Memories and Photographs

by | Apr 10, 2022

In the framed photo that sits on the bookshelf behind my desk, two women in jeans smile for the camera, the Grand Canyon behind them. They could be sisters, both short, slim with reddish/auburn hair. My friend, R, and I had just finished a hike on the Bright Angel Trail and were feeling pretty satisfied with ourselves. It’s one of the few pictures of us together from that trip, years before cell phones and selfies. We both took a lot of photographs that week we spent in Arizona some 28 years ago. I still have a box full of the fading photographs from that trip, mine and hers.

Until recently, I would often remind her of that trip. Our shared memories seemed to make her happy. But now I’ve erased the word “remember” from my vocabulary when I talk with her. I let her bring up any memories and happily join in agreeing with whatever version she tells.

“All we really have is our memories and our photographs,” R was fond of saying those years we lived near enough to talk and visit daily, our neighborhoods separated by a bridge across the South River. She loved travel and filled albums with pictures. We rarely traveled together. R was a high energy “Type A.” I was more laid back, content to wait for the elevator when the door did not open the minute I pressed the button. She was always up early, awake before her feet hit the floor, while I stumbled around finding the coffee pot, unable to utter a coherent word until I had my first cup of coffee. We accepted our differences and each other.

R and I have the rare kind of friendship where we skipped the small talk and went deep into conversation as if we had been friends since the beginning of time. Maybe we have been. When we first met, I was a political reporter and she worked for Planned Parenthood. Our paths would cross at the State House or a reception or fundraiser and we would exchange a few words always ending with, “let’s get together sometime.” That was not an option for me as long as I was a working journalist. But after I left the newspaper and was working as a lobbyist for the state NOW chapter, we met while we were grocery shopping at the Kroger near our homes. We talked long enough to exchange phone numbers. R had retired and the legislature was not in session so we had time to get together for long walks, talks, movies, shopping, and the political involvement we both enjoyed.

In addition to our shared interests and way of looking at the world, we also shared an honesty that was always candid but never cruel. When I moved 500 miles away, we vowed that we would stay in touch with letters, phone calls, and visits. We would not let the geographic distance diminish our friendship. We kept our promises to each other. We visited each other frequently.

When my dad was in the hospital and dying, it was R that I called almost every day and she always reassured me with, “you’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

When we took the trip to the Grand Canyon, I was living in rural Yancey County and R was still in Maryland, so we met in Phoenix, rented a car and spent a week in Arizona.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, she came to visit two days after my surgery. She stayed for a week, went with me on my first short walks, was in the waiting room when my surgeon gave me the good news about my pathology. She cleaned my house, and we sat by the fire, talking and reading.

Five years ago, R was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She both accepted and denied her diagnosis. She talked openly about her diagnosis, but began a slow process of isolating herself, saying she feared that she would say or do something that would embarrass her or others. Her friends and her other physicians questioned the diagnosis.

She has not displayed any of the classic progressive symptoms of the disease. But she has changed, from the woman who loved life and could find great joy visiting a garden center and attending the symphony with friends. Now she even grocery shops at a store where she is less likely to see someone she knows. She stopped walking for enjoyment and exercise. She reads and watches television, and talks to me when I call. She even jokes that she can still read a book and remember where she stopped reading it the day before.

The last time I saw her was four years ago, and I marvel now that I was able to convince her to let me make the trip. After we had agreed on a date, she called a week later saying she did not want me to come. I convinced her to let me come anyway. Since that visit, I continue to call frequently. Mostly she talks. I listen. The phone calls are like hearing a favorite record played repeatedly. I’ve stopped trying to convince her to live her life, to resume doing the things she always enjoyed. She says she enjoys talking with me and that seems to be all that I can do.

I’m grateful when she mentions a shared memory, when she laughs. Yes, we have our memories and our photographs.


without a fight. We are not yet done
crashing parties. Remember the strawberries
dipped in chocolate, the white tent, concerts
at the dock, and walks through Quiet Waters Park.

Wherever you go, I will find you.
This morning I pour Sriracha sauce
over scrambled eggs. I want the fire, the acidic
tomato, cool avocado. I want any distraction

from losing you. Would a sudden leaving
be easier to bear? There’s no good way.
The day before I moved, five hundred
miles south, we told each other silly jokes.

We spent the years with letters, phone calls,
frequent visits. My tongue burns. Fog drifts
across the valley, rises up the ridge, erasing
trees, houses, everything that I know.

—From When There Were Horses, Main Street Rag, 2021


  1. Elizabeth Holden

    I found this deeply touching. It’s a lovely tribute to a friendship. I’m so glad you sent it to the world.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Betty. It was not easy to write, but I hoped it would connect with others.

  2. Ed Seel

    Beautiful piece, Honey. I know she would be happy if she should happen to read it.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Sweetheart. I’m so glad that you knew her when she was at her best.

  3. Bill Griffin

    Beautiful memories, hard realities, powerful imagery in the poem. Thank you, Pat.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Bill. I’m grateful for the memories, and yes, the hard realities too. This life is rarely what we expect.

  4. Mary Sorrells

    This essay touched my heart deeply. I started it a couple of days ago. I recognized the topic and recalled hearing about the diagnosis and the changing invitation. It is bittersweet to know the good friendship and its changes. I am glad to see the photo and to know the story behind “I Will Not Let You Leave.”

    Also, I was reminded of a moment in our friendship that I still hold dear. You and I were in my yard before its first spring cutting. The grass was lush and dotted with brilliant yellow dandelions and deep purple violets. I think I was showing you the fig tree. All at once, we both wanted to lie down among the flowers, and we did. We were both in our sixties, I think, yet each was in touch with our inner child, drinking in the dizziness of the gentle sun and gigantic span of sky overhead and the countless flowers and cool blades of grass below.

    Thank you for that memory.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Dear Mary, Thank you for reminding me of that wonderful spring day with you, lying in the grass, looking up at the sky, becoming for an instant a part of the earth. Hope to see you soon, my friend.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.