In December 2009, I began photographing my mother at the assisted living facility where she had been living for nearly thirty years. She entered the facility after her second husband beat her so badly that she suffered permanent brain damage. For many years, I turned my back on my mother, angry at her because she had left our family for her lover. At the same time, I suffered from depression and guilt over her fate. At forty-seven years old, I started to heal our broken relationship with photography. My goal is to show that it is not only possible to forgive anyone but also to, hopefully, give someone the courage to leave an abusive relationship. I have been deeply invested in photographing my mother for nearly seven years. Her complexity continues to beckon me: I will not avert my eyes from the truth of her condition no matter how difficult it is to see. Someone must be witness to her life. In addition, I want my photographs to make people pause and question the nature of the human condition and assess their own wills to live. These photos tell my mother's story of isolation, loneliness, abuse, connection, compassion, forgiveness, family, humanity, grace, joy and, above all, love.
LONG WRITTEN REFLECTION
When I was nine, my mother left my family and father for another man. The man she left us for turned out to be violent; he beat her so badly that she suffered permanent brain damage and had to be moved into an assisted living facility where she still lives today. Of her five children, only my younger sister visited her regularly for the first thirty years. Seeing her in such a place, was too depressing for the rest of her children.
I have early, fond memories of my mother as a beautiful, passionate, vivacious, and fiery, Guatemalan Sophia Loren. But since she left us, I have had tremendous feelings of abandonment and rage towards her. Her actions led me to judge her as impetuous, selfish, reckless and a negligent mother. I resented what she did to herself and to her family. I carried so much anger, yet whenever I saw her, I was overcome with pity and sadness. Just looking at her gnarled hand from the brain damage brought forth more emotion than I could bear. For these reasons, I have virtually ignored my mother in an attempt to distance myself from my own pain.
But the pain remained, and it became clear to me that our relationship needed healing. Thankfully, through the graduate work I did in Spiritual Psychology and the work I did with a healer, I was able to dissolve the judgments I carried about her and myself, and begin to forge a relationship with her. On this road to acceptance, I experience my raw emotions through the safe distance of a camera lens. My camera brought me a connection point and a separation that I needed.
I feel our connection without fear as I create photos meant to take me out of my comfort zone. These photos tell my mother's story of isolation, loneliness, abuse, connection, compassion, forgiveness, family, humanity, grace, joy and above all, love. I didn't need to travel around the world to deepen my spirituality. My greatest teacher was in front of me my entire life. I just couldn't see it was my mother; a true Bodhisattva. She forgave me for not visiting her all those decades without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving me and my family. Forgiveness happens when you care more about the love in a relationship than the logic of your ego. I no longer pity my mother. She continually inspires me teaching me to live by my heart, not my head. The love I feel for her has broken my heart wide open.
My mother is a symbol of perseverance. Even though she suffered from domestic violence; she never lost her kindness, belief in love and hope. What happened to my mother also fractured my persona yet we both grew from the trauma and she refused to be covered with a veil of pity. She is comfortable in silence and is fully present in the moment. I never planned to show these photos when I made them but I've learned that by sharing myself and my process of healing, that helps others on their path to healing.
At the age of forty-one, over thirty years ago, my mother began living in the facility. Years ago I asked my mother,
"what would you like"?
Without hesitation she answered,
"Que todo la gente este bien."
"May all people be well."
A few days ago I asked her a question I've asked of myself.
" que te gustaria, mas que nada en el mundo"?
"What do you want more than anything in the whole world"?
" que todos nos queramos."
"That everyone love each other."
To which I whole-heartedly agree.
This project made it to the semi-finalist for the CDS/Honickman Duke University 1st Book Prize in Photography - 2016
This project made it to the finalists for the CDS/Honickman Duke University 1st Book Prize in Photography - 2014.
This project, He Threw the Last Punch Too Hard, was published by FotoEvidence in 2020.