After my mother died in 2008, I discovered, much to my surprise, that I couldn’t find a single picture of just her and me together.
It’s not that we weren’t close. She’d been a deeply involved parent during my younger years, and even after I built a life of my own, we lived not far from each other. The arrival of grandchildren made us even closer.
A relationship that enduring and profound was bound to express itself in lots of mother-son snapshots — or so I thought.
But there was an odd way in which our lifelong connection made pictures seem beside the point. Why would I need a photograph of a presence so natural, so casual, so matter-of-fact? I might as well have taken a picture of my right hand.
That’s how mothers are. They throw such a steady shelter over our lives that we tend to regard them as a permanent part of the landscape, as fixed as an oak or a church steeple. No need to think about them or look at them very much; they will, after all, always be around.
But mothers eventually leave us, as mine did after a rare complication from what was supposed to be routine surgery. I’d like to think that the quickness of Mama’s passing had somehow factored into my failing to better document our time together, but I rather doubt that’s the case. If my mother had lived to be 100, I’d probably have never gotten out the camera, placed my arm around her, and asked someone to snap a shot.
My search for mother-son pictures turned up some interesting finds. From the recesses of desk drawers, I unearthed photos of me with senators, authors, congressmen, old bosses — people who, however accomplished, didn’t mean nearly as much to me as my mother.
That’s why we need Mother’s Day. It reminds us that while we’re out seeking the company of important people, we’re not likely to find anyone more amazing than the woman who raised, nursed us, held us close through joy and sorrow.
A few weeks ago, before throwing out an old computer we hadn’t used in years, my wife had all the old files removed. That’s when she found it in the digital archives — a picture she’d taken of my mother and me during our last Christmas together. Thank goodness my wife had been smart enough to do what I never did, capturing an image of mother and son for posterity.
Thanks to cellphones, we live in a world in which just about everybody has a camera within easy reach. That easy access, oddly enough, can lull us into thinking that we’ll always have a chance to get the picture we can treasure forever.
But take it from me: those opportunities aren’t limitless. Here’s my suggestion:
If you’re near your mother today, have someone take a picture of you together. You are, after all, probably in the presence of the most remarkable person you’ll ever know.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman