COVID-19, Personal

Weekend update

I was sad that more people didn’t come to Rana’s memorial service, which was last Saturday. I know she touched far more lives than those who attended. I was pleased that my brother came, and my old friend Michael and his wife. I was blown away that the woman who runs HR at my company came.

This is the most time I’ve spent in the same room with my ex-wife since she divorced me. On the one hand, that wasn’t comfortable, as we had a terrible marriage and ugly divorce. On the other, I think both of us were comforted by the other, as during our marriage we shared in the bulk of the time Rana/Ross was a child.

Rana’s mom had pre-arranged for a number of people to speak during the service, to share memories. I had declined to speak, but at the service she implored me to, so I did. I told a couple of stories of Rana, who was still Ross then, while I was married to his mom. They were stories I’d told before, and all I had to do was tell them again, so it wasn’t too hard to do. People seemed to like the stories.

I went to the service alone. That wasn’t the plan, but in the week before the service Margaret came down with COVID. We knew this was a possibility as she had cared for her son while he had it, after her other son’s girlfriend exposed us all the day after Christmas. Margaret and I have been isolating from each other since then to lower the risk that I’d get it. I bought a stack of in-home COVID tests and tested every couple days leading up to the memorial service. It came back negative every time, thank heavens. It would have killed me to miss the service. But I wore a surgical mask at the service anyway.

For months, Margaret and I had planned to spend last weekend together in Chicago. We had tickets to a play and reservations at a very nice hotel overlooking the Chicago River. The hotel was not refundable — I won’t ever book a room that way again just to save 30 bucks on a weekend. I would have rescheduled our weekend away for a time when we were well past our COVID experience.

Margaret urged me to go alone, to get out of my box and out of my head for a couple days. The room was paid for either way. It felt weird to go alone, but I did it, and it was overall a good thing. I went to the play, and I drank scotch at a bar I like, and I shot 3½ rolls of film just walking around the Loop and the adjacent River North areas. I’m sending all of that film to a lab for processing and scanning so it will be a few weeks before I can share photos.

State Street at night
Nikon F3HP, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max P3200, 2018

Chicago requires masking indoors in public places, and proof of vaccination to sit in a bar or restaurant. This is a sharp contrast to Indiana. There are no COVID restrictions here anymore. Authorities strongly suggest masking and physical distancing, but that’s all. These differences correlate to these two states’ differing politics: Illinois is blue and Indiana is firmly red.

I had brunch with a couple of colleagues on Sunday in Chicago. It was so good to catch up with them. It was soothing to know that everyone in that restaurant was fully vaccinated.

At the same time I couldn’t shake a feeling that Chicago’s measures were theater. After all, Margaret’s son was double vaxxed, and Margaret was triple vaxxed, and they got COVID anyway. Who knows how many people in that Chicago restaurant had been exposed and were busy unknowingly transmitting the virus?

I know, I know, the vaccines were never guaranteed to prevent transmission. It is thought that they slow transmission, and there is good evidence that they make COVID less severe if you do get it. Margaret and her son were both pretty miserable at the height of their illnesses, but neither required medical attention. Margaret described it as being a very bad cold, with heavy congestion and cough. Perhaps both of them avoided a more severe illness thanks to their vaccinations.

Anyway, it was otherwise very good to be out of my box and in a different head space for a few days. It wasn’t that cold for Chicago in January, with daytime temperatures in the 20s and low 30s (-6 to about 0 C) and, crucially, the wind was only slight. I spent most of my time either watching movies in the hotel, or walking and making photographs outside in the cold. I brought two cameras with me: a Minolta Maxxum 5 that a reader recently donated, and my trusty Olympus OM-2n. I rather enjoyed the Maxxum and ended up using it most.

I drove home Monday afternoon and on Tuesday I returned to work. I wasn’t entirely emotionally ready, but it also felt right somehow to plunge in anyway. Sometimes the way to become emotionally ready for something is to just dive in, do it, and build that readiness as you go. I have felt unusually irritable, and have had to choose my words carefully lest I say something that cuts. But otherwise it feels good to return to normal life — it is a fine distraction from my feelings.

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Personal

Weekend update

I don’t have too many photographs of me with Rana. Maybe there are more in the family photos my ex has. At the time of our divorce she wouldn’t let me make scans of them, and I’ve never asked again. Then we divorced and I didn’t see Rana for a couple years. Then we rebuilt our relationship as adults, and frankly I’m terrible at thinking to make portraits or take selfies.

Us in 1994, Terre Haute, Indiana

Here’s one photo that’s a good memory. It’s of Rana’s, then Ross’s, ninth birthday. Ross’s mom had a party in her back yard in Terre Haute and invited all of Ross’s friends. Ross was a big fan of the shows on the Nickelodeon cable channel, and this was the “green slime” era on Nick. Ross’s mom made a green-slime birthday cake.

Rana’s memorial service is today. I’m glad my company gave me two weeks of bereavement leave as this time off has given me the head space to process my thoughts and feelings, rather than just have them and then rush to my next meeting.

The first week after Rana was found dead, I felt shock and sadness. The shock wore off after a few days but the sadness did not. This week I found myself sometimes feeling angry; once in tears I even said aloud to nobody, “How could she do this to us?”

I wish I had known she was suicidal. I’ve been suicidal. I know what it’s like. I know that in the depths of those feelings your mind is lying to you. It tells you that your death won’t matter and nobody will miss you.

That’s a load of horse crap. Your death by your own hand leaves a crater in the lives of those who love and care for you.

I wish I could have told her to just wait. I wrote about this once before: because I stuck it out, sooner or later things got better. Never all better. But things always stopped being screamingly, intolerably bad. Whatever I was feeling, whatever thoughts were looping through my head, they changed all on their own. Mind states are never permanent. And whatever difficulties I was facing, the circumstances changed all on their own. The world keeps going while you are stuck, delivering change into your world. Sometimes circumstances got better and sometimes they got worse, but when they changed I could usually see a path forward when I couldn’t before.

I know that whatever thoughts and feelings come through this are a normal part of grieving a loss like this. I’m not overwhelmed by them and I’m not frightened of them. I am angry that I have to have them.

I’ve given myself these two weeks to rest and just process feelings. On Tuesday (after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday) I will return to work and regular life again. I know my grief will continue. But my life must go on as well.

I’m not sure when Recommended Reading will return. I haven’t had much appetite to read blogs. It’s why I haven’t been clicking Like or commenting on yours, if you have one. When that appetite returns, so will Recommended Reading. I trust you understand.

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Personal

Four years on

Dad
Dad in 2012. Kodak Retina IIa on Fujicolor 200.

It was four years ago yesterday that Dad died, and at last there are moments when I miss him.

I think that’s a sign that my grief has reached acceptance. I’m relieved. It’s good to feel that everything about my father is sorted in my mind.

I felt little grief after he passed. I shed few tears. I could only hope that grief was doing its work.

I think because we knew for months that he was going to pass away, I wrestled through most of my feelings before he actually died.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I will always wish we could have been closer. I tried to build closeness as best I could. But he was either not willing or, more likely, not capable of it.

He was also a hard man, angry, punitive to his sons while he raised us. There are more difficult memories than good ones.

But there is no doubt that he did the best he could. His sons turned out all right.

I wouldn’t mind pouring us a cup of coffee and telling him of all the hard times my family has faced since he died. I know he’d want to hear all about it. He’d also want to tell me exactly how to solve every problem, but finally I see that he knew no other way to express his empathy.

This link takes you to all of the stories I’ve written about my dad.

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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.

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Personal

My theme for 2022

I was going to choose health as my theme for 2022. I’m a little overweight and my blood pressure is a little high. I’ve become largely sedentary again, and I eat and drink for comfort more than I do because I’m hungry. While I’m not having too much trouble sleeping, the quality of that sleep isn’t great and I am tired all the time.

I was having unusual hair loss on top of that fatigue, so I had my doctor run a complete blood panel, especially checking my thyroid. Every test came back normal. When I mentioned that moderate exercise was creating shortness of breath and tightness across my chest, she sent me to a cardiologist, who gave me a stress test. It, too, found nothing.

Selfie
Anxious.

I’m an anxious person by nature, but I’ve been more anxious than usual. Sometimes I’ve been anxious enough to freeze up and be unable to act.

Work’s been crazy hard. Home’s been crazy hard. There’s nothing in my life right now that’s not crazy hard. It’s had a negative effect on my health. I need to pay attention to it. That’s why I thought health would be the right theme for 2022.

But it’s not. My health issues are symptoms, not causes. I need to get at the root.

I came into 2021 not great at saying the hard thing when I needed to. As I wrote in last year’s theme post, I’m a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. I want to find the common ground. I believe deep in my spirit that when people are aligned, incredible things can happen.

But I seek that common ground to a fault. What I finally, finally learned in 2021 is that I was too often aligning to things that weren’t in line with my values and needs. It’s why I chose congruence as my 2021 theme: saying yes only when I truly could support that yes, and saying no otherwise.

Then 2021 proved to be very hard, especially at work. In collaborating with peer and superior leaders, I aligned to some things that turned out to be bad decisions. It took months for those decisions to prove themselves to be bad. Now we’re in a mess, and we’re trying to find our way out — and we do not agree on how to do that. It’s a strong test of living congruently, and I’m finding it to be wicked hard.

I think this is the wrong time for a new theme. In 2022, my 2021 theme needs to continue: congruence. I’m not done yet becoming comfortable being out of alignment with others when it’s right for me. Being confident in standing firmly for what I believe in and think is best — it feels to me like the most important thing by far for me to work on.

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Personal

Thank you for your good, kind words

I want to thank you for sharing your condolences yesterday when I shared the news about the loss of our daughter. They were a balm. When this hurts a lot, I can go back and look at your good words and be comforted.

May, 2004. Taken with my wife’s Pentax K1000.

Here’s a photo of Rana with my brother Rick. She had just graduated high school; it was 2004.

When you have a child who has transitioned their gender, it’s hard to know how to refer to them when speaking of times before their transition. In 2004, Rana still identified as male, and was called Ross. She became Rana only a few years ago.

Rana told me it was okay if I used he/Ross when speaking of her before her transition.

2004 was the year my marriage to Ross’s mom came to an end. That began the hardest time of my life.

The divorce was acrimonious and Ross’s mom forbade him from talking with me. I had no contact with Ross for a couple years.

After the divorce was final and my life settled, I reached out to Ross and invited him over. He came right away. We met clandestinely for more than a decade, keeping it a secret even from my two other sons, as Ross believed his mom would not approve of our relationship.

By this time, Ross was an independent adult and had a full life, so our meetings were infrequent. But we both made sure they continued.

Finally Ross decided to stop the charade and let his mom know. It was a blessing to be able to invite Ross to family gatherings at last! To be a whole family, as we always should have been.

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