June showing her sweet, signature smile that lights up a room. About a week ago, I had the thought to change it to a picture of George and Peter, and then I immediately felt disloyal to June.
I recently read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It’s Didion's account of the year following the death of her husband while also caring for their daughter, who is suffering from a severe illness. This passage really popped out at me.
“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table.”
Betrayal is something I’ve felt so much over the years. I felt it when we moved from the home that June lived in with us and where she subsequently died. I feel it every time a stranger asks me how many kids I have and I only say two so as to not get into the depths of our tragedy. I feel it every year we send a Christmas card, and she isn’t included in some way. And then, I feel it at the thought of contemplating changing the photo on my phone’s lock screen.
But I think Didion was on to something. June will always be a part of me, but she isn’t the center of my life anymore. Everything I know about June tells me that’s okay. I think our loved ones who have died want us to be fully alive for the time we have left here. Like a mother gently nudging her child off as she embarks on a new chapter telling her she’s okay. We turn back for reassurance, unsure if we can do it. “Go on,” I imagine June saying encouragingly. “I’ll be right here waiting for you.”
Maybe I’m not ready to change the photo yet. But I know there will come a time when I will be ready, and it will be okay. I’m not disappointing her, moving on, or erasing her. I’m letting life be what it is…and letting June be dead and enjoying what is here.