First, I want to make one FINE POINT very, very clear:
I do *not* know Jen Burgess Thompson personally. :)
I have been a photographer all my life... not in the usual MWAC way where I put things like "I've had a camera in my hands since I as four years old....".
I loved it.
Getting into the business, I've taken a few different roads - working as a photojournalist first, then families and babies and what not.... each time starting at the bottom. I've had amazing friends along the way - photographers are insanely jealous and competitive with each other - sure, they will try to deny it, but I can *assure* you that there is not ONE photographer on the planet who doesn't look at anothers' work and think either: I could have done that better - lighting/pose/etc... OR - as is usually the case with me - How the HELL did they do that? I wish I were that good - .... In spite of that, though, we are also insanely loyal to our friends and we will help each other out in a heartbeat.
When I was sick in May 2010, I was really really sick - like raging infection of unknown nature, 104 degree fevers and being put into quarantine SICK. I was blessed by how many people came to see me, or bring El Capitan and the kids food - they rallied.... it was a blessing beyond measure.
Dirty Diana, however, rallied like a photographer - calling The Bubbie to see what sessions I needed to get coverage for and then contacting my clients and doing the jobs for me. She drove an hour just to bring me a razzmatazz Jamba smoothie and sit at my bedside while I went in and out of sleep and barely sipping at the Jamba and then polity threw away 80% of said smoothie because it melted before I could finish it. She did it all with a smile.
See how *lucky* I am?
At the end of April, I saw another photographer post something on Facebook about another Central Oregon Photographer.... Jen Burgess Thompson. That's one of the greatest things about this community - we'll rally around one of our own, wounded and sad and a little defeated because we understand the struggle of working for yourself and the complications of being self-insured and self... *everything*. When we don't work - we don't get paid - there is no "sick" pay for us. Jen... she was sicker than any of use ever want to be.
I followed the links to a movie (the one above) which was done by some of the most respected photographer videographers in the industry (Kevin Kubota lives in Bend as well). Like anyone else who saw the video, I was instantly struck by her grace and her fight and her love.... and all the love she had yet been given the chance to give - and suddenly... that chance might be fading away to nothing.
THAT was a true tragedy.
The fact that she was a single Mother to two small children was not at all lost on me. The fact that she was a self-employed photographer.... was also not lost on me.
There I had been sitting for days and hours and several boxes of Kleenex later.... nothing took away the pain of facing down the pink curtains of Yoga Girls box and my (then) husbands immersion into them. During those early days - I didn't feel so much inspired by my children's smiling faces, as I felt even more brokenness and failure and pain at the idea that they were now from a 'broken' home and what would that mean....? How would that affect them? Had my failings as a wife just cost them the life they were born to - the life they were entitled to as products of a once loving marriage?
Sitting at the same table, as I watched Jen's video - while I did not know her, I've never met her nor worked with her in any capacity, an amazing thing happened: healing.
While I would love to say *Jen* was healed... selfishly, it was me who found comfort and healing and the drive to move forward.... alone. I instantly felt grateful that instead of facing *that* journey... one filled with needles and pain and illness and... death - but instead facing a journey that involved NONE of that.
My pain suddenly felt like a First World Problem, and most certainly, one that I need to get the f*@k over.
I wrote Jen an email that night thanking her for being brave enough to share her journey. I explained (briefly) my situation and how I was feeling a bit like an overweight Gothic Alice - falling down, down, down into a well of darkness that never seemed to end while a white rabbit that was once my marriage and my family seemed to fun faster and faster away from me. Her video was a huge branch smacking me square in my face and giving me the perspective to understand that in my own grief, I should find joy in what I *do* have.
I explained that when her video ended the first thing I thought about was how unfair it was to her two sons that their time with their Mom should be threatened by such a cruel and unforgiving illness. Then I looked at my own happy children playing just a few feet away and I realized that I was being incredibly unfair to them because I was wasting *our* time together.
Each day is a gift - not a promise. Period.
That night I crawled back up out of the well, and while there are days and times that I feel like I'm falling into the darkness again, I truly do try to climb out as fast as my two fat cankles will take me- because if one day I find out that my days are limited - I don't want to look back on anger and pain and wasted time.
The only way we honor people like Jen and all the men and woman like her... is by *living* - truly *living* our lives - finding joy in our hardships, living in empathy and compassion and just realizing that no matter what.... things can *always* be worse.
For Jen, things got worse on Friday and she passed away.
My Grandmother say's that life is for the living, and that we honor the dead by *LIVING* - taking nothing and no one for granted - that we learn from our mistakes as quickly as we can, make amends when we need to - and living in the happiness G*d had granted us - no matter how brief that happiness is.
I hope Jen, or someone close to her got my email, it's certainly no consolation to have provided healing and comfort to a stranger like me... but she did - she truly, truly did. I wish I could have done the same for her.
You can find Jen's Blog: HERE