Keep Your Chin Up

My mother has been a frequent subject of mine throughout the years. I was with her for the last weeks of her life and when she took her last breath. As she lay dying, in a morphine-laced state, she called out for her mother. She had one foot in this world and one foot in the next. I asked her questions about her experience. She recalled waiting to board a boat but they wouldn’t let her board. She was turned away. Why did they turn you away I asked? My children, she replied.

My mother was a force growing up. She was the glue that held the family together. She was strong, a fighter she liked to say. But this disease knocked her out. It was hard to watch her lose her strength, her body weight and ultimately her will.

In the months that followed, I cleared out her home and sifted through the remnants of her life. Her papers and belongings were sorted, donated, or tossed. What remained was the empty apartment, a shell of all the life and events that had transpired within its walls. A home is more than a shelter or a roof over our heads. It is the culmination of all the life lived within.

I replayed voice messages that remained on my phone. She always ended every conversation with the catch phrase “Keep your chin up.” It didn’t matter whether I needed cheering up or encouragement or if everything was going well. My brother and I joked about it and wondered about her curious turn of phrase. But hearing that expression after she passed, those words took on new meaning.
This selection of images is a subset of a larger body of work including additional portraits, family photos, handwritten recipes, notes, medical records and birthday cards. 

“Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered or scientifically detected or counted. It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they leave in ours. Memory. The census doesn’t count it. Nothing counts without it.” ― Robert Fulghum