Between Brisbane and Japan, some whimsy and Dan (All contents © Dan Ryan, unless noted)

Grief Sculpture

A Ghost in Traveling Shoes—A small transit

The way things worked out, I ‘m traveling to Tokyo via an overnight stay in Dallas, Texas. My mother lives here, so I have a free and loving place to stay while I’m in transit. When I woke up this morning at 04:30 California time, I really wished I had a direct flight to Narita and could have skipped this layover at mom’s. Once I got here, I was, and am, glad for the opportunity to see her. Even for a short time such as this. I leave for DFW airport tomorrow morning at 08:30 central time. It’s 21:15 right now.

So I’m passing through mom’s life briefly, little more than a smiling ghost who feels warm to the touch. In this house, were my mother has lived for 24 years, there’s another ghost. It’s my father, who lived here with mom for 19 years but passed away in 2008. Dad died suddenly. Mom is dying slowly, of a combination of ailments I’d rather not describe out of respect for her privacy. Suffice to say, if she lives another year or two she will have beaten the odds her doctors have given her.

It is good being here, and hard. My mother uses a walker, but is so energized and outwardly full of life whenever I am here that when I leave I feel I have robbed her of some life energy. It’s hard to describe and is probably a more universal occurrence between a child and a dying parent than I know. But it is good being here. I wish I had planned this trip to Tokyo better and arranged to fly to Dallas three days ago, to give mom more of me, and to give me more of her. I’d like to return at Christmas. That would be good.

But time is growing short. We both know this. We don’t discuss it much. But every time I come to visit my mother, I leave knowing that I may never see her alive again. I think this scares me and mom more than the fact that she is dying. We have both become grimly resigned to that. She has things she wants to tell me, stories of her life and family in what used to be Yugoslavia, and she is afraid she’ll never get to tell these things to me. In some ways, we both understand that the loss of these family stories is the tragic death here.

Maybe instead of traipsing off to Tokyo to do this photojournalism work I have chosen, the guilt inside me says, I should make my mother and her stories the highest priority in my life.


“Our lives are what they are,” my mother is fond of saying. And it is her very good way of saying we should both shut the fuck up and think about happier things.


(Picture taken at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on September 7th, 2013.)

The Grief Sculpture—Part I of a small, inadequate way of coping

Grief is an unconquerable emotion. You can only manage it…..

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I am both embarrassed by this thing, and rather proud of it.

You can have a closer look at….everything. If you’d like. The whole thing, each small packet. You can think of it as a mixed-media piece, which some proud but confused parent has displayed on the front of a very large refrigerator. And if you look long enough, you’ll easily figure out the overall subject of the piece.

But the context of this is mostly explained at the end of Part II.

Fleeting Thoughts on a Solid Core in its Entirety:

Packets of the Main Board, Part I:

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Go on to Part II

The Grief Sculpture—Part II of a small, inadequate way of coping

Grief is an unconquerable emotion. You can only manage it…..

Part II, and Coda:

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The Hanging Chad Addenda

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My father died in the early hours of May 18th, 2008. We did not get along, but I loved him. I did not go to the funeral. This was a stupid decision. The circumstances of both his death and my decision to skip his funeral are private. I started this….”bulletin board of the Id” around June or July, 2008 and pinned my last packet to it in January, 2011. Creating this was just an odd thing part of my mind told me to do, some way of coping with the reality that my father was gone and I would never get a true chance to understand him. So I guess a part of my mind told me to try this method to understand myself. I’m not sure it worked. It hasn’t made the grief or anger go away.

Some packets depict happy things I thought of when my grief overwhelmed me. Some depict just weirdness or sorrow or booze or a combination of the three, all steeped in a kind of momentarily controlled and channeled darkness. The strings connect packets I think are linked in terms of contents or theme. Yeah, I know, it’s weird.

If you don’t understand this, I hope you still enjoy it in some way. You might think this work is amazing, or it might make you want to disdainfully laugh your ass off. Either reaction, or a reaction somewhere in between the two extremes, is fine with me. As long as I made you think.

–Dan Ryan, December 2011