Mothers of Angels

A Bridge to Xanders Crossing

Two years ago I took an image that I consider my “most important photograph.” Even though I consider it my most important, it was not the best picture taken with my camera that day. While I consider photography important, I did something more important than take pictures that day. I handed my camera to a boy while we walked on a bridge.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who died after being struck by a train in 2005. (bryan farley)

Two years ago, I wrote about Xander’s Crossing. The bridge connects me to a support group for mothers whose children have died. After my father had committed suicide, I chose to help people who were isolated, and somehow I found myself on this bridge two years ago.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who died after being struck by a train in 2005. (bryan farley)

I was also a journalism educator. I knew that journalists were taught to keep their distance when covering stories. I also knew that some training conflicted with the goals of journalism. First, journalists who “kept their distance” were most often the same journalists who invaded families’ personal space.… Read the rest

Kimberly Marie Hamilton 10 Year Angel Day

I drove to Fresno County on Wednesday to visit a friend. I drove four hours one way so that I could turn around and drive three hours home. It was worth it. My long term projects have become my close friendships.

 (bryan farley)

Kimberly Marie Hamilton died ten years ago May 7, 2004.  Mary Minnette Sappington gathered some of her friends at a downtown Clovis restaurant to honor her daughter. The Kimberly Marie Hamilton Memorial Interchange sign also attended. You can see the slideshow from my brief visit.

 (bryan farley)

When Mary reflected on the ten year struggle, she had doubted that she would still be around ten years later. Her daughter’s tragic death would have been too much to survive, but somehow she made it with the support of her friends.

 (bryan farley)

I first photographed Mary on the six year anniversary of my father’s suicide in 2010. In 2012, we visited the site where Kimberly died; we also visited the high school memorial with her other students’ names.… Read the rest

We All Got Bruises – Mothers of Angels

Ten days ago I visited Martha Tessmer during my trip to Fresno, California. If you count this recent August trip, I have visited Martha and the support group she created for mothers whose children have died, the last five summers.

Martha Tessmer started the Mother of an Angel Friendship Network after her teenage son Donovan died in a distracted driving car accident. The support group is for mothers who have lost a child to death. (bryan farley)

In the previous years, I met with many of the members of the Mother of an Angel Friendship Network. This year, I did not have the energy to call on the all the mothers of angels. During the last several months, I have needed to call mothers individually and seek their support.

Martha Tessmer, the Founder of Mother of an Angel Friendship Network, has not been able to attend movies since her son Donovan died in a distracted driving accident. (bryan farley)

Usually during September I process photos and publish blog posts. Perhaps it is time to reflect on all the photos and create a larger photo book. In recent years, I have written an article with a photo essay for a magazine. I also published a couple photo books. Each project feels insufficient, though important. Last year I visited with Martha and several of the mothers.… Read the rest

Mother of An Angel Friendship Network Project

As with all important projects, this one began before it started. The work will continue after I have finished.

I am merely one person on the bridge.

Before I started photographing the families who belong to a Central Valley support group, I heard about the death of a young child that led to the Blossom Hill Pedestrian Bridge being built in San Jose. (I would later meet Xander’s mother.) In 2005, my wife and I were listening to the news. My father had died recently. My daughter was young and my wife might have been pregnant with my son. We changed the station hoping to erase the story, but we always remembered.

"Xander's Crossing," a 315-foot long prefabricated steel pedestrian bridge, was opened in San Jose on Friday, September 28, 2012. The bridge is named in honor of Alexander Arriaga, a 2-year-old boy who was died after being struck by a train in 2005 (bryan farley)

Another accident led to my involvement with the group. This time I knew the parent. Now I am friends with both parents whose children died. Having been a member of a suicide survivors support group, I knew that I could not simply turn off the newscast and make reality disappear, but I have been surprised that I could find comfort by helping other people.… Read the rest

The Reeducation of Martha Tessmer – Distracted Teen Driving

In my last post, I wrote about Rev. Anne Howard, a national leader who is educating young preachers to grow faith communities. Today, I am featuring Martha Tessmer, an inspirational leader who uses her faith to educate young people. Both people inspire me to be stronger and kinder, especially during moments of uncertainty. I have learned to trust something greater than myself… which is pretty easy to do.

I am not that big of a deal, but not so small that I should do nothing.


For the last four summers, I have photographed the support group Mother of an Angel Friendship Network. Martha founded the group after her teenage Donovan died in a distracted driving accident. This year, I photographed Martha outside a Fresno, California movie theater. Since Donovan’s death, Martha has lead an extraordinary life. She has spoken across the country. She has appeared on national television.… Read the rest

Mindy Betancourt Mercado – Another Anniversary

Today is the third horrible anniversary for Mindy Betancourt Mercado. On my old Type Pad blog, I wrote a post with photos about the loss of Mindy’s four year old son. The photos and story are available at this link.

As my family prepares for Halloween and dia de los muertos, I have been thinking about Mindy more often.I imagine this time of year is especially difficult for her family. While costumes help some people forget reality, Mindy is reminded of her worst horror by all of the costumes.

As I update this version to Mindy’s history, I am listening to news updates about Frankenstorm Sandy. The hurricane has disrupted millions of lives and many people will experience permanent loss. Yet Americans are working together towards recovery. Is there anything we can learn from this tragedy to help others who suffer in isolation?

bf… Read the rest

Xander’s Crossing

I knew about Nicole Wilson and her family before I met her or the Mother’s of an Angel Friendship Network. My wife and I heard a news report in the car radio. We turned it off before it finished, but we never forgot it. At the time, my first child was almost the same age as Xander, and my wife was pregnant with our second child. I wondered how a family would ever move forward from such a tragedy. I still wonder.

Many families hear the story and wonder how to help. There must be something we can do. Perhaps Xander’s Crossing will help other families from needing a memorial or memory like this.

Nicole and her family have helped me learn more about loss and healing. This first image illustrates how journalists can reconsider how we could show tragedy from a different perspective. I am handing the camera to Nicole’s son so that he can photograph the journalists and other people at the event. … Read the rest

Tammie Mitchell Tarver and Starla

Last August, during Fresno’s record breaking heat, I photographed mothers from a Central Valley support group.

When I photographed Tammie Mitchell Tarver at Woodward Park, the temperature was still over 100 degrees. We could have rescheduled for cooler temperatures and better light, but grief does not wait for perfect light.

Tammie Mitchell Tarver honors her daughter Starla with a tree at Woodward Park. From the tree, Tammie can see Valley Children’s Hospital where Starla spent many of her final days.… Read the rest

Mary Minnette Sappington Mother of an Angel

When I was visiting the Mothers of an Angel Friendship Network last week, I visited Clovis East High School on the first day of the 2012-2013 school year with Mary Minnette Sappington. Mary’s daughter Kim Hamilton is one of the students honored on the wall.  Before Mary and I drove to Clovis East, we met at another memorial near the Highway 180 overpass. Mary feels especially connected to this location since it was the last place where Kimberly was alive.

Mary is a member of the support group Mother of an Angel Friendship Network. On Monday August 20, 2012, I photographed Mary, Mary’s son and Martha Tessmer. Martha organized the support group and this is my fourth year photographing the families.  Today is also Mary’s birthday.

NOTE: On December 3rd, as I was scrolling through my photo archive of Mary and other mothers, I remembered a recent online conversation between Mary and a few mothers.… Read the rest

Mothers of an Angel Year 4

This week I photographed the Mother of an Angel Friendship Network. It was the fourth consecutive summer visiting the support group. I have grown attached to these women. I have collected great memories and gained insight each visit.


Each year is different. This year felt more like a family reunion. We met at Woodward Park and somehow organized the group into photos. Everyone seemed to enjoy the sessions, but this would be oversimplifying the meaning of the support group. More photos to follow….

 … Read the rest

Sacramento Press Conference

How should journalists cover traffic accidents? Should journalists cover every aspect of a murder trial as if it were a sporting event? What is the impact on families each time journalists trivialize tragedy? How can journalists tell richer stories without becoming lost? After several years photographing families whose children have died, I am still asking the questions. I included the photo gallery from Monday’s press conference for further discussion.

Link added March 24, 2015

Imapct Teen Drivers asks teens and adults to drive safer, but the organization does something more complicated.  The organization recognizes the humanity of  law enforcement officers while supporting grieving families. Both themes are difficult for journalists to cover. Impact Teen Drivers also acknowledges that distracted driving accidents affect an entire community. Journalists are part of the community too.… Read the rest

Kimberley Libecki Mother of Photgraphy Project

I wanted to honor my friend Kim Libecki on her birthday today. I often describe her as a “Mother of an Angel,” but she is also a wonderful mother to three other children. She and I have been friends since high school. When I left for college, she started a family and our lives went in different directions. A few years ago, tragedies brought us closer.

 (bryan farley)

After her son died, I offered to photograph her support group. I had some experience about grieving in isolation, so I thought I might help with the mothers’ grieving process.  I did not realize that I would gain more from the experience. I learned about photography, parenting, story telling and human relationships.

 (bryan farley)

When I saw the first photos of Kim with her son’s skateboard at the skatepark , I questioned whether my photos were any good. I still doubt the the technical quality of those early photos.… Read the rest

New Year Reminders for the Travioli Family

New Year’s Eve is usually hopeful and exciting. Even if the year had been difficult, a person can write off all their bad resolutions and plan for future good intentions.  How would a person change their New Year’s Eve plans if New Year’s Day was not a hopeful reminder? How do parents spend their New Year’s Eve when they can still remember the night their son died?

Eric Gary Travioli was a seventeen year old senior at Kerman High School in Kerman, California when he died on a country road near his home. He was a passenger when the car struck a tree. His parents arrived at the site before ambulances or law enforcement.

Melani Travioli, Eric’s mother, rarely visits the roadside memorial, preferring the cemetery. However, she is grateful to the landowners who have allowed the roadside memorial to remain six years after her son’s death. The memorial will not replace her son, but it provides comfort knowing that neighbors are compassionate.… Read the rest