CNN Photos

What Mom left behind

Every time Jennifer Loeber opened her hall closet to retrieve a towel, she was washed over with a palpable wave of emptiness.

There were no skeletons in the closet — only boxes of her deceased mom’s belongings.

After her mom, Elizabeth Ann Loeber, passed away in February 2013 at the age of 72, Loeber was deeply compelled to hold on to even the “most mundane” of her mom’s possessions, including a heavily used Revlon lipstick and a plastic brush that still had strands of her mom’s hair entangled in its bristles.

The Brooklyn-based photographer describes the loss as “expected but unexpected” because her mom had been a lifelong heavy smoker. But as an only child, she was completely gutted.

“Instead of providing comfort and good memories, the boxes became a source of deep sadness and anxiety,” she said.

Loeber said she realized the only way to cope was to interact with the objects creatively and, more importantly, cathartically: She needed to separate them from the memories and make it a photographic memorial instead of “my dead mom’s stuff.”

She had recently become active on the photo-sharing app Instagram, and she began documenting the nostalgic relics via that platform.

“The casual aspects of sharing on the app was a way to diminish my own sentimentality toward the objects my mom left behind,” she said.

From there, she would juxtapose a vintage photo of her mother — usually taken by her father — that had some parallel to each object in the Instagram.

“He’s not into photography at all,” she said. “He’s just a naturally good photographer.”

Because of her father’s inadvertent involvement — and own grief — Loeber was a little worried the project would resurface his own melancholy. But like his daughter, he loved it and also got his own dose of catharsis.

“It makes me happy because I now think of happy memories,” she said of her photo series, aptly named “Left Behind.”

The ironic part of it all is that her mother was not a sentimental person: “She let me cut up her wedding dress for a Halloween contest,” Loeber said.

- Sarah LeTrent, CNN