My mom died May 3rd, 2023. She lived in Dallas, Texas, and was 80 years old. We weren’t estranged, but we weren’t close. I last saw her when I flew to Dallas for Thanksgiving in 2013. I stayed two weeks and spent the whole time getting drunk at her house, sobering up long enough every couple of days to drive to the convalescent facility where she was staying to visit her.
She had been in that facility for over a year by then, following a serious fall at her house, and stayed in it for the rest of her life. Or until March, 2023, when the home closed down and she was moved to a hospice facility. She died there two months later.
I said my goodbyes a few days before her death via Zoom. I am deeply estranged from my younger sister, but she was in mom’s room and orchestrated the Zoom thing via smartphone. Though she was heavily sedated for pain and non-verbal, I spoke my final peace to mom. This is a photo I took of her last time I saw her:
I’ve spent most of my time since mom’s death beating the shit out of myself for not being a better son, for not visiting her more often, for not truly talking to her about the things she had done throughout my life to both enhance it and to fuck it up.
Mostly to fuck it up, if I may be both honest and blunt. Over the years she threw a couple of sizeable monkey wrenches into the clockworks of my life. In particular she rejected and repudiated my wife. I never could forgive her for that. But it doesn’t matter now. We all end up gravel and dust scattered above and within an indifferent Earth.
So I’ve been sitting here for past six weeks trying to get a handle on my very complicated grief, and waiting to hear something, anything, about my mother’s estate. My sister doesn’t want any contact between us and therefore she will tell me nothing. Like I said, we’re deeply estranged.
So I’ve been coping with my grief with my photographic work, of course, which is how two weeks after mom died I stumbled across a group of young women in San Francisco holding street a memorial for a deceased friend. These women were basically partying in the streets near a Baptist church in the Sunnydale neighborhood, drinking and dancing and carrying on to honor and celebrate the life of another young woman who had recently died.
It was beautiful to behold, as were the women in the participating crowd. And it was a joyous, exuberant release of grief unlike any I had ever seen. I was honored to be allowed to photograph it.
Because these images are special to me. I look at the women in these pictures and I’m able to live through them a little. I see in them a joyous release of grief that I am unlikely to have, though I keep trying to summon up some kind of redemptive happiness in knowing my mom no longer feels any pain and nor has any Earthly worries.
Worries and pain are part of the constant feast reserved for the palates of the living. We dine on them every day. But when I look at these images of these jubilant young women, I see people turning pain into joy to honor a fallen friend.
I hope you see that too in these photographs. And I hope Boba Ryan, my mother, and Monette Lathan, whose memorial you see in these photos, truly rest in peace.
You can see all the pictures I took at this street memorial here.
The dancing kind
dances with her daughter
in the street
on the sidewalk
both of them radiant
like champions of love.
Betty was Hawaiian, she was short, she was my mother-in-law, she was (I think) 86, she was beautiful, she knew she wasn’t educated but she knew she was smart, and she died two years ago today.
Betty loved mumus (she looked great in them), she fiercely loved my father-in-law (her second husband), she was gentle and compassionate, she loved her kids deeply, and she hated Windows computers and didn’t trust email or electronic commerce.
Betty was a Christian, she fucking hated it when I cursed around her but eventually grew to tolerate it, she once “paid” me 1,200 bucks (when I was recently unemployed from teaching public school) for a series Windows computer lessons it quickly became clear she never intended to take she just wanted to help me financially, and she made this sort of jellied white crab dip that it was absolutely to die for.
Betty laughed like she invented laughing for all of humanity, she knew I struggled with alcohol abuse for years but loved me anyway and didn’t judge me for it, and she died peacefully in her sleep in a mumu thankfully never knowing how much I wish I’d spent more time with her during our lives and how much I’m going to miss her until the end of my days.
This is a short, simple story. I was on my way to my favorite discount supermarket in San Francisco when I encountered these three guys on the sidewalk at a bus stop, and a couple of the gents decided to smoke some meth.
They were really nice guys, though, so don’t get the wrong impression.
The fellow who initially pulled out the glass pipe wore a wrist band that suggested he’d recently been a patient in a hospital someplace. While a few people at the bus stop looked on with obvious disdain, he pulled out his lighter and sparked up his gear…
Then he took a few drags from it. He sucked on it like an infant feeding from a milk bottle because his mother’s breasts had run dry…
Then he passed the glass to his pal, who had been patiently waiting to take a few hits himself. The big fellow on the end didn’t partake, he just kept chatting with me about the plumbing business he was saving money to open up one day. He and his companion were sitting on a huge audio speaker and I have no idea why…
And’s that’s pretty much it. Despite the fact that these gents were smoking hard drugs at a moderately-busy bus stop, It was all rather low-key and somehow calm and civilized.
Like I said, they were really nice guys.
During the coronavirus panic I’ve been going out every day, mostly to my local grocery bodega here in Brisbane, California for cigarettes and Dr Pepper. And even though my town is literally right next to San Francisco, sharing a city and county line, folks here have been nice, calm, and collected. No freaking out or hysterical behavior, at least not that I’ve seen.
The lady in my photographs here is a good example. It was sunny and in the high 60s on March 19th when she came walking up the street while I was loitering in front of the grocery store having a smoke. I loved her lace dress and her glittery sandals, and asked her for a few photos.
And she cheerfully agreed. But as you can see in these photos and the complete sequence here, she took a moment to compose herself. But she looked kind of great doing it…