I brushed my fingertips over Evalyn’s and stroked the edges of her dark, brown hair, all the while wishing that it was her I was embracing and not just her photograph.
It had taken a whole fourteen months since Evalyn died for Nick and I to get to a point where we finally felt ready to go through her memory box. Truth be told, I’d been too scared to open it until that moment. Scared of my own daughter’s photo. What sort of mother does that make me? But it wasn’t Evalyn’s image that scared me. It was the fear of what emotions her image would bring out in me. What if my grief came back in full force? What if I wasn’t able to cope? What if the pain of missing her magnified itself the moment my eyes fell upon her face?
For fourteen months, I told myself I didn’t need her photograph to comfort me. Her image was in my mind every day and even though I wondered if her true self would match the beautiful baby I played on repeat in my mind, I was happy with the version of Evalyn who lived her days dancing on the surface of my thoughts; dark brown hair that was soft like silk. The cutest button nose and perfect little fingers that I spent 24 hours of my life too scared to let go of. She was beautiful. She was perfect. And for one whole day she was mine to remember, to etch into every corner of my memories until a photograph would be all we had left.
Just over a year later as we sat holding these paper images, completely in awe of her and more in love than ever, I wondered to myself why I’d even been afraid in the first place. She was the image of perfection. As I cried, I even felt a little smug with myself for having created a little girl who’s beauty left me breathless.
I never shared Evalyn’s photographs on any media platform. It had taken me, as her own mother, a long time to bring myself to look at them that I felt I would only share them with any family members or friends when they felt ready themselves to meet her. They loved her as much as we did and I had created her image in their own minds by describing her to them during our many ‘Evalyn’ conversations. Perhaps, like myself, that was all they needed.
“I hope you don’t mind,” my friend messaged me one day earlier this year, “But would I be able to see a photo of Evalyn? I’d really like to meet her but I don’t want to upset you if you’re not ready for anyone to see her yet.”
It took me all of three minutes to find Evalyn’s images I’d stored on my phone and send them to my friend. I felt so proud to share a bit more of her. What mother doesn’t love to show off her child? I sent her photos with an explanation I probably didn’t need to give but for some reason, felt like I needed to. Her cheeks look slightly bruised, I typed in my message, It’s sad that you can tell that her life has drained from her, but she is still so beautiful. SEND.
A couple of minutes later, my friend replied.
“O my God!!! I love her!!! She is so beautiful. She looks EXACTLY as I imagined her to look. She is so so beautiful . . . . “
And just like that, my friend fell in love with Evalyn as much as me. It has been nice to think in the conversations we have had about Evalyn since, that we are both picturing the same little baby girl. It has been nice that when my friend has told me just how much Evalyn looks like her siblings, I know the exact photograph she is talking about because I think exactly the same thing.
The other week, my friend messaged me again. “I was just sitting here thinking of Evalyn and was wondering if you had any more pictures. I’d love to see them if you do.”
“I wish I did,” I replied, “But I only have six photographs . . . . . ”
I went on to explain that the only photographs I have of Evalyn are the six photographs that the midwife took to put in our memory box. I told her that I wished I had more and that I wish more than anything that I would’ve taken a photo of me and Evalyn together but at the time, my mind was telling me why would I want a picture of the worst moment in my life? I told her how I wish I would have realised just how much I would’ve wanted these images of Evalyn.
I told her that it wasn’t explained to us enough about the amazing photographer’s who come into hospitals and take professional images of your little one and that the only piece of paper explaining this got lost in our mountain of paperwork about funeral care, post mortems and how to cope with the grief of losing a child. I wish I had more pictures, I told her, more pictures of Evalyn. Even just one of us with our baby girl. A nice picture that I would feel happy to show Ieuan and Iola when they are this young without having to explain about Evalyn’s ‘bruised’ cheeks. Hindsight can be both wonderful and cruel. . . .
Just after 7pm on the 15th October as The Wave Of Light began and candles were starting to be lit in honour of all our babies, our phone’s bleeped, informing both Nick and I that we had the same message.
” . . . . I have been working on a small gift for you both,” our friend had written, “well, not me, but a very kind and gentle lady called Maria has been working on something very special for you. I was going to wait to show you but she messaged me at 7pm to tell me that it was finished and I thought it was a teeny bit magical that she messaged me at the exact moment I’d lit a candle for Evalyn for the Wave Of Light to tell me that she has finished a very beautiful portrait of Evalyn. Would you like to see? I hope I haven’t upset you in any way by doing this . . . . “
As our phones beeped in unison, we found ourselves staring at a beautiful picture of our daughter. Not a photograph, but a painting. A beautiful painting full of colour. A beautiful painting that was an exact replica of the photo I had sent to my friend all those months before . But in the painting, she seemed so alive. If Evalyn would have come home with us, this is the little girl who would have met her big brother. This is the little girl who would’ve kept us awake through the night and tired through the day. Whose rosy cheeks would have turned pink with Winter’s cold pinch and sun-kissed with the touch of Summer. This painting was Evalyn. Just beautiful, perfect Evalyn.
“You have no idea how much this gift means to us,” we told our friend.
And it truly does mean so much. To see Evalyn looking so full of life is an image I thought would only ever exist in my mind. To have a friend who would go out of her way to do something to make a parent feel even closer to their baby is, quite simply, beautiful. And to now have a picture of Evalyn which I feel happy to show to her siblings in the space of time before they do eventually see her photographs one day is not only a gift to us, but a wonderful present for them too.
“I don’t even know what to say,” I cried.
“I just wanted to give you a little bit more of Evalyn,” my friend told us, “There doesn’t have to be just six pictures.”
To my friend, thank you. Thank you for your heart so full of love for our little girl who you met through a photograph. And to Maria, who painted her. Thank you so much for bringing our daughter to life on the paper in a way I so sadly couldn’t do in reality.
Thank you a million times over. From the depths of our hearts.