Celebrating a Life After Loss

Image by Diane Mclarney
For Betty

April 19th is my aunt Betty’s birthday. This year she would have been 83. It has been almost 3 years now since she died from cancer.

Aunt Betty was an all around wonderful person and one of my favorite relatives when I was a kid.

She lived in a little apartment in Santa Monica, California, and was a dietitian with the Veterans Administration. Her outfits were well put together. Her jewelry and purse always matched her outfit. Purple was her favorite color and she wore lots of it. She had this big, dark blue Cadillac. One of the old ones with the super heavy doors. It took up almost two parking spaces it was so long! She dated the same man, my uncle Bob, for about 25 years and then one weekend they just eloped. She was funny, gracious, smart, classy, and all around cool.

Memories 

Aunt Betty always made everyone laugh and loved being silly. When my mom, my brother, and aunt Betty got together, inevitably someone got the giggles. I remember one time…..my brother and I were sleeping over at her apartment. We woke up to find her rummaging through her closet. She had so many clothes that the weight of them broke the rod the clothes were hanging from. The crack of that wooden rod was loud enough to bring her in from the next room; however my brother and I slept right through it. Aunt Betty tried to tell us what had happened but she couldn’t stop laughing. Her laughter was contagious.

When I was a kid I always loved her visits. My family lived in Texas at one point and I don’t remember how often we saw her then. But when I was 12 we moved to Los Angeles and saw her on a regular basis. I always looked forward to Thanksgiving because she and uncle Bob would stay the weekend and that is when we would decorate the house for Christmas. To this day, that is still my favorite holiday tradition.

A First Time For Everything 

The first time I went to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, aunt Betty took me. My first visit to the Pacific Ocean, aunt Betty took me. The first time I ate at Arby’s, she took me. Aunt Betty was also responsible for introducing me to Philippe’s amazing french dip sandwich. She was there when I turned 12 and got my ears pierced; and later taught me how to put on makeup when I was 15. My first experiences tasting wine, apricot brandy in orange juice, and wine coolers are all thanks to her.

Life Moves On

Eventually aunt Betty retired and moved to Tennessee to live in grandma’s old house. I missed her but was busy growing up and focusing on all the things that kids do during their teenage years and early twenties, so I didn’t really realize it at the time. Life moved on. I went to college. Got married and had kids. My parents ended up moving and living within a few hours of aunt Betty so I saw her again during the holidays. I treasure the pictures I have of her with my kids.

Then around 2012 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation. Due to her age aunt Betty chose not to have reconstruction surgery. I understood that completely. However, I was shocked to realize that she was in her seventies. It pained me greatly to realize how much time had passed and her mortality hit me like a ton of bricks.

I called her often and we would laugh together as I shared stories of things my kids did or said. After the treatments her hair started to grow back but it came in thin and wispy. She joked with me about the fact that she was using a shampoo called Big Sexy Hair. She thought it was the funniest thing. The last Christmas I spent with her aunt Betty looked like a shell of her former self. But she was still full of love and humor.

The End of Her Story

She never really regained her strength. In 2014 the cancer returned. Or perhaps it never completely left. My mom and I never knew for sure. But one day mom called me and told me that aunt Betty was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well at all. I quickly made arrangements with my husband and my work. Then I drove 6 hours to see her. I spent one night in her hospital room. Her pain was severe and she constantly cried out. It was horrible to see her in such agony. She was allowed to have pain medication every half hour if she needed it. However, the nurses were so busy with other patients that she wasn’t getting it that often. I began calling them on a regular basis with the hope that aunt Betty might find some relief. She was unable to speak to me but I believe she felt my presence as much as I still feel hers.

I spent the next night with my uncle at their home and saw how frail of mind he had become. We went through the house, full of memories of their life together. Sharing stories and crying together. Uncle Bob kept telling me that he didn’t know what he would do without her. Shortly afterwards, he would move to a VA home out of state.

I stayed long enough to see her settled into a hospice facility and then I had to return home. Under the care of hospice she was administered pain medication on a constant basis and was finally able to rest for the first time in days. Aunt Betty lasted about 5 more days before she finally passed away, on June 15th. It was Father’s Day.

Today

Every time I see a purple flower I think of her. That is why I take so many pictures of purple flowers. I haven’t posted all of them on my Flickr page as I do try to keep some variety on my page…….But when she was being silly she would say “burple” instead of purple. Sometimes I still pronounce the color that way in my mind and smile because I still hear her laugh.

Image by Diane McLarney
Countdown to Spring

 

 

Learning to Love Color

What is your favorite color? I have never found that an easy question to answer. When it comes to what I wear, the answer is predominately black. Black is a basic wardrobe staple and is extremely versatile. I don’t like to fuss a lot when picking out an outfit so black has been my go-to choice for about as long as I can remember. I wear mostly black slacks to work and just change up the tops I wear…Like I said, not a lot of fuss. Back in my early twenties I spent the majority of my weekends at goth clubs in LA. And of course everyone there wore black. I loved it!!

But when it comes to the colors I use inside my house, the answer is not black. I tend to feel at home surrounded by earth tones or neutral tones. There is a richness to be found in dark shades of greens, blues, and reds. I also love the simplicity of white.

In recent years I have learned to branch out and explore other colors and the various shades within those colors. As people grow up and mature as individuals, they seem to develop a taste for things that they previously disregarded. Perhaps an author or style of music. For me, I have developed an interest in colors. Photography has helped me learn to stop and take a closer look at some of the colors I have missed out on. More specifically, photographing flowers has really opened my eyes to the depth of color I was overlooking. Taking pictures allows me to go back at a later time and appreciate all over again yellows, oranges, pinks and purples. And so in this post I want to share a few of the colors I have learned to enjoy.

 

Welcome, Part 2

A Slight Change….

So last month I started this blog. I wrote two posts and started on my third. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I got stuck on my third post and my mind went blank for a few days.

I finally came to the realization that I was having trouble finishing my post because I wanted to write about something different at the moment. And it hit me that I had made the initial focus of my blog a little more narrow than I actually want. Given the fact that I have just started this blog and, let’s be honest, no one really knows about my site; I figured I would change the name to make it better fit what I decided I wanted to do. So, I have changed my blog’s name from My Photo Allegories to This Photographer’s Reflection. I chose the word “reflection” because it means both an image and a thought. I will continue to write about my photography. But now I can expand my focus onto other topics as they come to mind.

Service and Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

One of my favorite places to go in Washington, D.C. is Arlington National Cemetery. Each tombstone or grave marker tells a story that humbles me. While the cemetery is often quiet and tranquil, it is also still an active cemetery so it is not uncommon to see or hear a funeral in progress.

I love history so it fascinates me to look at the rows of white headstones and think about the fact that each one of them symbolizes an individual with their own story. I admire the representations of service and sacrifice surrounding me every time I go. Each headstone represents the final resting place for someone’s hopes and dreams. Each one embodies a person who is loved and grieved. It is always interesting to see what information about a person is engraved into their headstone.

Colonel Edwin J. Cook

For example, during my last visit there I stumbled across the headstone of Colonel Edwin J. Cook. I was so struck by what I read that I immediately took a picture. This one man served in the Army, Navy and Air Force. He flew B-29s during World War II; F 94 fighter jets during the Korean War, and served at the Military Airlift Command headquarters during the Vietnam War. What an amazing example of service to one’s country! Can you imagine the things he experienced or witnessed? It would have been an honor to meet him.Colonel Cook headstone

History

Taken as a whole, participants from over 150 years of our country’s history lie within these grounds. Presidents, judges, military figures, scientists and medical personnel, men and women, and even the nameless are buried at Arlington. The earliest monuments date back to the Civil War. Of course, more current events and individuals from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are memorialized. There are over 400 acres of beauty and valor to explore. However, the history of the land itself goes back even further. The land once belonged to George Washington’s step – grandson and later became the home of Robert E. Lee. It was occupied by federal troops during the Civil War and later used as a burial ground out of necessity.

But perhaps the most profound experience one will have while visiting the cemetery is watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…..that is another conversation.