The face that Tonda Ranken has in this photograph is one I know well. It’s the blank stare of grief that happens when so many thoughts are going through someone’s head at once that their face looks devoid of emotion.
It is the face you see moments before tears flow.
I’ve photographed funerals, crime scenes and grieving families. I’ve witnessed the emotional aftermath of tragedy.
Some people ask how I can do it. Others more pointedly ask how I can sleep at night, photographing other people at their weakest. I always go back to the fact that it’s important. Reporters can vividly describe events, but most readers need to see a photograph for the emotion to be conveyed.
I connect with the face that Matthew Ranken’s grieving mother has in this photo because I’ve seen it on members of my own family. In 2003, my husband Ryan’s stepsister, Caitlin Weese, was killed after her vehicle was struck by a vehicle driven by a drunk driver.
Her killer had a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 percent and had been arrested for DUI twice before. He was sentenced to 7 1/2 years, served 6 years and was released on Sept. 28, 2009.
On June 1, 2003, the day my family should have been hosting Caitlin’s high school graduation party, they were attending her wake.
All of this happened before I met my husband and his wonderful family. I’ve only heard stories about Caitlin’s life and untimely death, how Caitlin’s mother, Diane Mains, started working with the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and became a victim advocate in the McHenry County Court System helping other families through the difficult trial process.
A month after the crash, Diane, with the help of my father-in-law, Joel Mains, and the entire family started a memorial walk, “Walk 5K for Caitlin,” in Elgin to help raise awareness about the consequences of driving under the influence. They walked for an entire decade for her, raising money for a memorial scholarship awarded to a senior every year at Larkin High School, the school Caitlin was days away from graduating from.
It’s unfortunate that there are always new families to carry the awareness torch. Last June was the 10th and final “Walk 5K for Caitlin.”
The Ranken family has only started their grieving process, but it has hosted fundraising events with the help of the Sycamore Culver’s, placed Matthew’s bench in Rotary Park in Sycamore and has sponsored a Sycamore youth football team in Matthew’s honor.
I can’t look the Ranken family in the eyes and tell them time heals. Even as it passes, there is a visible scar.
But in my experience, if you fill that time with remembering that loved one by promoting awareness of how horrible and senseless intoxicated driving is, then the grieving process isn’t in vain.
• Picture This is an occasional column showcasing photographs by Daily Chronicle photographers. You can reach Photo Editor Danielle Guerra at email@example.com or 815-756-4841 ext. 2265. You can follow her on Twitter @ddcguerra.