A few weeks ago a friend asked me when I knew that I wanted to pursue a photography career. As I thought about it, I could recall the exact moment that I realized the power my camera has to raise someone’s spirits and touch someone’s life. I had taken pictures of a friend who was feeling a bit down on herself. She was sure that none of the pictures would turn out well. Boy, was she wrong. It was so rewarding to see her reaction to how I saw her through my lens. Following our photo shoot, her turnaround was very impressive. Her confidence quickly returned as she realized what a strong, smart, and beautiful woman she is. It was a great feeling then, but it couldn’t hold a candle to what happened to me last Friday night.
It all started at the end of August when I received a call from my second cousin, Andy. He lives with his family in Ohio so I don’t get to see him too often but I have fond memories of all of us together during the holidays while growing up. He told me about their close family friends, the Jones family, who have been through quite a lot in the past year and asked if I could do them a favor at the same time as honoring a fallen soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Anyone who knows me can guess my answer was a resounding, yes!
Gary was the loving son of his parents, Greg and Carol, and a partner in crime to his twin brother, Steve. In October of 2010, Gary passed away leaving many loved ones behind. Due to his 16 years in the US Air Force, Gary was given the honor of being buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his brothers in arms.
The loss of a loved one is never an easy thing to deal with, and the loss of her son weighed heavily on Carol. Even though she was four and a half years in remission and almost in the clear, the cancer made an unwelcome return just a few short months later. One of her last wishes was to see her son Gary’s headstone at Arlington National Cemetery. However due to her detorating health, it didn’t seem as if a trip from Ohio was a possibility for her. That is where I came in…
I woke up early one morning to make the short trek from my apartment in Rosslyn to ANC. As I arrived to Gary’s section, there was a funeral beginning in the neighboring section for a fallen soldier who arrived home after paying the ultimate sacrifice overseas. It was emotional to see grieving faces for just one hero being laid to rest and then turning around to face a sea of headstones.
Gary’s final resting place is at the crest of a hill under a lone tree. It is quite possibly one of the most breathtaking locations in the cemetery. Even though I had never met Gary in person, I could feel his presence there as I captured pictures to share with his family in Ohio. I even pulled a few strings with some of my buddies in the Air Force and was able to get some pictures of an Air Force chaplain saluting Gary. I was so moved by Andy’s feedback from the family that I went back again on September 11th with a flag that one of my pen pals had sent me as a Birthday present in 2003 from Afghanistan.
Less than a year after the passing of her son, Carol passed away in early October. I was devastated to hear the news but was proud that I was able to send those photos to Carol which I knew meant a lot to her and the family.
This past Friday I got a call from Gary’s farther, Greg, to let me know that he and his son, Steve, were on their way to DC for New Years and to visit Gary at ANC. I met up with them for happy hour and dinner. Within minutes, we both knew we were in good company as soon as we both ordered rum and cokes!
We spent many hours chatting and sharing stories. I enjoyed learning about Gary and Carol as much as Greg and Steve enjoyed sharing stories about their loved ones. I was particularly moved by Steve’s desire to finish his brothers bucket list for him since they had been together for many adventures, including witnessing the final shuttle launch in Florida. My heart melted every time Greg told a story about his high school sweet heart who he has been with since Carol was just 16!
The time spent with Greg and Steve was a firm reminder to spend as much quality time with those you love as you truly never know how much time you have left. Thank you Greg and Steve for opening up and sharing your stories with me. I hope this tribute does your family justice and doesn’t cause too many ‘allergy’ fair ups.
As I said my goodbyes to them, I knew one thing for sure: if my photos can touch one family this much, I never want to stop.