For a long time now, I have not liked seeing myself in pictures. Those photos from the past fifteen years are reminders to me of my stress. I saw me smiling in them, but inside I was tired, not feeling well, or needed a break from my kids. I sound like a spoiled brat, but that is my reality as I saw it. I am a tough person, but the day-in-and-out of it all wore me down like water gushing between cracks in rocks, eventually it’s going to split them apart. Jon’s cancer diagnosis in January 2013 was a curse on my family. I remember shoveling snow in the driveway while he was in the hospital recovering from his first surgery and thinking, at least I know now why we weren’t getting along since this move. It was his cancer talking and it prevented him from understanding me. Now that it’s out of him, we can be together again, he will be under my skin again and we will feel each other’s heartbeats from across the room. 

Cancer held on and would not leave, and it brought all of our emotions to a head. It did not unite my family like it does for some to “fight together.” Cancer divided us, piece by piece, it did not have a voice, but its presence filled every room in my house. The timeline of our lives once intertwined started fraying at its end. Both of us were staring silently right at it, but neither of us had the tools to repair it. Cancer pulled and played with the loose strings like a little girl plays with her hair. 

I guess it was at Jon’s official funeral service in his home town, when I started actually looking at my pictures. Still uncomfortable with the old ones, but interested in new ones. I started to take selfies. I definitely saw the sadness, but somehow the stress part was changing. Like if Stress had younger brother called Little Stress, that little brother was still stress but just different kinds of stress, possibly on a slightly smaller scale. Taking a selfie for me is all about looking at myself in the present, and owning it. I began facing myself after not wanting to for so many years.

Please allow me to share some of my selfies with you. There is a good reason for you to see.

I have changed my social media “profile pic” many times as I see my face changing, evolving, in this past year. This picture was posted in late February 2017. My kids and I had just returned from a morning with family friends, we went to their church service with them. It was such a beautiful, crisp February day, the sun was very warming and the sky a Sleeping Beauty turquoise blue. I was inspired to get out my mountain bike. I wanted to go for a ride. Both of my tires were flat, and I couldn’t get the air compressor started in the cold. Looking at my bike in the sun made me so happy though. After taking spin classes since late 2016, this was the official day I decided to get back into mountain biking and it solidified my path in cycling. I took the picture to remind myself of my choice. 

This April 2017 NYC pic is from the morning of Jon’s ashes event in Central Park. I had been awake since 2:30 a.m. or so. I remember waking in a panic-fueled, heart-pounding frenzy, which happened often in the first few months after he died. Since I could not go back to sleep, I wrote through it, the writing it out calmed me down. After a shower to get ready for another long day, the actual day in Central Park, I laid back down to center myself, and took this photo. Just me, laying there, looking at me, being me. 

June 23, 2017. My daughter is still in Peru. She called last night from a friend’s phone to tell me that her phone was stolen from her while their group walked through a crowded festival. My amazing son came home from his week-long camping trip last night. I think he grew again and will be six feet tall before the end of summer. He went to see a movie with a friend this afternoon, so I found myself with about two hours alone. I had already been to my gym for a running workout earlier today, but back there I went to fulfill a promise I made to myself: I would relax poolside while wearing a bikini and have a beverage in my hand. I was so happy to be finally doing this! This activity will be repeated. Taking a photo of this occasion was mandatory. 

I’ve noticed that specifically at moments of being happy or content, I will most likely take a selfie. I need to remember those moments however brief. I need to see me in them. Somehow I think my pictures of me being in some form of “a happy” over time will connect those brief moments together or maybe serve as reminders that there is light in between the darkness of all this loss and grief. And speaking of light, I need you to take a closer look at both of the black and white photos. Maybe it’s just my phone camera, but it keeps happening. Out of the corner above my head, the rays of light, a halo effect of sorts. Do you see it? I’m beginning to think that at these tiny peaceful moments, I might be, in fact, sharing them with someone else. I don’t hear him or see him, but he might just be photobombing my selfies.~Paula 

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