Blank Pages

March 19, 2012

Photo albums rarely seem to have the right number of pages.

All of the old albums that I’ve seen from my grandmother, or DH’s grandparents, have exactly the right number of pages because they were bound by hand. Same with my wedding album — I inserted exactly as many pages as I needed into the book, and when I received some extras, I took the book apart and inserted more.

Most of the albums from my childhood have the right number of pages too, because my father (and later, I) spaced the photos out in such a way that they fit the album exactly. As an adult, I bought a 200-slot album for a trip that DH and I took; I had 205 photos to put into it, so I took out the 5 that were least worth keeping.

I’ve seen a few albums that didn’t have enough pages. A bunch of photos were arranged more densely on the last few pages than in the rest of the album, or a little stack of photos was stuck between the pages, loose.

I’ve seen some photo albums that have far too many blank pages at the end. Most of the albums that I have from adulthood are like this actually, because they are ongoing records of our life together: we have one album of photos of our friends from college through the present, one of family, one of the two of us… The advent of digital photography also has something to do with the blank pages, as very few photos have been printed and put into those albums since I got my first digital camera in 2002.

Many albums I’ve seen from other people, though, are not intended running records. They cover a specific event, or a specific time period. They seem to have bought an album that was too big. Or, conversely, they didn’t take enough photos to fill the pages. It feels… not quite right. Incomplete.

When my mother’s health started to turn and she first went into the hospital, I bought her a little album and printed out a bunch of photos of then-infant Burrito and Tamale so that she’d have something to look at while she was hospitalized. While I sat by her bedside, trying to catch the doctor during his once-a-day visits, I put all of the photos into the album in chronological order, complete with little Post-It flags to label each one: how old Burrito and Tamale were, who else is with them, what the photo depicts.

The last time I updated the album for my mother, Burrito and Tamale were 14 months old. There were 9 spots left in the album. I wondered if the next time I saw her I’d have to buy a second album, or maybe I’d move everything into a new larger album.

The next time I saw my mother, less than 3 months later, she was non-responsive and on the verge of death. I had some new print-worthy photos but there was no point in updating the album, which she would never look at again. She didn’t even have it — or anything but her purse — with her in the ICU, not having known when she was whisked to the hospital for the last time that she’d be staying there for weeks, and certainly not knowing that she’d never be coming out.

When I cleared out my mother’s home after her death, that album was one of the few things I took back with me.

Today, exactly one year later, those 9 pages remain blank. Not quite right. Incomplete.


11 Responses to “Blank Pages”

  1. St. Elsewhere Says:

    Many hugs, BabySmiling.

    I am so hooked to your writing…but more so the trail of thoughts…

    I wish that those nine pages were filled, and that you and your mum had ample years together to create new albums, for her to watch her grandchildren grow….

  2. Heather Says:

    So sorry for your loss. (((Hugs)))

  3. Mel Says:

    Sending love today. And a huge hug.

    I had never noticed this — the blank pages or the overfull albums except in terms of logistics. You just made me see my photographs in an entirely new light.

  4. strongblonde Says:

    big hugs. those pages are blank, but your memory is not.

    this could also be a thoughtful thursday post: photographic intention, methods for storing/sorting/maintaining photos, photo journalism.

  5. luna Says:

    yes, quite a sad way to mark an incomplete life.

    I had a similar but somewhat reverse issue. for the past two years, I chose not to make my own mom a calendar of her grandkids, because I just assumed she would never live to see the whole thing. Instead I framed some pics for her. yet here she is, 3 yrs after diagnosis and still kicking, scaring death away.

  6. Lavender Luz Says:

    I’ve been thinking about you all through the weekend. Abiding with you…Those blank pages say so much, don’t they?


  7. BB Says:

    It is sad how some things come back to you repeatedly!

    Around 11 years ago, I was irritated with something that had happened between my parents and I, and I decided to just go sleep in my bedroom, not bidding goodbye to my grandpa who was visiting! I never saw him again!

    Even though it wasn’t something I did which caused the passing of my grandfather, it always eats me to think that I could have seen him one last time, smiled, hugged, and felt blessed!

    Sending hugs your way!

  8. Sam Says:

    So poignant. These things are never easy to deal with when they hit us out of the blue. I so wish those pages had been filled rather than remaining empty.


  9. a Says:

    I’ve never thought about photo albums so philosophically before…

    Abiding with you…

  10. Shelby Says:

    So often our stories have paralleled and I knew that in just a matter of time, our stories would parallel even more. My mother passed away a few weeks ago and that is the defining emotion for me–so much left undone, unwritten. Exactly what you said, “not quite right.”

  11. Kate Says:

    I can hardly believe it has been a year already. I am so sorry for all that remains uncaptured and uncapturable on those pages. Loss is such a multi-tenacled beast, with such seemingly infinite patience.
    Thinking of you,

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