Photography

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.

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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

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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Personal

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.

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Personal, Stories Told

Paul McCartney kind of saved my life once; he has no idea of course

After two recent high-profile suicides in the news, I am reminded of this piece I wrote in 2011. If you ever stand on that edge, wait, because it always gets better.

I was away at my first year of engineering school working harder than ever before — or since, for that matter. My full class load delivered six to ten hours of homework every day. To keep up, I worked each night into the wee hours. My life consisted of meals, class, homework, and too little sleep.

As my fatigue mounted, my health began to suffer. Worse, I became isolated and I lost hope. I fell into a deep funk. I began thinking a lot about how I might be better off no longer walking around on the face of the Earth.

That’s when I came across this record.

McCartneyCover

This is Paul McCartney’s first solo album after the Beatles broke up. He released it in 1970, but I first heard it 15 years later in my dorm room at the center of my despair. The music sounded spare; many mixes were rough and some songs seemed unfinished. The songs gave a strong sense of a man shut away in a room, playing alone, trying to get his head together. Indeed, Paul produced and engineered the album himself. Except for an occasional backing vocal from his wife Linda, he played and sang every note.

McCartney’s signature musical move has always been to find a bright side even when the going is rough. This song, which closed side 1, is a perfect example. It led me to consider that after the Beatles ended, he released (at that time) more than a dozen albums and had given concerts all over the world. It had been impossible to listen to the radio and not hear his music! He’d done quite all right in the intervening years. I could see that perhaps so could I, and so perhaps I should push through.

I did, and now I’m fine all the while.

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Faith, Personal

Wait. Always wait. It always gets better.

Carrying the cross

I’m so glad I got Billy’s photograph when our church carried the cross through the neighborhood this past Good Friday. Because on the morning of June 2, we lost Billy, by his own hand.

Billy had a challenging backstory. He made it out of childhood and adolescence and was trying to build his adult future. The church was directly supporting him and loving him, but it wasn’t enough. Maybe he was crushed by the weight of his past. Maybe the road ahead looked to be too steep. I don’t know.

But I do know about suicide. I’ve written about it here obliquely before, but let me be plain about it now: I lived with and fought through periods of severe depression from the time I was 16 to the time I was about 40. I’ve walked right up to the edge of suicide several times.

During the worst of my depressions I didn’t kill myself because I was afraid of surviving it and being left permanently, horribly damaged. Then after my children were born I never ended it because I couldn’t leave them behind. But during those times, the pain was too great, the recovery road too hard. I wanted no part of life.

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.

If you ever think about ending your life, wait. Just wait. Your feelings, thoughts, and circumstances will change, if you just hang on.

We gathered at church on Saturday to celebrate his life and mourn our loss. We will miss Billy terribly.

Billy was 19.

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