March 31st, 2012. The day I found out my Aunt Bonnie had cancer.
May 16th, 2012. The day she died.
Aunt Bonnie was my mom’s aunt, my great aunt. I have really only known her since 2009. Her and Uncle Rich live across the Sound from Seattle and when Cory and I knew we would be moving out here I reached out to her. She was beyond helpful. Advising me where her favorite neighborhoods were, where I could find the closest Kingdom Hall – even locating one with a sign language congregation since at the time we were using ASL with Gavin, offering advice on traffic and ferry rides and everything else known to Seattle.
Summer of 2009 I came to Seattle with Cory. We were hopeful we’d be moving here soon and I wanted to check out school options and neighborhoods. Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Rich and Pops came over and picked me up and we went sight-seeing. We went to Snoqualmie Falls. Aunt Bonnie was taking a photography class and I had just started my photography business. We talked gear and technique and creativity. We ate lunch and chatted like old friends who had known eachother for ages. They made 2 round trip ferry rides that day. Because I said I wanted to ride on the ferry and they wouldn’t hear of me taking the Bainbridge Island – downtown Seattle ferry by myself at night. Not that they objected to me riding the ferry alone, they just wanted to be sure that I made it all the way back to my hotel safely.
I only took a few photos that trip. These two stick in my head as favorites.
We moved to Seattle in August of 2011, and we got together with Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Rich a few times last fall. She adored the boys and had bought them cars and truck and things to play with. The last time we were at their house the boys dug in the dirt and had a wonderful time while Cory and Aunt Bonnie sipped red wine and we all chatted about all sorts of things. I remember thinking how fortunate we were. How amazing that we have family, such amazing family, so close. Talking to her on the phone every few weeks helped me feel less homesick.
You see, Aunt Bonnie was my grandma’s sister. My grandma lived in California and I grew up in Michigan. So I only knew my grandmother in sporadic bursts throughout my childhood. My mom and dad did their best at getting us to California every year or every other year. But I didn’t have the privilege of growing up with her around. My grandma has since passed away. And while my memories live on and I remember her – my children never met her. Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Rich fit into this space in our lives, in the boys lives, where we had this missing piece that only family could fill.
Aunt Bonnie was comfortable. She was familiar. She reminded me of my grandma some, yet she was completely different. But they had the same hands. In fact, those hands are shared by my mom and her siblings as well. My hands are similar, but not the same. Just seeing Aunt Bonnie’s hands made me feel secure. At home. It reminded me of my mom and her mom and my aunts and uncles. Memories of watching Grandma Katie sharpen knives, memories of Uncle Tracy working with his horses, memories of Aunt Trina telling stories and covering her mouth as she laughed. It was this amazing little piece of home. Something unexpected. Something I cherished.
When my mom was out to visit in October 2011 her and I took the kids over to the Olympic Peninsula and spent some time with Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Rich. We went by the water and saw these starfish everywhere. Aunt Bonnie was showing the kids what awesome creatures they are.
For being so into photography it’s a shame that I don’t have any photos of me and Aunt Bonnie. All I have are the memories. I never imagined losing her so quickly. It never occurred to me that I needed to take photos of the two of us because she might not be around very long.
I can still hear her voice in my head. The last three weeks she spent in hospice. I was able to go see her the week before she passed. We had a lovely conversation. We talked about life, and death, and what I believe happens when we die. We talked about the boys and Cory, and about other family members. I showed her my film photos from the tulip festival. Something we had talked about last fall as something we would do together. Yet we never had the chance.
Aunt Bonnie is an accomplished photographer. She knows her stuff. Her opinion matters to me. It has since 2009 when I discovered we share that creative love. As we were looking at photos from the tulip fields she said good composition, that I did great, that I ‘have a great eye’. Then she got to this next photo and stopped. “It’s perfect. It’s lovely.” We took it out of the group and after she held it for a bit, we put it up, tucked into the corner of another frame on the wall at the foot of her bed. I like to think that she was able to see it and look at it for the next few days. That it brought warm feelings to her heart. When I left that morning we didn’t say “goodbye” just a simple “I love you – we will meet again.” I know that’s true. Maybe it will be spring-time and we can walk through the tulip fields together.