On Death and Dying

I am all too used to those crazy calls at early hours in the morning.  You have had them.  And if you have not, I am so incredibly happy for you.

They start like this, “Have you heard?”  “Word has it…” “A post on Facebook says…”  And they message goes on to say that someone you love, trust – and all of those other words that accentuate the first two words – has died in a horrible place under horrible circumstances.  Boom.

The DRAMA, The CHAOS, The ANGER, The CONFUSION – they all over power what lies just underneath which are the sadness, the void – quieter but so necessary to process.  Grief.

So when the text came through that someone I consider to be my surrogate father (from his most wonderful daughter who I adore) had decided that it was time to move on past his failing body – a body that would not allow him to create his beautiful works of art anymore – I paused while lying in bed with my son, Theo.

Artist Ken Price works on a recent sculpture in his Taos studio, 2011.

What?  I have forewarning of an imminent departure?  So what the hell do I do with this?  I text her back and say, “Tell him I love him like my father.  That I am so thankful to have him in my life.”  “I will tell him,” she responds.  And then I cry.  I cry quietly, though.  Just the tears rolling down my cheeks.  So quietly that Theo does not even know that I am weeping.

And over the course of the next week, I meditate at every given chance for a smooth passage for both my friend and his wonderful family, who have come to mean so very much to me over the past decade.  I was able to teach myself about consciousness and death.  I had no contact with anyone while the process was happening, but that was ok.  I knew that he knew that I knew and that he was actually going to be better off on the other side then he was here.

Price chooses a tool to scrape the walls of a recent sculpture in his studio located north of Taos, New Mexico, 2011.

Many times after the violent deaths of dear friends, I have felt so far away – from what – I will never know.  Whether in Nairobi or in New York – rushing to be with others who are going through the same disbelief, the same pain, the same anger etc…

But as I settled into the fact that this friend was consciously choosing to leave now and that his family and hospice workers were helping that passage go as smoothly and painlessly as possible – I surrendered for the first time in my life, really – to anything.  I moved into a space where I could live life, talk with friends about what was happening sometimes – and many times say nothing.

Ken Price wanted me to photograph his hands just like this, exactly, on our last studio visit in 2011.

I am sure the person who sits in the office across from mine must be curious about the moments when tears would just burst out of my eyes – they would fall, the moment would be beautiful and then gone.  No stone in my heart.  No pit in my stomach.  Just being in the flow of the process.

So by the time the e-mail came from his daughter that he had passed, loving tears rolled down my cheeks, not those ones that come out with screams and anger.  Quiet.  Peaceful.

Those are terms that are not readily linked with anything to do with me or my past…  but that is about to change – no, actually, the change has already occurred.

Thank you, Kenny.  Thank you.

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Monkey Mind

I am sitting in the video editing space at the Denver Post, where I have worked now for a bit more then a year since the Rocky Mountain News shut its doors.  I am editing my first multimedia piece since arriving here and am loving it:  the quiet, the solitude, the freedom of visuals mixed with movement and sound.  I feel like a child after falling off my bike.  I can get up again.  I can do this.  I LIKE to do this.  How did producing multimedia pieces get to be this mountain in my head – just like everything else…???

I am forever struggling with my profession – with the intensity, with the guilt that wraps me up like a warm, wet blanket when my job is NOT intense, with the hours, with obsessive nature it brings out in me, with the “what if’s” that linger.  I want to find balance in my life by enjoying my child, my home, my new chickens, my garden.  But invariably, I am drawn back to the darkness enveloping the corners of our world, of my world, which at this point in my life consists of a city, Denver, and sometimes a state.  I am not boarding BA flights to Africa, not finding ways into Bosnia, not hiring drivers to get to Pushkar in India – maybe driving my Highlander down to the San Luis Valley to document  child poverty or to Taos to shoot food… Guilt, yearning and relief all at once  flood my soul as I think about this life I am leading.

Haiti.  I would have been there fifteen years ago.  I wept openly, not a norm for me, as I saw the images of the children being carried by their fathers, their mothers, crushed by the falling cement.  Limp.  Dead before they had lived.  I never took the time to cry years earlier – until the tears would flow maybe a year later – maybe ten years later – after witnessing massive death in the most unfair of ways – famine in Sudan, in Somalia – in many places.  I was relieved that I was not there, to be honest – I feel like I should be saying this to a priest in a dreary confessional.  I felt that burden of deciding whether or not to get on a plane to the devastated country lifted – but the weight of not being there sinks into my body, at the same time.  I am in my own personal hell at times.

Now, as a mother living an externally quieter life, the tears spring forth as I watch a posting on Facebook from my friend Melanie of a camera woman, Margaret Moth, who was hit by a sniper’s bullet in Somalia in the early 90’s and is now struggling with cancer.  I spent a fascinating dinner with her and my departed friend Carlos in some far away place many moons ago – so many that I cannot remember the exact location.   But I remember her raven hair.  Her crooked smile that leapt from a mouth that had had a bullet cut through it.  Then a posting of Don McCullen comes up from my friend, Mariella.  I often think that I should shoot landscapes like he does now to see if it quiets my soul, as he says it does his.  And then a posting from a new friend, Bruce Strong, from Southern Sudan, an area of the world that transformed my soul when I traveled there TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO with Chris Hedges and a place that I returned to over and over to cover famines, wars or to write a book about the Lost Boys… all of this while I am toning images of my child, Theo, lying on my bed after bath time.  My child who I dreamed of through those years, many years ago.  He is here now.

Now, with a belly that flaunts a scar across it’s bow after a traumatic C-section, with arms that do not feel like wings anymore, but more like weights, with knees that crack from years of kneeling in dumps, gravel pits, bush hospitals and the like, I feel so far away from that person, from that life of years past.  I wanted to run from it – fast and hard.  But I do not know this person I am morphing into.  I would have never met her before and here I AM her, now.

Years ago, on my thirtieth birthday with my friend Gwen in Nairobi after shooting a genital mutilation ceremony in Somalia, I recall someone telling me that I would never be able to have my cake and eat it too – and I remember being completely indignant of that declaration.  “I can too!!!  Just you watch me!!!” I shouted back, after too much champagne.  What is so bizarre is that I have had my cake, and I have eaten it, too, and now I am left wondering what the hell is next?  Should I leave it all and buy a small farm in a quiet place -fading into the background with my child, my organic vegetables and my Araucanas?  Do I really WANT to do that or does my burned out mind want me to do that?  And then there are the maddening moments in between spent obsessing on what huge social documentary project to tackle next…

No! my mind shouts as I watch interviews with children about their third grade teacher, Dawn Romero, from my neighborhood elementary school, Stedman.  No! as I edit images of her wrapping these children up in her arms, her wings.  No!  Don’t leave, my heart tells me.  Don’t go, Judy, my mind relinquishes.  At least for today.

What I did on my furlough…

At the Denver Post, where thankfully, I was offered a job as the Rocky was sinking like the Titanic, the employees chose a 7% pay cut AND a 7-day furlough without pay, plus other reductions – no 401K contribution from MediaNews and a higher cost for the “benefits,” so we could avoid some of the massive slash and burns that the Dallas Morning News experienced early last week.  At first, I was very freaked out at having my pay dwindle, considering that I am the main bread winner for our family while Peter is in grad school.  I was equating pay with worth and really struggled for about a week.  But yesterday, as I sat at the Taco Joint in East Dallas, with my dear friends Randy and Christie Grothe, and my new found friends, Mel Burford and Courtney Perry, I was hit upside my dense head.  Thank GOD that we chose to dock our own pay vs. having to watch someone as dear and as valuable as Randy Grothe get laid off.  I could not bear it.  

Ethical and moral considerations – these were the words that apparently Bob Mong used as he talked to the skeleton staff left at the Dallas Morning News the day after the last round of layoffs.  I was not there so this is not first hand.  They used “ethical and moral” considerations to determine who would be cut.  Ethical and moral.  Ok.  So let’s get this straight, everyone should feel better because the people who were cut did not fit the definition of ethical and moral employees at the Dallas Morning News?  That it was ethical and moral to cut Randy Grothe from the Dallas Morning News photo staff after 34 years?  That he did not contribute to the visual report, in their opinion, so the decision to cut Randy was ethical and moral?  WTF.  What a stupid thing to say.  And as the numbers dwindle even more in the coming year, how is the administration going to morph and shape what they deem ethical and moral to make even more cuts?  

And then there was the statement about “ranking” everyone together on the entire staff and those who were at the bottom were cut.  OK.  Hmmmmm.  Randy Grothe is a Dallas Morning News treasure.  Not just for photo, but for the entire paper.  He is a delight to work with, has always been open to changing with the times, had found a new love for video (which has now been classified as the “non” saviour of newspapers, in case you did not know), and basically, was a positive force in the newsroom.  Sure, he did not edit as quickly as the younguns, sure, he has been known to wreck two rental cars from different agencies in one fail swoop, but once again, in a place that is getting darker and darker, people like Randy Grothe, who would never say anything negative about anyone without feeling deep guilt about it, serve a purpose far greater then just slapping up quick video clips.  They hold the space for the light.  

And that job needs to get a higher ranking.

 

Theo goes down the long slide with the help of his cousin, Sophie.  She grabbed him and jumped after he remain paralyzed at the top for five minutes.  Thanks, Girl!

Theo goes down the long slide with the help of his cousin, Sophie. She grabbed him and jumped after he remain paralyzed at the top for five minutes. Thanks, Girl!Theo's cousin Maddie tickles him while Sophie plays in the dirt at Cottonwood Park in Richardson, TX.

Sophie gives Theo a piggyback ride along Cottonwood Creek.

Sophie gives Theo a piggyback ride along Cottonwood Creek.

Maddie jumps first...

Maddie jumps first...

Second time was a charm.

Second time was a charm.

I guess if all newspapers close, then I could always become the manager for my gorgeous and brilliant niece, Sophie...

I guess if all newspapers close, then I could always become the manager for my gorgeous and brilliant niece, Sophie...

Back from the abyss

 

Theo screams as Peter finds him a great example of a purple dinosaur.

Theo screams as Peter finds him a great example of a purple dinosaur.

 

Theo has his first taste of Frosted Flakes....  I feel evil for introducing them to him!!!
Theo has his first taste of Frosted Flakes…. I feel evil for introducing them to him!!!
Theo and his buddies Bella, center, and her sister Sophie watch a movie on their couch.  We are so thankful to have John and Gretchen in Denver with us!

Theo and his buddies Bella, center, and her sister Sophie watch a movie on their couch. We are so thankful to have John and Gretchen in Denver with us!

As most of you know, the past three months have been a roller coaster ride for me, my family and my co-workers from the Rocky Mountain News, which closed it’s doors the end of February.  Thankfully, I was hired the night before the announcement by Tim Rasmussen, the Assistant Managing Editor/Photography of the Denver Post.   The entire Post staff – photographers, editors, writers and even the owner – welcomed the ex-Rocky-ites with open arms and open hearts.  It has been an amazing experience, overall.  

I can honestly say that I shut down for the past two months.  My husband is in grad school, I have two kids to support – and a household to keep running.  Everyday, I searched the internet for possible job opportunities, as I knew the Rocky’s closure was coming and did not know that I would be hired by the Post.  The Unknown took its toll on me physically and emotionally.   Thank GOD that Spring is on its way here in Denver, as I feel like I am climbing out of a Crevasse.  

I am learning how to shoot with my new D3 Nikons – everything is backwards.  And I am slowly going to get back into photographing my family and my friends.  I am, once again, feeling inspired to shoot images and to do just that – shoot images.  No wars to fight, no layouts to navigate, to where to push, for now.  Time for me to just be.  Sure, I have questions about the Denver Post and have no idea how things work there yet.  But for now, I am thankful I have a job, a pair of cameras with prime lenses, and a computer to tone them with.  That is more then I can say for the other Rocky photographers who were not as fortunate as me and who I will help in any way possible to get the next chapter of their lives up and running…

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Peter helps Theo open a Christmas present from his Auntie Sarah

Peter helps Theo open a Christmas present from his Auntie Sarah

I am laid up on the couch after having my knee scoped two days ago watching my family open their Christmas presents.   The percosette is impairing my ability to write, so I am just going to ramble on with a few photos that I did not have the chance to post until now…

 

Peter grew a beard while he struggled to finish his two term papers for his Masters in Linguistic program he is wading through at CU.  I think he quite resembles a bear here

Peter grew a beard while he struggled to finish his two term papers for his Masters in Linguistic program he is wading through at CU. I think he quite resembles a bear here

 

 

My father loves New Mexico like I do and usually wears all of his old turquoise everyday.

My father loves New Mexico like I do and usually wears all of his old turquoise everyday.

 

My niece, Ellen, is going to be a photographer, I think.  I must remember to tell her to NOT always shoot from her knees like I did, which is why I am on the couch on Christmas Day.

My niece, Ellen, is going to be a photographer, I think. I must remember to tell her to NOT always shoot from her knees like I did, which is why I am on the couch on Christmas Day.

Theo is already quite good at playing coy...

Theo is already quite good at playing coy...

 

Except with his dad.

Except with his dad.

 

I am so thankful for my amazing friends.

I am so thankful for my amazing friends.

 

 

I had a total blast with Lacy, Todd and Kelly when I was in New York the beginning of December.  They made the news about the Rocky sale much more manageable.

I had a total blast with Lacy, Todd and Kelly when I was in New York the beginning of December. They made the news about the Rocky sale much more manageable.

Lacy is a complete Goddess, as anyone who knows her knows.

Lacy is a complete Goddess, as anyone who knows her knows.

 

 

And to make the trip even more wonderful, I was able to see Wangechi and Mario for brunch. We talked about their little baby who is on its way in a month or so.

And to make the trip even more wonderful, I was able to see Wangechi and Mario for brunch. We talked about their little baby who is on its way in a month or so.

 

And for the icing on the cake, Lacy's beau Rob Reddy also met us...  Great name, huh!

And for the icing on the cake, Lacy's beau Rob Reddy also met us... Great name, huh!

Theo swings at City Park

Even though so many things are up in the air at the moment, there is not a day that goes by that I do not feel like the most blessed person in the world.

A New Life

I have to pee.  I am perched in the widow seat of an American Airlines flight heading to La Guardia, for the first time since the Republican Convention of 2004.  I can’t think straight.  I have to pee and I have to displace two people AGAIN if I want some relief.  Funny how your mind goes back to the point of immediate suffering.

bethmaddie

I have been in Dallas with my family.  I went to hear my niece Maddie sing in front of Dillards at NorthPark.  I had dinner and lunches with family and friends.  It was wonderful.  I made a plan to fly to NYC for a few days to see friends while Theo stays with him Mimi and Poppy.  I never thought that I would learn that my newspaper is going away if it does not sell by January 15, 2009, while sitting on a plane.  

choir1

 

When I came to the Rocky Mountain News, I was single and uncommitted to the paper.  I was a freelance “everything” living in Taos, NM, my beloved town that I have missed every day since I left.  I was on my way back, actually, when I met my eventual husband, Peter, on assignment, along with my future stepson, Hans.  I stayed.  I married Peter.  I had our baby, Thelonious Lee DeHaas, we fought for custody of Hans and won.  We created a life, made friends.  I relaxed a little bit.

sophiepray

 It seems like I have done it all in this 45 years.  I get glimpses of the past, now and then, like last night when I attended my niece Sophie’s twelfth birthday party in Dallas.  Someone brought up the fact that Sophie is reckless, not unlike her Aunt Juju, who used to cover wars.  I thought about an e-mail I had just received from my old friend Sam Kiley, who I met in Somalia many years ago. He was introducing me to a man who is starting a global journalism venture and thought I would be a good fit the company.  Sam wrote to him that I had broken the nose of a Somali who had stolen camera gear out of the pockets of my shooter’s vest during an Aideed rally in Mogidishu in 1992.  It took me a good twenty minutes to remember that incident.  When it actually happened sixteen years ago, I was so proud that I had decked the asshole.  I remembered that he came back to make sure it was really a WOMAN who had bashed his nose in.  Today, it is a distant memory of a time gone by.  Not just for me, but for many, I am sure.

dad1

 

 I have the staff job in my family. My husband is graduate student in the Linguistic Department at CU Boulder. Through my job, we  pay the mortgage, the insurance, the bills.  But the Rocky is terminally ill and the prognosis is not good.  I feel very scared on one level, but on another, I feel liberated.  At least I know the fate of my newspaper while others out there are going to still be waking up every morning holding their breaths, just a little bit, as I have been doing the past year.  Not breathing quite fully, whether asleep or awake.  

breakfast

 “What should I do?” runs through my mind, weaving in and out of the nagging feeling that I have to pee.  I was just getting the hang of this multimedia thing.  None of the equipment is mine.  I have one month worth of bills saved.  I have 17 acres in Taos that I look at as my retirement.  I have a husband and two sons.  I have a house in Park Hill.  Should I sell it?  Should we move home to Texas and help my mom with my father while Peter finishes school?  Should we move to Brooklyn where so many of my friends live now.  No one is hiring photojournalists at newspapers. Matter of fact, Gannet just laid off 1770 people, I believe. 

dadtheo

 And then my mind goes out to the Managing Editor, Deb Goeken, whose mother just passed away last week.  What is going through her mind?  At least I HAVE a mother and father with a house in Dallas that I can go home to if it came to that.  There are so many people in the world today that have no one to lean on during this hard time, a time that is going to get much worse, I feel. 

pennies

 I just accepted an adjunct teaching position at Metropolitan State College of Denver that will start in January and I really would like to be in Denver to teach the intermediate photojournalism class.  But right now, while I look out of the window, and watch the clouds whiz by, I feel unattached to everything except for my beloved family.  I will do whatever I need to do to serve us.  I might have to sell our house, which really would just mean one less thing to worry about. 

JD370DALAI+41871

 And move us one step closer to the next chapter…

 

Halloween 2008

Just some cute photos – enjoy!

halloween1

This was at our neighbor Ken’s house…  the best candy and decorations!

halloween21

Theo smooched Casper repeatedly…

halloween3

The whole shibang was overwhelming at times for Theo.

halloween4

His buddy Reece was Thomas and Theo was a dinosaur.

halloween5

Theo was determined to fill up his pumpkin.

halloween6

Sometimes, there was no escape.

halloween7

Friends Forever!