I often remember the friends and strangers who helped me following my father's suicide. Even when I could barely function, I hoped that some day I would help others who had suffered loss. Exactly five years after I flew to Las Vegas to plan my father's funeral and organize his "estate," I spent the day with families who had lost a child.
We spent about eight hours together. Afterward, I was exhausted, more by the summer sun than by the emotions. The families inspired me. While the families might not feel strong now, they are doing important work. They are supporting each other, keeping their families together, and grieving for children who were supposed to plan their grieving parents' funerals.
On the drive home, I heard the phrase "misery loves company." Usually this expression is used to isolate people who are feeling sad, or to judge people for "making others feel bad." In the context of my day with Mothers with Angels, I contemplated how this expression reflects our society's views about grieving.
While there are times when I want to be alone, I often want company, whether I am sad or happy. Why shouldn't the miserable people want company? Happy people are not expected to celebrate alone. Why would those in misery be any different? We are social creatures, and after we lose loved ones, we are likely to be miserable for a long time... nt forever and not all the time, but for a long time.
When I am sad, I want to be around people who understand sadness. When I am happy, I want to be around people who appreciate happiness. In the photos below, sometimes people appear happy. Perhaps the mothers felt happiness, because they are in the company of fellow travelers; perhaps they can feel their "angel's presence" or God's presence. Perhaps the families are happy, because they know they are helping others. Perhaps, these mothers would not call the feeling happiness, but something else -- maybe a relief from misery... and if I helped in easing their misery, I am happy, because I know that easing misery is a gift not forgotten.
notes to the photos, below the gallery
Quick notes about the photos:
All but two of the Mothers of Angels have tattoos of their children. The gallery's first photo is from a newer member who lost her teen-age son when he was hit by a car while riding a skate board. Later that afternoon, I photographed the mother at her son's favorite skateboard park. (I have known this woman since we were children.)
At a cemetery, we visited a family who lost a daughter (and sister). When the girl died, she was about the same age as my daughter who starts Kindergarten next week. Occasionally, medical professionals make mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes are fatal, and from what I know, it cost this family their oldest child.
Another woman lost her young child to cancer. For a year, she watched her daughter die. We photographed her with a tree planted in her daughter's honor. Across the river, we could see Valley Children's Hospital, the place the mother called, "their home away from home."
Several women have lost children to accidents. I photographed a woman who lost her son when he was 26. By then, he was also a father. I included photographs of the mother and her grandson, as well as the grandson's mother and uncle. The little boy's mother also has a tattoo. The woman who lost her son is one of the two group members who doesn't have a tattoo. She thinks that she is too old for one, but she is only a few years older than I am.
The group meets weekly, usually in the back room of pizza place/restaurant. For this session, we met at the group leader's house. In her back yard, there is a tribute garden to their 17 year old son. He was a passenger in a fatal car crash. The community contributed to the garden, including the driver's family; the driver knew the son for years.
I photographed nine Mothers of Angels members for the group shot. More attend weekly meetings, and more members will continue to join the group. If you know anyone in Central California who could benefit by joining the group, please feel free to contact me, and I will help connect people.
To see the entire gallery of 160 photos, click here.
to view the book: