Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we only share the very best of ourselves and our families on social media. I think we’re all guilty of it; from edited and filtered photos of vacations to the proudest moments in our children’s lives. That’s all fine and good, but it’s certainly not reality. Where’s the makeup free face right after waking in the morning? Or the video of your kids throwing a tantrum in the store? Not typically on Instagram or Facebook, that’s for sure. I’m guilty of painting my life with a well-filtered brush, just as much as the next person. Only recently, I realized I’ve been doing that long before social apps became a staple of our everyday lives.
I had another loss recently. I discovered that all of the camcorder (before our phones could take video!) videos of my children when they were small have been lost forever. This news was like a punch to the gut. My best friend, Jenny, told me she never looks at those old camcorder videos of her grown kids now anyway. But I reminded her that all of her children are still very much alive. With Emily gone, it felt like those videos were all I had left of her—her voice, her mannerisms; all those cute and precious moments. Of course I still have the memories in my mind. But my memory isn’t quite what it was before the trauma of Emily’s death; so relying on that just doesn’t seem like enough.
However, I have the advantage of having worked on TV for 30 years. From time-to-time, my own family has been featured on the news, for one reason or another. Thank goodness my station has an extensive library of video tapes going all the way back to—well film—really. Emily made her first TV appearance after her birth, as well as that of her sister and brother. She also was on television a couple of other times. I spent the last few weeks in my spare time, tracking down what videos I could with Emily.
The first Beta tape I loaded into the machine to convert to digital immediately brought tears to my eyes. It was a video where Emily took the audience through her CAT scan. At 10, she had been experiencing headaches and the CAT scan was a precaution. It turned out she only needed glasses—which we promptly got her and she rarely wore! We recorded her CAT scan for the Children’s Miracle Network telethon so that the audience could see how kids were treated for their fear and anxiety when they had to undergo the procedure.
I was amazed then at her ability to talk to the camera without a script and how natural she was. I am still amazed today. It’s bittersweet to find this video now, after she is gone. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined how her life story would play out. Her risk of becoming addicted and dying from an overdose was unfathomable.
Then I came across a video I didn’t even remember doing. However, once I played it, it really got me thinking about the image I worked so hard to project. It was a live shot from my home with the studio. My long-time co-anchor, Doug Lund, introduced me at home, telling the audience I would be returning to the anchor desk soon after giving birth to my second child, my daughter Abigail. There I sat on my floral couch; makeup on, hair fixed. My 11-week-old daughter was in a perfectly pink Gymboree outfit and her big sister Emily, age 3, looked like a doll. Wow, did it appear that I had it altogether!
Here’s what you don’t see in that clip. I had spent hours just trying to get myself and my daughters ready for that minute live shot. I had to time out Abigail’s feeding just perfectly, so she would be sleeping. The one thing I couldn’t control was Emily. I never could. Near the end of the live report, you can see her making faces at the camera! That was reality.
I thought about how long before social media, I was often faking it for the camera. Hours after giving birth I would have to get up, get dressed and put on makeup to be camera-ready to show off my new child. Picture perfect—at least for 30 seconds. But that is not real life. I went through a painful divorce when my children were small. You’d never know it by watching the news broadcast. My job requires me to put on my game face, no matter what is going on in the background. I think that’s a lot like social media for most people today. Everything looks just peachy, but scratch below the surface of the planned-out photo, taken at exactly the right angle, and what you see may make you feel uncomfortable.
Take my family Christmas card of 2014. Idyllic, right? What a perfect family. I am remarried and I gained an extra child. “It’s Never too Late to Live Happily Ever After,” was the sign my new husband and I held for photos of our 2012 wedding. Now I know, that’s wishful thinking and happily ever after is an illusion.
What you can’t tell in this 2014 Christmas card below, is that Emily was wearing an ankle bracelet. It was airbrushed out. I was mortified at the time. Now I’d take her with an ankle bracelet any day. She had been in trouble for sneaking out and smoking marijuana. It was the beginning of us descending into the abyss of addiction with her. But in this photo, we look like a family who has no problems at all.
Emily’s death certainly shattered any illusion that my family is perfect. During the days and weeks following her accidental overdose, I was so upset that this was how her story had ended. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This is not what I had planned for her life nor mine. Now that I have opened up about her story and have written and spoken from a place of authenticity, it’s almost a relief. I don’t have to pretend anymore to have it altogether or to know what the hell I’m doing. I believe that I can help more people when I’m real. You all know by now that my life is far from perfect. And I know now more than ever, neither is yours.
I am still guilty of posting a filtered photo at a glamorous location, which makes it seem like I’ve moved on and that everything is okay now. I will tell you, there is no moving on after the death of a child. To quote Nora McInerny, founder of the The Hot Young Widows Club, there is only moving forward. Life doesn’t allow you to remain in one place for long. I am giving myself the space to move forward in a very imperfect way.
Faith, Hope & Courage,