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.


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.


Weekend update

It took a few days for the shock of Rana’s death to pass. Then I was very tired for a few more days — I slept 9 or 10 hours a night and needed a nap every afternoon. That’s passed, and now I’m spending my time finding things to do that take my mind off this staggering loss.

Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, Ilford HP5+ at EI 1600, HC-110 B

I took the week off from the blog, which is why there’s no Recommended Reading today. It’ll probably return next week.

My company gave me two weeks off to grieve, rest, and recover. I wasn’t sure at first that I’d take it all. When my dad died, I took no time off. That was different, though. I knew for months that his time was short, and I’d processed through a lot of losing him before he died. Losing Rana was entirely unexpected and I don’t believe I would have been capable of working.

I did test the waters a little on Thursday. I had an interview scheduled for an open position on my team and I went ahead and did it. I also scheduled an hour with my boss to catch up. I got through them, but afterward I was surprisingly exhausted by the interaction.

So I’m going to take my company up on the second week off they’ve offered. I’ve nothing to do — Rana’s mom handled making all of the arrangements (obituary here) and as far as I know they’re done. All that’s left for me is to show up at the memorial service on Saturday.

I must go. I need to go. But since the divorce I’ve deliberately separated my life from my ex-wife and her family. I’m going to see some or all of them again for the first time since 2004 under these horrible circumstances, and I feel some trepidation over it.

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.


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.


A grave loss

My family is devastated today. Our daughter Rana has died, by her own hand. Rana was 36.

Me, Garrett, Damion, and Rana in October, 2021

I’ve known Rana since she was 7, when I married her mom. Even though that marriage didn’t make it, I’ve kept a relationship with Rana. For those of you who knew us then, you remember Rana as Ross. She transitioned a few years ago.

This loss hasn’t fully sunk in yet and already it hurts like hell.

I already have most of January’s posts written and queued on this blog, and so things will go on here as if nothing is wrong. That will be the furthest thing from the truth.