My mom passed away from breast cancer in 2007. I was only eleven.

She was my best friend. Sometimes, my only friend.

After her death, I wasn’t allowed to utter the words, “died” or “dead” when speaking about her—perhaps, to soften the blow of the situation. However, over time, the sound of her voice and the intricacies of her face were merely that to me—slowly fading and then altogether, dead.

What I can recall though was that Mama was always behind the camera, directing mine and my Dad’s kooky poses. She would yell, “Tony, smile naman diyan! You always look like you’re taking a mugshot!” It was clear to me in those moments that my Dad and I were the only subjects in her photographs and evidently, in her life. And it was the same for us.

When I first started dating my boyfriend Pat, we would rummage through a wooden cabinet together, filled with a plethora of family photo albums and unused paraphernalia. We’d laugh at my goofy baby photos, but I never thought to look through the black camera bags stocked up inside the dusty, antiquated cabinet. Pat, apparently, did.

What he found was a Canon EOS IX film camera—the camera that my mama had used ten years ago, the year she died. Quickly, he opened the film door and to our amazement, we discovered a used film roll inside. My heart started pounding with excitement. What were the things that my mother saw? And more importantly, would these photos change my life forever?

I rushed to get my photos developed.

Two weeks before I could get them. Two. Weeks. Two weeks of wondering. Two weeks of pacing back and forth. Two weeks of wondering if there was even anything in there. These two weeks were spent lying miserably on my bed, waiting for a call from the photo company that I couldn’t wait for any longer. But finally, the photos arrived.

This photo is special, because it’s one of the very few photos of my Mom. There’s so much joy in this photo despite the pain our family was going through at the time. After I found this photo, I sent it to my Dad through messenger and he immediately replied with, “We were best friend[s].”
My mother had a miscarriage before she had me. They tried for ten years until they decided to go to Lourdes, France—believed to be a place of miracles—in order to pray for a child. A few months later, I joined the picture. They named me Maria Cristina Lourdes (long name, I know).
This is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France where we prayed for my mom’s health.

Film, to me, is an enigma; it’s anticipation; and it is a sigh of relief. I didn’t know what to expect as I waited for the photographs to come through and yet, all that I feel now is happiness. There was so much pain behind our picturesque smiles—from my Mom’s rapid process of dying to the certainty that my Dad and I would have to function like normal human beings without the love of our lives. However, it is in these photographs that I remember the joy, the sadness, and most importantly, the irrevocable love.

It’s impossible to replicate a moment—a friend in contemplation, a memory of a deceased loved one, or your happiest memory frozen in time. Photographs have an astounding way of immortalizing small, intricate, and even sometimes, trivial instances. Yet, they seem to always take on a profound significance in our memories, in our lives.