Suzanne McGonagle: The healing power of photographs during times of grief

Old pictures can serve as a wonderful comfort when a loved one dies

THE anniversary of the death of a loved one is difficult, no matter how many years have passed.

This week as I remembered the passing of someone very special to me, a message from a friend captured perfectly my thoughts that particular day.

It read: ``If you don't think photos are important, wait until they are all you have left.''

That friend knew me well.

For I had spent some time on Tuesday looking through years of treasured photographs, some stuffed in drawers, others collated neatly into albums.

On certain days every year, such as birthdays and anniversaries, those images are brought out and the joy that is encapsulated in them is rediscovered once again.

I spent some time that day looking through the old photographs, remembering the good times, the fun and the love.

It's only when you endure the pain of losing someone that you fully realise the importance that photographs have in times of grief.

In the immediate aftermath of a loss, pictures can serve as a wonderful comfort, they are a part of the grieving process as we sit looking at photographs of ourselves with our loved ones.

Tears are shed over the fact that they are gone, but we find solace in the images and their importance looms even larger. To be able to see a person again is a way of remembering them.

When a loved one dies, many of us collect, print, organise and share photographs - it can be a cathartic activity. Looking through them, especially as a family, sparks memories of the deceased, reignites old stories and connects you with the person you are missing.

Photographs make us stop and reflect upon those moments that we have already lived.

But what if doing all this can actually cause us more pain?

While pictures can bring smiles to our faces, they can also invoke sadness, fear and anxiety.

We can stare at them wondering what our loved one would look like now, we focus on the past and at times torment ourselves that things can not go on. Looking at old photographs can make us stay caught up in the past and unable to move forward in the future.

Losing a loved one is incredibly hard and the healing process can be very different for different people.

Looking back, I know that I was caught up in the past when I looked at photographs of those I have lost. It's only now I realise that looking at photographs, overwhelmed by grief at that time, did not always help me.

I'm not saying go and throw all your photos out and never think about what your loved one looked like ever again.

But the passage of time has allowed me to appreciate my photographs for what they truly are - a way of seeing the joyful life that person led, their personality and all the happy memories we shared.

Each time we look at the photographs, our memories grow larger, they also give us an opportunity to analyse how our lives have changed.

Some people fear that being reminded of the past prevents a person from living in the present. Try to focus on the love that existed between you and your loved one, remember the love that was there - this can provide you with more comfort than a photograph ever can.

Pictures are more than just snapshots of the past - they can be a powerful tool for helping us grieve and reconnecting us with meaningful moments.

I'm so glad I have a big collection of pictures of those I have lost, when I can remember my loved ones in the prime of their lives. They provide links to a loved past, they reveal a lifetime of shared memories and a treasured record of what has gone before.



Maghera author Yvonne Fleming's first illustrated children's book is Sammy Sun Is Coming Out To Play. It's part of a series of Weatherbie stories aimed at bringing the weather to life and making learning fun using themed characters.

The book is aimed at children aged two to five, full of colour, easy to read and fun for both children and adults alike.

Yvonne is already working on the next to create a collection of twelve books based on the adventures of each character. There are also hopes that the book will be turned into a television show.

An animated TV production is in the early stages of development, planned for broadcast in 2018/19, running alongside popular contemporaries like Peppa Pig and Mr Men.

Sammy Sun Is Coming Out To Play is available to purchase from Amazon and for further information please visit

I have four copies to give away, to be in with a chance to win, simply email your name, address and telephone number - along with the answer to the question below - to

Closing date for entries is Tuesday November 29 at noon.

(Q) Name the Co Derry town where author Yvonne Fleming is from?

Normal Irish News Rules Apply


What's Hot!

Skate into the SSE Arena - The Belfast venue will be transformed into a winter wonderland complete with ice rink from December 22 to January 2 when keen skaters can take to the ice and practice twirls and twists. A special seasonal offer has been introduced for families looking to take a break from crowded Christmas shopping queues with a two-hour skating session plus a Belfast Giants Game and a visit to W5 for just £59 for a family of four. Or a 90 minute ice-skating session is £8.

Market - Mulled wine, mince pies and festive sweets will be on offer at Randalstown Christmas Market tomorrow. More than 30 local businesses will take part in the market, which will see the Co Antrim town buzzing with entertainment and free family activities from 10am to 5pm. Visit for further information.

What's Not!

Knocked back - Great British Bake Off star Candice Brown unsuccessfully applied for the show twice before landing a place in the tent and going on to win. The 31-year-old, who beat Jane Beedle and Andrew Smyth from Holywood to win this year's final, recently put her job as a teacher on hold to pursue a career in baking.

Punch up - Justin Bieber has allegedly left a fan with a split and bloodied lip after throwing a punch at him while arriving for his concert in Barcelona. Video footage appears to show the Canadian singer hit the man through the open window of his car as he was driven by a chauffeur.


Competition winner

The winner of last week's competition to win a family pass for the Friendship Four ice hockey tournament is Michael Kerr from Randalstown.


Easy Peasy Recipe

This week's Easy Peasy Recipe is apple stuffed chicken breast.

You will need:

2 (100g) skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets

2 small apples, thinly sliced or coarsely shredded

2 tablespoons grated mild Cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon butter

60ml (2 fl oz) dry white wine

60ml (2 fl oz) water

1 tablespoon water

1 1/2 teaspoons cornflour

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley to garnish

To make:

Combine apple, cheese and breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Flatten chicken breasts between sheets of greaseproof paper to 1cm thickness.

Divide apple mixture between chicken breasts, and roll up each breast. Secure with toothpicks.

Melt butter in large frying pan over medium heat and brown the stuffed chicken breasts.

Add wine and water. Cover. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink.

Transfer chicken to a serving platter.

Combine 1 tablespoon water and cornflour; stir into juices in pan.

Cook and stir until thickened.

Pour sauce over chicken, and garnish with parsley. Serve.

Do you have an Easy Peasy recipe you would like to share?

Are you the queen of quiches, magnificent at muffins or can you turn out some nice scones?

If so, then we want to hear from you.

You can send your name, address, contact number and recipe (plus photo if possible) to:

Easy Peasy Recipes,

Suzanne McGonagle,

Irish News

113-117 Donegall Street,




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