First in a series chronicling my two day meeting with the Mothers of an Angels Network. For more information, read yesterday's post or my story about last year's visit.
We have a dog.
The dog's name is Ari. We found the puppy running around the Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Fresno. He was lost. Perhaps abandoned. He had not eaten in days; he needed someone to care for him.
When we drove into the cemetery, I was in the first limo; my wife was in the second. As soon as I saw the lost puppy, I knew we would probably take him home if my wife saw him. Did it make sense? Was it practical? Was it logical? At the time, I thought my wife was impulsive and acting out of grief. After photographing Rachel Cobarrubias' family (and their family dogs), I realize that my wife's decision was as logical as any of her legal arguments.
Someone or something needed saving. So my wife acted. She acted swiftly, because if she waited, it would be too late.
Four years ago, my wife and two little children drove to Fresno from Oakland nearly every weekend watching my wife's grandmother die from cancer. My wife's grandmother was more than a grandmother. She was a role model for strong women; she was a community leader. She was also a care giver. At the cemetery that day, I also missed my wife's grandmother. I knew I would miss the Fresno Armenian history. I would miss her leadership and guidance. My children missed their great-grandmother. During those three months she was dying, I photographed my daughter. Months later, I saw my daughter's confusion. Death confused many of us, even when we were watching an old woman die slowly.
Finding the dog helped us move on. Ari helped us remember the circle of life. Ari helped us reconnect to life and to my wife's grandmother.
During my first photo session with Rachel Cobarrubias, I thought about Florence Jamgochian and our dog. I remembered that my wife's love for animals was one of the reasons I wanted to marry her. I figured that if my wife loved animals, she could love children. I wanted children.
Rachel brought two dogs and two people. One dog had lived with her son Eric and his fiance Airlia. A new tiny puppy is named after her son's MySpace log in name. Rachel loves the new dog, perhaps to help her remember her son and connect to the circle of life.
Rachel also brought her son's ashes and his guitar. Her son believed in preserving the environment, so his ashes are stored in a circular urn that is already beginning to biodegrade. Rachel's grandson Anthony is pictured with the guitar; he is learning to play. Eric and Anthony are only three years apart. They are very close; they were very close. Our language is also starting to fall apart when trying to describe how their relationship will endure after death.
Airlia attended the photo shoot too. Airlia and Eric met when they were students at Sunnyside High School. During college they lived together, and in Airlia's Cambodian community, the two were considered husband and wife. Eric learned how to speak Airlia's language so that he could communicate with her family. My wife's family spoke English. I never needed to learn Armenian. I wonder if I would have tried.
I photographed the family just outside the Woodward Park Amphitheater. A few days before photographing Rachel, I photographed musicians inside, but this time the gates were closed. At first, I thought it was unfortunate that I did not photograph Rachel's family inside the amphitheater. I wanted to find a way to get Rachel's son through the gate. I did not want him kept outside. But now I like the metaphor. During the first photo shoot, the earthly creatures played outside the locked gates. If anyone is to be let past the final gate, we do not make the decision. And as much as I want to help the grieving families, I cannot help by unlocking doors. I help by documenting memories. I help by doing something our family dog has done for us. He loves us and supports us and protects us. And he allows us to do the same.
Some of this information I am adding after I posted this message and sent to Rachel for additions and corrections. I had forgotten Airlia's name. I did not know Eric and Airlia's story about different culture's and different languages, and yet I felt compelled to write about our dog Ari and my wife's Armenian grandmother. I had also wanted to place this in the category of "First Love," but wanted to err on the side of caution, so I did not. When I asked Rachel for additions and corrections, she responded, "Airlia will forever be my son's first love...."
So I added this post to my first love category. There is more to this story. Those that know more can view the photos and add to the blog's comments.