In September, a friend/former classmate/client sent me a message inquiring about my taking photos at her mother's surprise 65th birthday party. I happened to be free, so I happily agreed. You see, my friend/former classmate/client--Maggie--has the most precious little girl who makes THE BEST faces ever, and I was dying to meet her! (I was not disappointed. She's pretty much the best baby ever). What I was not prepared for was a surprise 65th birthday that touched my soul.
The party was held in Newport News, at a cute Italian restaurant, decorated with autumnal touches--pumpkin centerpieces, apple butter favors. When I arrived, it was packed full of friends and family of Katherine Bowden, Maggie's cherished mother. I was immediately swept up in the buzz; so many people were brimming with excitement. I myself couldn't help but begin to feel anxious about Katherine's arrival! (Would she know something was amiss? Will she be late, and somehow we miss it when she does arrive? If she isn't surprised, will I still get awesome photos?) My anxiety quickly dissipated upon her arrival--it went off without a hitch! Mrs. Bowden was welcomed into the room with open arms, the brightest smiles, and a tear here and there.
As I made my way around the room, and spent time amongst Mrs. Bowden's friends and family, it was obvious just how loved this woman was. As a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, guidance counselor--she wore so many hats, and so very well. When it was my time to chat with her, Maggie reintroduced us (in high school, Mrs. Bowden's home was an open, welcome hub of class activity; a meeting place before dances, or homecoming get-togethers), and although I'm not quite sure if she did remember me, she made me feel like she had never forgotten me. That's just the type of person Mrs. Bowden was. I left her party that afternoon feeling that I wanted to be a woman of her caliber.
On November 29, just two months after her 65th birthday party, Mrs. Bowden suffered a serious brain hemorrhage. On December 9, 2013, after days of fighting her good fight, her sweet soul left this Earth. While I can't pretend to understand the loss Maggie and her family are feeling, I know from my small experiences that she was a comforting presence, an olive branch in a world of thorn bushes. (She wouldn't have thought that; it's my understanding that Mrs. Bowden viewed everyone as a rose).
Mrs. Bowden touched many lives. Her presence will be missed immensely. My favorite moment of my time at her party was during her husband's toast. Mr. Bowden spoke many beautiful words about Mrs. Bowden, but the most touching of all, was when he began to sing to her. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful moments I've had as a photographer. More than any wedding, I cried at the true romance of a life and love, lived.
Upon hearing the news of Mrs. Bowden's passing, I contacted Maggie to express my condolences. In speaking to her in the days after, we expressed a mutual feeling of gratitude for the photos taken at the party.
During the event, I asked if I could steal the family for a few moments to take some shots of Mrs. Bowden with her grandbabies--her heart. As a photographer, I wanted to give a little something extra special, even though it was unplanned. We went behind the restaurant to a random field, and I was able to take a few beautiful portraits of this beautiful woman.
The gift of photography is one people often take for granted. The time and investment in photography most always becomes invaluable. Whether it's in your own equipment, time, and talent or someone else's--invest in those moments. I'm so pleased that Mrs. Bowden's memory can live on in these portraits. I'm so happy to have captured her spirit.
May those I've loved through all the year
Have memories now they'll e'er recall;
So fill me to the parting glass, Goodnight, and joy be with you all
--excerpt from "The Parting Glass"