Parents

Linkin Park singer's widow faces first family photos without him

This year, Talinda Bennington, the widow of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, faced a painful milestone: her first family photo session since her husband's death.

Chester Bennington took his own life in July 2017. Talinda and Chester had three children together, son Tyler Lee and twin daughters Lila and Lily. He had three children from previous relationships as well.

"Any advice on how to keep up the tradition while we are deeply grieving the loss of Chester?" Talinda tweeted. "There’s a hole in our family. But those us left standing need to continue this yearly tradition, especially for the little ones."

The tweet has 12,000 likes and over 600 comments giving support and suggestions for making the photos meaningful.

Author Anna Whiston-Donaldson, who wrote the book "Rare Bird" about the death of her 12-year-old son, Jack, dealt with Talinda's dilemma. "When we took our first family picture without Jack, I wore a necklace with his photo on it," she told TODAY Parents. "Since then, we hold up a small picture of Jack for our family Thanksgiving group shot."

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When planning the shoot, Donaldson wanted to be sensitive to the needs of her daughter, Margaret, who was 10 years old when they lost her brother. "Her feelings were of the utmost important to us, and she was very sensitive to stuff like this. Not wanting us to make a fuss," said Donaldson. "I did not ask her about the necklace, but at the time, I was wearing the necklace almost every day, so she was used to seeing me in it by then."

Anna Whiston-Donaldson
Anna Whiston-Donaldson, pictured here with husband Tim, daughter Margaret, and son Jack, wore a photo of Jack in a necklace for their first family photo after his death in 2011.

When families face painful firsts, they can continue traditions while acknowledging and respecting their loss, child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa told TODAY Parents.

"For annual family pictures, for example, they could choose a spot that was meaningful to the person they've lost, so that they feel them as a part of the pictures. They can talk about how they might not be smiling as much or as often this year in their photos, and that's just fine — because we love everyone in our family, even when they're sad or angry," she said.

Donaldson suggested letting each family member choose how they'd like to represent their lost loved one in a photo.

"Introduce kids to options and let them decide what they want to do," she said.

The answer for parents, Gilboa said, is to make the big decisions. "Like, 'Yes, we're still doing pictures, or taking this vacation or attending this event,' while leaving some of the smaller decisions up to each family member," she said.

"That respect and autonomy will help kids know that their feelings matter, and are heard, while still giving them the solid guidance from the adults in their life on the overall path their family is taking."

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