I know you. You may not know me, but I know you. I know you so well because I grew up with you. I remember the many times I’d run up to you smiling, arms reaching for an embrace to be pulled in and held close, comforted by your warmth. I loved this feeling so much that even as a little girl, I wanted a way to capture it and remember it for as long as I’d live. Once I discovered the magic a photograph could hold, I wanted you in all of my pictures with me whenever you were around. I didn’t understand then why you’d shy away. Why you’d stand in the back of the group photo, hiding as much of you as you physically could. Why you’d kindly say, “no, please” when someone would ask you to smile as they lifted a camera to their face. Why you absolutely hated having your picture taken.

We had no way of knowing. How could we have foreseen that your chance to be in those photos would be gone in just a few short years? How could we have known that by the time your youngest daughter turned 10, the only photos we’d have of you to hold on to would be the few we’d already taken? How could you have known that those pictures would be the means that your three daughters would try to remember you by? That long after they forgot the sound of your laugh or the crook of your smile, they’d seek to find them again in those photographs?

Dear beautiful woman who hates having her picture taken… I know you. I knew you. I was you. But I promised myself not to be. I promised myself to always remember that memories captured are far more important than the amount of makeup on my face. That a genuine smile will draw more attention than any extra weight on my body. That even though I may never see it with my own eyes, my children and my children’s children will someday look at this picture with joy and gratefulness. But most importantly, dear sweet woman who hates having her picture taken… I want to thank you. Because without the sorrow that your absence in photographs has caused, I could never have known the importance of being present in one.

Grandma, thank you for letting me take your picture when you felt far from ready to be in one. Mom, thank you for the many pictures you did take with us, though I’ll always wish we had more. I love you even if the place you most often exist is only in my memory. Your selflessness left behind a legacy in my heart far more important than any physical reminder could ever communicate. You are my reason for capturing all the beauty this life has to offer. I love you. And I’ll never stop wishing you were standing next to me in these photographs.

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