The shop owner sat with me patiently, on probably six separate occasions, spanning six or seven weeks, as I cried my way through designing and redesigning Zachary's photo books. I chose him because he produced the canvas of Zachary in time for the funeral - a time constraint at least a couple of other photo labs would not entertain. During my visits, he didn't panic when he saw me reach for the tissues. As my tears fell, he would shake his head, saying it's okay. You are the bravest person I know or I'm amazed that you can do this. He listened to my voice crack and trail off, as I explained that even a 10-20% improvement in the light, color or shadows of Zachary's photos would be worthwhile for us because these images are all we have. He helped me reconfigure the page layouts when I couldn't tolerate having Zachary's last healthy photos facing the photos of when he became sick. We spent at least an hour together, just on fonts, ensuring Zachary's name had the look I wanted, with enough shadow to balance against the cover background. Over the course of our time together, I had to look away from his computer screen savers and the photos smattered all around his office. His triplets, all three, perfectly alive and well, having survived their NICU stay.
I have been through Zachary's photos a thousand times. I lived each moment with him. I know the sequence, the context, the emotion buried in each image. I know how the story of his life and death unfolds in the photos. I can feel Zachary's weight in my arms, his breath on my neck, when I see the photos of me holding him. I look at close-ups and I remember how soft his skin was, how perfectly smooth his hair felt. I can anticipate the sick feeling I get when the photos transition between his health and sickness. Even more gut wrenching, the point at which hope still exists during Zachary's illness, and then abruptly dies, on Friday, January 17, with news of his brain hemorrhage. But when I picked up the finished products early this morning, my hands were trembling, my heart racing, as if I had never seen these photos of my precious boy.
When I sit down and flip through the culmination of all this work and time, I am crushed all over again. I weep uncontrollably like I did when I stood over his isolette that Friday night. Zachary's story is so inadequately told through these images. He is alive. He is sick. He is dead. His life, in thirty-six unsatisfying pages, bound up and housed in a memorial album box, to sit on the coffee table. The finality of looking through the book, for the first time, knowing I'll NEVER have another new photo of him, never have the privilege of pulling together photos of him for a milestone reached, is just too overwhelming. How can this be it? This is all I have left of Zachary? These photos, this book - it is not enough. It will never be enough. This must be some kind of sick, cruel joke. I will return the book, no refund necessary. Just give me my son back.