Sunday, March 25, 2012

10 Years Later

These flowering plum trees stand in front of our house. We planted five of them 18 years ago when we first moved in, and for the last ten years they have always reminded us of the weekend of Matthew's bar mitzvah. It was a really special time for us, as our oldest child went through this Jewish rite of passage ceremony. Family and friends gathered from as far away as England and Israel to help us celebrate. The plum trees were in full, magnificent bloom that weekend, and ever since they have always served as a reminder of that special time. This weekend marked ten years since Matthew's bar mitzvah.

Now of course, it's bittersweet. But this year it's also made me think a lot about memory and the role that pictures can play in shaping and keeping it alive. For those of us who no longer have our child with us, the past is all we have. There is no present or future. This makes pictures, cards, e-mails and old school reports even more precious. They continue to connect us to our child and keep them present with us now.

So when I go through the pictures of Matthew's bar mitzvah weekend, I see them with very different eyes. I not only see the young, kind of awkward 13-year-old, but I also see the much more confident young man he became. I am so grateful to our friend Chris who flew over from England with his wife Sue and captured these precious moments from a very special weekend.

Here are a few which I especially love:

Family pics in front of those flowering plums

Reading from the Torah

Havdalah (it's almost over)

Relaxing afterwards with his brother and cousin
From my vantage point now, ten years seems like the blink of an eye.  Yet my kids look so young in these pictures (as do the rest of us!). Of course we had no idea that Matthew wouldn't be with us a decade later, which makes me even more grateful for these pictures and how significant they've become. Since Matthew was our first-born, we have albums of the first three years of his life, and then as life got busier and busier, there are less and less. His high school years in particular are a bit spotty. But luckily, for whatever reason, we seem to have an upsurge of photos of the last three years of his life. And we cherish those more than you can know.


  1. Robin,
    I celebrate this bursting forth of writing and memories in honor of Matthew as is represented by the bursting forth of those beautiful spring blossoms after a long dark winter. How wonderful to see the pictures of Matthew and your family ten years ago and to think how quickly those ten years have flown. As you say and know bone-deep now, nothing is guaranteed in life, so the constant gift and opportunity is to be as present as we can to each other in each moment. Thank you for sharing your reflections on grief and gratitude, Robin, and thereby sowing seeds of hope.

  2. Since I didn't have the privilege of meeting Matthew in the flesh, I love seeing your family photos of him with all of you. This looks like a joy-filled celebration of unity and community, a beautiful rite of passage in his life. I'm so thankful that you shared it with us here.

  3. Robin,
    I remember that day vividly - these photos capture that slight awkwardness, a seriousness, the relief afterward.

    Your words, openness and perspective keep us attuned to what matters most.

  4. Thank you for these thoughtful comments. I wanted to post a poem that a friend just sent me. She lost her son Sammy at the age of three to microencephaly. For some reason she wasn't able to post here, but wanted to share this poem by David Ray. I think it sums up beautifully what I was trying to say.

    The Snapshots

    Had we known
    these few images
    were all we'd have of you
    we'd have been taking
    pictures all the time.
    The one i need to forget
    -to stop weeping, to live-
    is the one in my mind
    without looking.

  5. This reminds me of one of my favorite lines of Zen verse, which I offer to you as a blessing:

    "A splendid branch issues from the old plum tree."

    It's a bloom we can see forever.