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The Complete Family Picture: Who is Present? Who Is Absent?

May 22, 2019

the-complete-family-picture-who-is-present-who-is-absentMy GIFT colleagues and I have just returned from our annual retreat. Because we live in different states, we believe it is important to get together and reconnect. It’s one of the ways in which we invest in our relationship both as colleagues and as friends. It’s also a clear example of our practicing what we preach: important relationships need nurturing and attention. If we allow ourselves to take them for granted, even the most significant relationship will show signs of strain and unless behavior changes to reflect the importance of the relationship with congruent action, time and commitment. Without such changes eventually, even the most treasured relationship will collapse. And so, we spend our time, money and energy to gather, nurture, and enjoy our mutual relationship.

We had fun, managed some business details, handled some sticky relationship issues that cropped up, and charted the next year’s course for our business. One “detail” we addressed during our time together was a photo session so we could update our website. When we got the proofs back, each of us reviewed them and we tried to find one in which we all looked “good.” Group photos are always a challenge, right? As the number of people increases, the likelihood that someone has her eyes closed, is looking away from the camera or has an odd expression also increases. This triggered some thoughts on family photos…

Digital photography makes it easy for us to snap dozens—if not hundreds of pictures of our kids documenting almost every moment and milestone of their lives. As toddlers, they learn to pose for the cameras on mom or dad’s phones. Then eagerly and often, they repeatedly ask to see these photos. They look at the pictures delighted at their own images. Self-consciousness does not constrain them. They don’t care if their faces—or clothes—are smudged with dirt or if the camera caught them at a good angle. They do not ask us to delete the picture because it doesn’t look flattering enough. And so the entire family gets to enjoy the photographic documentation of a family’s life together. Except…

Too often moms avoid being in the pictures because they look disheveled, tired, or not quite up to par. And the photos reveal a mother’s absence, not a presence. Perhaps the dad is the family photographer and it is he who is an infrequent face in the family photo album. The result is the same. He’s missing from the picture.  Whether it is one or both parents whose face seldom appears in the family photo album, whatever the reason, it is a huge loss and significant missed opportunity. A picture is worth 1000 words they say.

As a person who has lost loved ones too soon, I can attest that it precisely the silly, less-than-perfect pictures of my husband, sister, mother… It is these photos that conjure the best memories, the most resonant emotions, and the deepest appreciation for having shared lives together. The fancy studio photos, edited and polished are fun for a Christmas card but they like the vitality and genuineness of the candid photos. Someday all that remains will be the pictures. Make sure you are part of them, being yourself and looking like yourself. That disheveled, imperfect, loving, "present" soul is the person your family knows and loves.

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