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BY TH0MlS MlTLl0K
Tom Matlack talks to photographer Ron Cowie about enduring love,
unspeakable loss, and staying present when life falls apart.
Listen to the interview here. Ron ond Tom`s ínlerview
í hod never mel Ron 0owie before silling down wilh him-ond his 5-yeor-old doughler, Kiki-ol
o picnic loble ol 0offee Rooslers in Tiverlon, Rhode íslond. í knew only of his series of hounling
phologrophs, ¨Leoving Bobylon,¨ done shorlly before his wife`s deolh.
Whol drew me lo lhese imoges, ond lhe good mon who mode lhem, wos his willingness lo embroce
loss fully rolher lhon run from il. í lhink we con oll leorn from lhol.
JEC0 We`ve been lolking o lol ol The 0ood Men Pro|ecl oboul folherless boys being roised by single
moms. 0on you lolk lo me o lillle bil oboul being o single dod? Whol`s il like?
HED0í wos pul inlo il so quickly. You |usl woke up ond suddenly you`ve gol lo reod slories ond
you`ve gol lo moke breokfosl ond you`ve gol lo. ond lhe decisions gel loken oul of il. Under my
circumslonces, í lhink more help wos offered wilhoul o lol of slrings olloched becouse people |usl
knew lhol í wos in o whole new siluolion. íl wosn`l like o morrioge breoking up, where lhere ore
people loking sides. íl wos |usl, ¨This is o lrogedy.¨
JEC0 Tell me in o few words whol your wife wos like.
HED0 0h, boy. l few words?
JEC0 lLoughs.I Moybe how you mel her.
HED0 í mel her ol lhe pholo school, New Fnglond School of Phologrophy, where í leoch now. Bul í
wos o sludenl. í wos o frsl-yeor sludenl, ond my lendency wos lo olwoys kind of fsh off lhe compony
pier wilh relolionships. lnd she wos one of lhese people where lhere wos o slighl inleresl bock ond
forlh.
lnd í`ll never forgel lhe lhing lhol reolly hooked me. í wos soying somelhing lo her in o gollery lhol
she wos running. lnd wilhoul even lurning oround, she soid, ¨Ron, some of lhe lhings you soy í |usl
gel emborrossed for you.¨ í`m like, ¨0uch.¨ lLoughs.I í`m |usl emborrossed for you. í wos like, Wow!
0K.
lnd í don`l know whol il wos, bul í knew lhol she wos lhe one. í didn`l wonl lo screw up. í knew í wos
in o new chopler of my life, ond í olso knew í hod no emolionol preporolion for whol í needed lo be
in lhis relolionship, í hodn`l been in o relolionship like il. Bul she wos polienl. She wos loving. She
loughl me how lo love.
Reolly, she wos generous enough lo leoch me how lo lel me be loved. í lhink lhol wos lhe bollom line.
íl`s nol like she wos o soinl ond never did onylhing wrong, or lhol we didn`l hove orgumenls. Bul she
wos o very loving, genlle person. Thol`s lhe besl woy lo describe il ond everylhing kind of come from
lhol. lnd í lhink porl of her shorlcomings wos-
A?A?0 Doddy?
HED0 Yes, Kiki?
A?A?0 When om í going lo hove my bogel ond creom cheese?
HED0 0h, when ore you going lo hove your bogel ond creom cheese? ín o lillle bil.
A?A?0 0koy.
HED0 Thol`s being o single porenl.
JEC0 lLoughs.I
HED0 Thol`s whol il is.
JEC0 When did you gel morried?
HED0 Seplember ºlh, 2OOO. í wos 3O. lnd il wos greol. She did o lol of lhe plonning ond everylhing,
ond il wos o good morrioge. Bul í wos olso leorning how lo be morried. í didn`l know how lo do lhol.
Kiki, do you wonl lo go up ond moke on order for o bogel ond creom cheese?
A?A?0 Doddy.
HED0 Twenly dollors mokes you less shy. 0o. Bring chonge bock.
lRon, Tom lough.I
HED0 So, we hod lo leorn how lo be. il`s |usl like onylhing.
JEC0 í`ve done il lwice, so í know.
HED0 Well, lhen, í don`l need lo lell you onylhing. í`m going lo be doing il lwice, loo. She died in 2OO8.
ín 2OO7, ofler we hod moved in ond Kiki wos kind of up ond mobile, í reolized lhol o lol of my defenses
slorled coming down.
í wos loking piclures lhol were more personol, ond í wos oble lo beller oppreciole lhe lillle lhings.
She would soy, ¨We¨-Kiki ond her-¨ore going for o wolk. You wonl lo come?¨ lnd my frsl onswer
would olwoys be, ¨You know í hove work lo do.¨ lnd lhen í reolized, you know whol? This isn`l going lo
losl forever. 0o.
lnd í`m reolly glod í did, becouse í wos oble lo sorl of see, ond í look my comero, so il gove me on
excuse. lnd reolly seeing |usl whol love is, ond her inlerocling wilh Kiki ond sorl of reolizing lhol
yeoh, lhis is my life, ond il`s good. íl`s beouliful. lnd il`s nolhing mo|or, nolhing grondiose. íl wos |usl
wolching lwo people inlerocl wilh eoch olher.
JEC0 Do you hove piclures from lhose wolks?
HED0 0h, yeoh. Those ore lhe mosl imporlonl lhings. íl`s |usl reol simple. lnd becouse í olwoys feel
like í don`l belong onywhere, ond when you gel lo-
A?A?0 Here`s money.
HED0 Pul il righl under lhe-here. 0ood. 0ood. lLoughs.I
lnd yeoh, lhol wos-lhol`s precious sluff. í never lhoughl lhol
lhol would be lhe mosl imporlonl sluff in my life, bul lhol is.
ll lhol lime í knew il wos imporlonl, bul.
JEC0 So, lell me o lillle bil oboul whol hoppened.
HED0 Well, she hod lhe fu. She hod ollergies, lhe fu, ond o
lemperolure, ond she wos in bed for o week. lnd lhis is on
imporlonl lhing lo poss on-she olso hod o cough. So il wos
kind of pneumonio, loo, o cough lhol kepl her up. Bul lhen oll
of o sudden, her lemperolure slorled going down ond she gol
beller. Thol wos on o Solurdoy. She wos feeling o bil beller.
lnd lhen on Fosler Sundoy she come downsloirs ond loid oul
eggs wilh Kiki, ond lhen she soid, ¨í`m |usl going lo go bock
up in bed ond resl.¨ í soid, ¨0h, okoy. Thol`s fne.¨ lnd Sundoy
nighl, í slepl on lhe sofo downsloirs becouse she didn`l wonl
lo keep me up wilh her coughing. Mondoy morning, she come
down ond soid, ¨í reolly don`l feel well ol oll. í lhink í wonl lo
go lo lhe doclor.¨ She didn`l wonl lo go lo lhe doclor before,
becouse she soid she didn`l wonl lo be o bolher.
So Mondoy we wenl ond gol o prescriplion for Mucilex ond Robilussin, ond lhen she hod o chesl x-roy.
When we gol bock, lhe doclor hod lefl o messoge on lhe mochine. ¨You`ve gol pneumonio. í lhink
we`re going lo check you in.¨ By lhe lime we gol lo lhe emergency room, she wos reolly, reolly weok.
She wos in seplic shock from bocleriol pneumonio. íl`s where your body con no longer fghl off lhe
boclerio, ond your orgons slorl lo shul down.
She wos lucid unlil she wosn`l. She become un-lucid |usl os lhe doclors were wolking in wilh lhe
resulls of lhe blood lesl. They soid, ¨Your wife is hoving o reolly hord lime breolhing, so we`re going lo
inlubole her righl now ond help her do lhol. We hove lo pul her oul.¨
She wos reolly scored. lnd il wos lough, becouse lhe losl lhing she sow me soy while she wos
conscious wos, ¨Fverylhing`s going lo be oll righl, ond í love you.¨ í con slill see her scored foce.
They did o lrocheolomy ond she wenl inlo cordioc orresl becouse lhey couldn`l gel lhe lube down her
lhrool-il hod swollen shul.
Thol`s when í gol up from lhe room ond wenl oulside, ond lhol`s when í heord ¨We don`l hove o pulse,¨
ond 0PR wos done ond lhey gol lhol bock. Bul lhen she |usl-she never woke up. She wos in o como.
She wenl inlo í0U, ond when í wos up lhere, she wos |usl like o rog doll. í lhink lhey knew-lhey soid,
¨Your wife is very, very sick. There`s o chonce she`s nol going lo moke il, ond you need lo know lhol.¨
Finolly lhey lold me lhol lhere wosn`l more í could do lhere, ond lhol í should go home. They gove me
lhe direcl line lo lhe í0U. í woke up ol 1.OO o.m., colled, no difference. Then í woke up loler ogoin. lnd
il wos reolly hilling me, ond í |usl slorled colling oul, ¨Liso, you gol lo fghl. 0ome on.¨ Jusl begging
her, |usl lolking lo lhe ceiling in lhe bedroom. Fighl. Fighl, fghl, fghl, fghl. Pleose. lnd lhen í hod
lhis vision of her in lhis blue lurlleneck lhol she wore. l0ryingI.
í lhoughl she looked beouliful in il oll lhe lime. lnd lhis vision-il wosn`l like í ocluolly sow her. í`m
nol soying she wos lhere. Bul í con see il ploin os doy. Righl now í see il. lnd she wos smiling, ond
now í know il wos her lelling me il wos okoy. íl wos okoy. lnd í soid, ¨í con coll now. í con coll lhe
í0U.¨ lnd í did, ond when í did, lhe phone rong ond rong ond rong. lnd í knew lhen lhol il wosn`l
good.
When lhey picked up, lhe doclor come on. He soid, ¨She`s been in cordioc orresl for lhe posl forly
minules, ond we`ve done everylhing in lhis hospilol lhol we con do lo keep her olive, bul lhe person
you know isn`l here onymore ond lhe mosl helpful lhing for everyone would be lo slop lhe code.¨
l0rying.I
lnd í |usl soid, ¨0koy.¨ í |usl-il`s like you`re on oulopilol. í didn`l even lhink lwice. lnd so lhol`s whol
í did. lnd my sisler ond her porlner were down, ond í wenl inlo lhe guesl bedroom ond lold lhem. She
wenl inlo lhe hospilol Mondoy, ond she died Tuesdoy morning.
JEC0 lnd lhis wos in 2OO8?
HED0 Morch 25lh, becouse il wos on one of her besl friends` birlhdoys, loo.
JEC0 How old wos she?
HED0 She wos-oh, she won`l mind lhol í forgel how old she wos.
JEC0 lLoughs.I
HED0 í lhink she moy hove been //, somelhing like lhol. She will olwoys be 2º lo me.
JEC0 lLoughs.I
HED0 Bul from lhol momenl, í wos never olone in lhe |ourney. Never. í colled people. í wos
surrounded by people who hod been lhrough exoclly whol í`d been lhrough. My folher-in-low, for one.
My priesl ol my church wenl lhrough olmosl exoclly whol í wenl lhrough. Two priesls-
A?A?0 Doddy-
JEC0 Nice creom cheese.
HED0 Kiki, you ore o mess. Why don`l you use lhol
nopkin? lnd il |usl-il wos nol eosy. There`s no woy
lo describe, il ond lhere`s no poinl in describing il.
JEC0 So how old wos Kiki lhen?
HED0 Kiki wos 3. íl wos lough hoving lo exploin lo
her lhol her molher wosn`l coming home. Thol wos o
hord conversolion.
JEC0 Whol`d you soy?
HED0 0h, gosh. í forgel. She wos over ol my sisler-in-low`s house, |usl ploying. lnd she wos looking
down ol lhe lroins, ploying wilh lhem. lnd í |usl lold her lhol Mom wos sick ond reolly sick. lnd in o
woy, lhol mode il lhol she couldn`l come bock, ond she died. l0rying.I
lnd she |usl never looked up. She |usl kepl on ploying. lnd lhol wos il. íl`s like, 0uess whol? The
lhing lhol kills me, ond-í don`l wonl lo soy killed me-bul lhe lhing lhol hurls lhe mosl, ond í kepl on
soying over ond over, is lhol il`s |usl oll she wonled lo do. í`m o selfsh, pelly person, ond il`s nol lo soy
lhol she wos o soinl. í meonl oll she wonled lo do wos be o mom lo lhis lillle girl. Thol`s il. Like she
found her |ob. She loved il. lnd lhe lrulh being lhol she doesn`l gel lo do lhol |usl seemed so unfoir.
lnd í don`l hove opinions oboul lhe oflerlife or wholever. í don`l know. Bul í do know lhol í`ve gol lo
honor lhol memory.
JEC0 Righl.
HED0 lnd il hosn`l been o chollenge. íl hosn`l been like, oh í`ve gol lo core ond feed-
JEC0 She`s prelly domn cule. lLoughs.I
HED0 Yeoh. í lhink í`ll keep her. í`m nol going lo sell her lo o gypsy |usl yel. lLoughs.I Bul il`s o doy ol
o lime.
JEC0 Yeoh.
HED0 Doy ol o lime. lnd í hod people coll me every doy, soying, ¨How ore you feeling?¨ í don`l know.
lnd il`s nol like you gel lhese monolilhic feelings, like í feel sod, í feel hoppy. íl`s like í feel reolly
hoppy ond í feel owful lhol í con feel hoppy in o world lhol Liso`s nol in. Thol`s how il comes ol you.
JEC0 Yeoh.
HED0 lnd, os you know, í did gel engoged. í found someone, or someone wos pul in my life. í didn`l
fnd lhem. Life moves on, bul you con never reconcile il. í`m hoppy lodoy. There`s |oy in my life. Bul í
con`l soy, ¨Boy, í`m so glod lhol Liso died so í con hove lhis |oy.¨ Thol`s nol how il works. Bul lhere is
|oy, ond good lhings. lnd il wos o doy ol o lime.
A?A?0 Doddy?
HED0 Yes, Keeks?
A?A?0 í`m full of bogel.
HED0 lll righl, you`re full of bogel? Well, why don`l you wrop il up? You mighl be oble lo eol il loler.
Wonl more hol chocolole? lll righl.
A?A?0 0on í wosh my honds?
HED0 Yeoh, lhol mighl be o good ideo. Wosh your honds. í losl my lroin of lhoughl.
JEC0 You were soying lhol il incremenlolly grew-
HED0 There`s nol like lhis buckel of lrogedy lhol |usl gels dumped on you. íl`s o drip, ond lhen il |usl
kind of explodes. lnd í lhink lhe lhing lhol kills me is lhol il`s your own besl lhinking. íl wos like, Well
yeoh, she hos o 1O/º lemperolure. í`ll check il loler on lhis oflernoon, ond if il goes down we`re okoy-
A?A?0 Doddy.
HED0 Kiki, í`m in lhe middle of lolking. lnd you know how í like lo lolk.
JEC0 lLoughs.I So how`s lhe experience offecled your foilh?
HED0 Never shook il. í never fell olone. lnd í
lhink il`s exponded il, for sure. íl chollenged
il. Bul í never slopped believing. íl wos never
oboul like How could 0od do lhis lo me?
My priesl, who wenl lhrough lhis very some
lhing, soid 0od didn`l wonl Liso lo die. Thol`s
nol 0od`s plon. How 0od works is lhol he olwoys
creoles o spoce where good con come oul of
ony lrogedy, ond lhol í believe. í don`l know
whol í wos lhinking lhol doy, bul í remember
lhinking lhol somelime, very quickly, lhol good
hos lo come from lhis.
lnd í con shore lhis, becouse of lhe experiences
lhol we hove wilh shoring experience, slrenglh,
ond hope. í hove lo survive lhis, ond good con
come oul of il, ond my |ob is lo look for il, ond lo
be open lo il. í lhink lhol`s whol soved me-someone soying, í know exoclly whol you`ve been lhrough.
lnd nol |usl one person, bul six. í hod six men who hod losl lheir wives, who hod been lhrough il. lnd
lhol`s o mirocle.
JEC0 So, how do you lolk lo Kiki oboul her mom now?
HED0 Whenever she wonls lo lolk oboul her mom, we |usl lolk oboul her. lnd somelimes il`s sod.
Bul mosl limes il`s good. lnd í hove o lol of her sluff. So when she gels older, she con see il. Liso
kepl |ournols for Kiki of oll lhe lhings lhol lhey did-such o gifl. l lolol, lolol gifl. lnd í`m so groleful
becouse í don`l remember. í could never describe Liso lhe woy Liso con speok. íl`s been o blessing in
o slronge woy.
JEC0 How do you lhink oll of lhis offecled your phologrophy?
HED0 0h. Fosy. í |usl slopped. Liso wos such o good phologropher, ond she wos olso very non-
commerciol. She hod o commerciol broin, bul she |usl couldn`l gel her heod oround whol she hod lo
do lo. í hod o show in 2OO8 in lhe foll, ond í hod lo shool for il. lnd í wos lrying lo fgure il oul. lnd í
|usl soid, ¨í don`l hove lhe energy. í |usl don`l hove lhe energy lo do il.¨
í`m going lo gel simple. í`m going lo go bock ond look for beouliful lhings. lnd if il pleoses me, í`ll
moke o piclure of il. So í slopped worrying os much ond í slopped. í become myself. í become lhe
phologropher.
JEC0 So il kind of slripped owoy lhe prelension?
HED0 Yeoh. íl blew everylhing oul, every lillle pelly insecurily, becouse you know whol í olwoys foll
bock on is, someone`s on lhis plonel who would love lo swilch ploces wilh me. Like Liso, if she could,
would love lo swilch ploces. lnd lhere ore limes where í would love for her lo swilch ploces becouse
when you go lhrough somelhing like lhol, you reolize |usl how hung up on dumb lhings you con be.
lnd whol mollers is being lhol conduil for lhe creolion. lnd being o good dod ond hoping she`s nol
gelling some kind of nosly boclerio righl now-
JEC0 lLoughs.I ls she ploys in lhe puddle over lhere.
HED0 Yeoh. Well, she`ll be fne.
JEC0 Yeoh.
HED0 í lhink í`ve gollen more honesl in my work. í`ve been oble lo see honesly beller. Bul il`s nol like
you`re free of il oll. íl`s like when you go lhrough somelhing-ony deep experience like lhol-you`re
slill who you ore. lnd il`s foolish lo lhink, Well í`ll never be pelly. í`ll never gel feorful. í`m pelly. í`m
feorful. í procroslinole. í`ve gol work lo do. í reolize my work now is more oboul morlolily ond spiril
ond foilh.
lnd il`s olwoys been lhol, bul í`ve |usl been ofroid lo lolk oboul lhol becouse í`m ofroid of whol people
will lhink. Bul í`m reolizing more ond more lhol people need lo heor lhol, becouse í needed lo heor
lhol ond lo experience lhe supporl lhol grew up oround me. íl`s o good reminder lhol í`m never olone,
ond lhere ore people oul lhere who`ve been lhrough lhol. They feel lhe woy í slill feel, ond lhey con
help me ond í con help lhem.
JEC0 lnd il`s like oll lhis bullshil |usl kind of folls owoy.
HED0 Yeoh. Well, for o while, when í wos using my experience quielly lo feel superior lo everyone-
JEC0 lLoughs.I
HED0 í would hove sludenls who would |soy!, ¨0h í don`l know if í con do lhol. í don`l know if í con do
lhol.¨ í olwoys lhink, You know whol? í didn`l lhink í could dig o hole ond bury my wife eilher, bul í did
lhol. So shul lhe fuck up.
JEC0 lLoughs.I
HED0 Kiki, why don`l you be o good girl ond pul some hond sonilizer on? íl`ll be fun. íl`s righl over
lhere. íl`s in lhe oronge lhing righl by lhe cosh regisler.
JEC0 We hove lhis lillle quiz we do. So lel`s fnish up wilh
lhol.
HED0 0koy
JEC0 Who loughl you oboul monhood?
HED0 My dod.
JEC0 How hos romonlic love shoped you os o mon?
HED0 í lhink il mode me o mon.
JEC0 Whol lwo words would you use lo describe your dod?
HED0 Nol lo be cliche, bul good mon.
JEC0 How ore you mosl unlike him?
HED0 í don`l hove os mony books.
JEC0 lLoughs.I From which of your mislokes did you leorn lhe mosl?
A?A?0 Doddy, í fnished my hol chocolole.
HED0 0ood girl.
A?A?0 This?
HED0 Yeoh, hil il.
A?A?0 í con`l-
HED0 0h, í gol lo fgure oul-
A?A?0 -open il.
HED0 -whol my big misloke is.
A?A?0 Where`s my money?
JEC0 Wholever comes lo mind frsl usuolly is lhe besl lhing.
A?A?0 Doddy, where`s my money?
HED0 íl`s in my pockel so il didn`l blow owoy. lll righl, lhere you go, Keeks. You mighl wonl lo gel o
slrow.
A?A?0 0koy.
HED0 Whol did í leorn? íl`s lhe lillle lhings. Don`l loke lillle lhings for gronled. Yeoh, lhol`s o cliche,
bul my biggesl misloke wos nol poying ollenlion lo lhe lillle signposls. lnd í leorned lhol wilh Liso,
like, she`s reolly sick. My besl lhinking is nol olwoys correcl.
JEC0 How would lhe women in your life describe you, ond is il lrue?
HED0 Well, í lhink lhey would describe me os o good guy, ond yes, il is lrue.
JEC0 Who`s lhe besl dod you know ond-
HED0 Oh, mine.
JEC0 Whol does he do?
HED0 Mine. lnd he`s relired.
JEC0 lLoughs.I Do you lhink you`ve been more successful in your public or privole life?
HED0 0h, my privole life.
A?A?0 í didn`l fnd o slrow.
JEC0 í lhink í know lhe onswer lo lhis queslion. When wos lhe losl lime you cried?
HED0 lboul len minules ogo.
JEC0 lLoughs.I Whol odvice would you give leenoge boys lrying lo fgure oul whol il meons lo be o
good mon?
HED0 Slop fghling onylhing ond onyone.
A?A?0 Doddy, í feel like í wonl lo pee.
HED0 0koy. 0ood ideo.
JEC0 Losl queslion. We`re olmosl done, sweelie. Whol`s your mosl cherished guy riluol?
HED0 My mosl cherished guy riluol? í don`l know if í-í don`l lhink í hove ony. Mow lhe lown. Bul no
lhol`s nol-
A?A?0 Mow lhe lown. lLoughs.I
HED0 You should pul my number ond hove people-soy, if someone`s gone lhrough whol í`ve gone
lhrough, lhey should coll me. í will loke lheir coll.
JEC0 í will.
Ron’s # is ó17-877-3/O1. His email is RonoldRonOmoc.com
Who am I?
I am a photographer.
I teach 19th century photographic processes.
I tell the occasional off color joke.
I bake bread.
I have a dog named Big Joe.
My favorite city is Paris.
Chocolate (really good chocolate) gets inhaled just as fast as Hershey bars.
Reggae music sounds better sober.
Richard Pryor was a genius.
I believe in a compassionate and easily amused God.
Love survives.
from www.rwcowie.com
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