Personal, Photographs

Long ago photos from a box camera as I grieve the loss of our daughter

My first wife was a professional photographer when we met, working for a unit of the Indiana Air National Guard. She went to work every day in BDUs. Her duties were wide and varied — she made portraits of officers seeking promotion, photographed auto accidents on base for investigative purposes, and hung out of helicopters with her camera documenting terrain. This was long enough ago that the only viable photographic medium was film. If memory serves she shot mostly medium format in her work. I wish I could remember what cameras she used. On base, she had a darkroom where she developed and printed her film.

When we were dating, she thought my childhood collection of cameras was cute. One day she rummaged through them all with me. She plucked an old box camera out of the pile, an Ansco B-2 Cadet, and said, “This one takes film that’s still made. I’ll bring you a roll from the base so you can try it. I’ll develop and print the film for you!”

I’m pretty sure the film she brought me was Kodak Plus-X, a tight little roll of 120. I spooled it into the camera and ended up shooting most of the roll of her and her son after they ran a 5 kilometer race together. She developed the film and made 5×7-inch prints of them for me. I still have the prints, and I am sure I still have the negatives but I couldn’t find them. I scanned the prints the other day and sent them to my now ex-wife to share this good memory. I hoped it would buoy her spirits for a minute amid her grief, which must be crushing. Here are some of the scans.

In case it’s not clear, her son Ross transitioned to become Rana. She did it in her early 30s. I don’t like writing about it because it’s Rana’s story to tell and not mine. But these photographs don’t make much sense unless I mention it.

These circumstances are extraordinary and my grief is raw, and sharing this story and these photos helps me.


17 thoughts on “Long ago photos from a box camera as I grieve the loss of our daughter

  1. It is hard to look at these without feeling some of the unbearable weight that would eventually overcome this little boy who looks so happy.

    • The thing that anyone who contemplates suicide doesn’t get in that moment is that better times are always ahead, if you wait and work for them.

  2. Christopher May says:

    I’m still at such a loss of words for you. I’ve never experienced suicide with anyone directly related to me but a very close friend did and the grief surrounding everything was so much greater. The heartache for both the deceased and those who remain is so much more acute. There are so many unanswered questions and the usual thoughts following a death are amplified that much more. I wish there was something I could say that would ease that for you and your family but I don’t think there is. Just know that you all are truly in my thoughts and prayers during this terrible time.

    • Rana had had some bad times before and so I knew that this was a possibility. But when I saw her in October she presented so well. I thought she was okay.

      I was numb for the first couple days – the fog is starting to lift now.

  3. I hope you don’t mind my saying this but I think it is your story to tell to some degree. There are other families suffering this same unspeakable loss and young people struggling in the same way that Rana struggled.

    Someone I was close to committed suicide many years ago. No one talked about suicide and that made it harder. It’s easy to dehumanize people who are different from us and you’re doing a good thing by remembering her and by so lovingly accepting her choices. We all could learn a thing or two from your example.

    Again, I’m so sorry for your loss and for this young life cut short.

    • There is my story to tell, to be sure, but it’s tricky when the only way my story makes sense is if I tell something private about someone else. I’ve done it here, such as the time I told about my youngest son’s autism on the way to telling an important story about myself. But I don’t do it lightly. Rana was intensely private, which is why I almost never even mentioned her on this blog before. She would not have liked it, at all.

      • I think you have represented her well. Private or not, I hope she would like knowing that her story might make a difference for another young person and another family.

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