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    Posted July 28, 2015 by
    Conway, Arkansas
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

    A Headstone & Pearls: My Wedding Picture with Mama


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Aprille Hanson, 27, lives in Conway, Arkansas. She says these wedding day photos of her at her mother's grave mean everything to her. "I miss her so much, but I can now show these photos to my future children and they'll know the love I have for their 'Nana' better than I could ever explain it."
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    The following column is about the death of my mother and how my wedding photographer took a photo of me in my wedding dress at the cemetery June 20, 2015, my wedding day. I had many people on Facebook moved by the photo -- it was really just supposed to be something special for me to remember Mama on my wedding day. When I saw the response, I thought about writing this piece and sharing the photos in hope that others who lose a mother or father might decide to do the same thing on their wedding day in remembrance. (Photos by Trina Tunstall Photography).


    It was not the wedding picture I envisioned with Mama.

    But there I was standing in the Arkansas summer heat at Kirby Tucker Cemetery, just as I had stood a hundred times before in the past three years.

    It was a hot June 20, not that it’s unusual for the South. I thought as I walked toward her grave that Mama would have tried to convince me to have a spring or fall wedding. An Illinois native, Mama loved everything about our life in Mountain Home, Ark., for what turned out to be 14 years, from boating on Lake Norfork to line dancing with her man at the Missing Horse, before it closed and became an antique shop. But, she just couldn’t stand the heat.

    I knew when my high school sweetheart and boyfriend of nine years, Julian, asked to marry me on January 29, 2014, that this moment at the cemetery would happen.

    When I stepped out of my grandparents van, bundling up my white dress in my arms, I was thankful it wasn’t raining. It would have canceled one of the most meaningful photos I’ll ever take in my life.

    Mama, or as most knew her Diane, was everything to me as I was to her. Only children have a unique bond with their parents and because mine were divorced, I grew particularly attached to Mama and my grandparents. We all lived together for most of my life.

    Who she was is hard to put into words, despite my being a professional reporter. I’ve been blessed in my career to share countless stories of extraordinary people, but Mama’s is hard to write because it’s not merely a story to tell. She wasn’t just a person in this world. She was my person in this world and you can’t write a feeling, no matter how many adjectives and fancy phrases you put on the page.

    She just was. She was …

    My savior, when I stopped breathing from sleep apnea at just eight days old and I was found by my parents blue in my crib. The years of up-all-nights, medications, a heart and breath monitor are what laid in store.

    My storyteller, reading me books before I could even understand. No, I’d never be as voracious a reader as her, but I found a love for the written word.

    My Play-Doh maker, mixing flour, boiling water, blue, green or red food dye in the pot and waiting for the magic to happen. That’s what happens when your mother is a preschool teacher -- no store-bought dough.

    My religious guide, raising me to believe in my prayers, to sing along with praise to God while attending Mass every weekend. A born and raised Catholic, she lived her faith by going to adoration, confession, singing in the choir and most of all, carrying her cross.

    My pet lover, showing a love for animals that surpassed most. After all, she did replace my photo with her beloved Bichon Frise, Daisy May, in the frame that said “My Baby.” We both laughed.

    My swimming partner, riding the waves, ducking under like dolphins in Lake Norfork in the summers. Life jackets were not necessary, we were above those, despite my grandparents fears.

    My music lover, who took me to so many country music concerts as a child and I have proudly kept that tradition alive.

    My confidant, yes, I could tell her anything. And at night, our conversations always ended with “I love you with all my love.”

    My survivor, after suffering her whole life with Lupus disease, from countless surgeries: bladder, shoulder, two hip replacements and having her large intestines removed. Her body was cut, sliced and battered and never once did I hear her question “Why me?”

    On March 25, 2012, five days after her 47th birthday, eight days before my 24th birthday, she became my angel. Complications from Lupus disease, a pulmonary embolism the death certificate says. It was sudden and it killed more than my mother, but a part of my soul.

    God, grief counseling and love pulled me out of the darkness.

    But it didn’t make June 20 any easier. It was a happy day, but as I walked across the cemetery to her grave, I carried more than the trail of my wedding dress. I carried the heartache and hope that so many daughters carry who lose their mothers too soon. Mama would have loved to be there June 20. I could feel the warmth of her hug, see her tears and smile at the wide smile on my face -- it all would have been so perfect.

    My grandparents and photographers stood back as I read Mama a letter, meant just for the two of us. I wept. I breathed deep. I read aloud, softly. And I cried some more until the tears blurred my vision. The words on the page looked as if they were under water.

    My dad and grandfather would both be walking me down the aisle later that afternoon. My grandmother would tear-up; my best friends and two half-sisters would smile as they walked up to the altar; and most importantly, the love of my life would be waiting.

    Before it all, I had to have a moment the way my life began: just me and Mama.

    “Where’s your baby? Right here,” I said, patting my chest, touching Mama’s pearls around my neck. It was something she taught me when I was just a baby.

    “Where’s Mama? Right here,” I touched my heart.

    I stared at her name, our picture, molded to the stone. I took another deep breath.

    “I love you with all my love Mama.”


    Aprille Hanson is the associate editor at the Arkansas Catholic newspaper. She has been a professional journalist for five years, working for a variety of publications including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Trucker newspaper and Truckload Authority magazine. She is currently a freelance writer for Freightliner Trucks, writing profiles on NASCAR hauler drivers.

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