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.
shine a light,
our own radiance.
We pick locks
we cannot see,
we cannot smell,
and gossip about things
we do not know.
others for our capture.
We stop loving
others for our cold empty.
with the children
we used to be
and wonder why,
now we’ve grown,
we don’t dance
than we used to.
(Photographed in San Bruno, California on Christmas Eve, 2020. See my other work here.)