Photo Finish

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

Photo Finish

She was my godmother, my mother’s only sibling, four years older than my mom, but very different. She was my precious Aunt Jean: Barbie-doll body, impeccable clothes, expensive taste, lots of make-up and false eyelashes, but classy in every way. She was like another mother to me, as she and her daughter, Elaine, came to live with my grandparents, my mom and me when I was four years old following a bad marriage filled with abuse. We were six people living in a two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom, but our home was filled with love.

Thank goodness Aunt Jean’s life got better years later when she remarried, but it isn’t her life that I want to tell you about, it’s her death. Sadly, we lost her to pulmonary disease and dementia in her mid-eighties, and Elaine asked me to do part of her eulogy detailing Aunt Jean’s younger years and career path prior to her retirement.

I prepared a speech about her schooling, first marriage, second marriage, her secretarial jobs, how fast she was on a typewriter, how she mastered shorthand, and how she dressed me up to look sixteen when I was twelve so that I could get into the hospital to see my mom after my baby sister was born. There were other precious moments in her life that I shared with the funeral attendees so that they would better know Aunt Jean.

But, one of the greatest things I did, prior to flying to California for the memorial, was gather a bunch of old photos and take them to Kinko’s to put together a memory board of Aunt Jean through the ages. I cried as I took each one out of my photo book to include in the collage, praying that I would not be so weepy once I got to Kinko’s, as I knew I had never done this before and would need assistance from their staff.

Upon entering the store, a nice male employee offered to show me how the equipment worked. He stood by and watched as I tried to follow his directions, placing the first photo into the machine, sizing it, colorizing it and hoping I did it right. Then, as the photo dropped into the out-box, wrinkle free and vibrant with color, as if it was taken yesterday, I took one look at Aunt Jean looking all fresh and brand new, and the tears just flowed.

Well, about thirty minutes later, I finished the printing process, and just as I was stuffing the photos into a big envelope, two lovely women my age showed up with a basket of pictures. I wondered if they were there to honor a graduate, a couple getting married or someone celebrating a milestone birthday, you know, the happy times. Then I saw them crying, and I knew. Just like me, they, too, had lost a loved one. It did not matter that I’d never seen them before or knew nothing about them. The one thing I did know, most important of all, was that fate brought us together in our moment of grief.

There I stood, hugging strangers, two sisters who had just lost their mom, sharing their tears. Then, as if I were some kind of an expert, I offered to help print their photos for their own memory collage knowing how painful yet cathartic the process is. With each entry, they told me about their wonderful mom and what she meant to them.

One hour and lots of hugs later, drained from the emotions of this afternoon, I could not go back to work. Instead I went home, plopped down on my couch in the sunroom, cried some more and took a nap.

This was one “Photo Finish” that finished me off!

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2 Responses to “Photo Finish”

  1. No coincidence that you met those ladies. You were there to uplift. Nice story.

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