Ghosts of days past


Six weeks ago, my husband gave me a roll of film (the old-fashioned kind), and asked me to drop if off at our local drug store. I received this roll with fear and trembling, as I knew its importance. My mother-in-law found it a few days earlier in a camera belonging to her late husband. It’s the last roll of film my father-in-law used before he switched over to digital. The camera and film hid in a drawer for nine years, until nearly two years after his death, she discovered it.

I have an illustrious history of screwing up important, as well as benign, errands, requests, and life events. I knew as soon as my husband gave me the roll, something would go wrong. I sat in the drug store for twenty minutes filling out the form. I didn’t like the way it looked, so I ripped it up and started all over again. I asked the cashier for assistance, then I petitioned God for help too, before I walked over to the small black abyss labeled “Photo Drop”.

I may as well have dropped that film straight into the pit of hell, because it took four weeks for the film to return. Four weeks of phone calls, of begging and thinly veiled threats. Two weeks ago, I looked into the dead eyes of the photo manager and told her these photos were the very last ones taken by my dearly departed loved one. She needed to make this happen. Not a flicker in her eyes, just a perfunctory “I’m sorry. We’ll try to locate them.”

Yes, Dead-Eyes. Yes, you will.

The photos finally winged their way back to me today. I sat in my car and I prayed images would appear when I opened the sticky edge of the package. I texted my husband. I palpitated. Then I flipped the edges open and stared straight into the eyes of my in-law’s heinous cat Rusty, resting in the arms of my sister-in-law. I looked through them and saw my son, aged three, laughing while lying on his uncle’s chest. My fourteen-year-old girl, showed up at age five, her face lit by the candles on her birthday cake. A smile as big as the north wind played across her face as she blew them out.

My dog appeared, Bailey-boy, my father-in-law called him. Bailey-boy always suckered him into throwing a knobbly blue ball around the kitchen for hours. Various photos of family members, nine years younger, popped up as I skimmed through the stack.

Like a newspaper with today’s date held up for the camera, these photos were proof of life. Proof that my father-in-law lived those days, that he looked through a lens and captured a few moments in time that he found meaningful. Proof that nine years ago, my sister-in-law still had her wedding rings on before losing them in the trash a few years later. We still can barely talk about it. Proof that my children spent a day laughing, smiling, and blowing through their grandparents lives like the wind.

I live my life with an eye to what’s next–next week, next year, next decade. I try not to return too much to the past because I feel melancholy at everything I’ve left behind. My youth, my littles, and a ridiculously awesome life lived across Europe. But, as I flipped through my father-in-law’s photos, I realized how good it is to look back and remember the before’s too. Why am I so concerned with the after’s? There is a fullness to life, when we acknowledge the ghosts of our past, present, and future. They belong to us, and we carry each one onwards. Why not embrace them all?


What do you carry forward with you to the present? What are you looking forward to in the future?


  • jenniferbarker

    I’m so glad the photos turned out. I could feel your trepidation!

    I carry with me the remembrance that no matter how painful some wrong decisions have been, God is never stuck. Never.

    I look forward to walking more with the Holy Spirit and as a result, living life more fully.

    • KimberlyCoyle

      Oh, Jennifer, yes! There are many decisions I’d rather not revisit, but they’re a good reminder of God’s grace and faithfulness.

  • emily p freeman



    Proof of life. This is really beautiful.

    (And I would have been a nervous wreck about it, too.)

    • KimberlyCoyle

      You have no idea. The nerves!

  • Kimberly,I am so guilty of wasting so much time on the afters and forgetting the before’s and so I loved the way you captured the moment with your father-in-law’s film.
    And I sorta miss the excitement of rolled film, by the way.
    glad you shared this story.

    • Wasn’t it exciting? Especially that first look when you realized what you really captured, or missed in my case;)

  • Scooper

    So I am actually reading this on my computer instead of on my iPhone and do you know what this means? I can comment. I tried to comment on one a post of yours from last week via my phone but I think Disqus hates me. Anyway, just wanted to say that I’m here and I love this post. {And it makes me miss real film canisters that resulted in real photos we could hold in our hands.} “Proof of life.” Such a perfect phrase. I get all weird about the past too. I either feel guilty or painfully nostalgic but rarely at peace.

    Maybe that’s what our blogs will be like for us one day, “proof of life.”

    • I had the same exact thought about blogging–proof of life! Here’s to peace over the past, for both of us:)

  • Janet

    I loved this. So emotional, so real, so touching. Thanks for sharing this little snapshot from your life.

    • Thanks so much for reading, Janet:)

  • Oh, I love this Kimberly. I have found a few rolls too and I’ve yet to develop them. But what I’m taken with is how meaningful those pictures are of random things. They probably weren’t framed perfect and I know they weren’t edited and they were priceless because they were seen through the eyes of someone you loved that is no longer with us. Beautiful post.

    • Hi Shelly! Thanks for stopping by! The photos were a mess–blurry, weird, and wonderful at the same time.

  • Flower Patch Farmgirl

    This is crazy beautiful!

  • SimplyDarlene

    Hello miss Kimberly. (pssst, I found you by way of THC.)

    To answer your questions: I carry forward every bit of ugly-beauty because it’s all shiny-perfect in God’s eyes now. Righto? As far as the east is from the west… And what I’m looking forward to in the (very near) future, is a steaming cup o’ coffee. 😉

    A beautyFull friend of mine recently wrote a piece that follows a similar thread as this post, and in it she says, “Take my desire to hit ‘rewind’ and change it into the reminder to hit ‘pause,’ to stop and appreciate the beautiful now and love it for the gift that it is.”

    I reckon that’s exactly what images do for us – help us to pause a bit.

    (It’s nice to meet you.)

  • Karrilee Aggett

    What a gift to find that… and to truly treasure them – even more so now! God and His timing… as always – I love your words here my friend!

    My sister and her hubby were never very good at developing rolls of film… they weren’t really great at taking them either – but when you don’t turn them in – they apparently fill a drawer! For their daughters graduation from high school – they finally developed the drawer of film… it equaled hours of reliving her childhood together – in a year of lasts! What a gift!

  • Teresa Tackett Hardymon

    you captured the picture of life perfectly wonderfully!