To everything there is a season.
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This Thanksgiving I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to know Benita Keller, to witness her bodacious life and beautiful work. She was a photojournalist, teacher, naturalist, and landscape artist. She was Steve’s soulmate and Sarah’s mother.
Shortly after I settled in Shepherdstown, someone told me there were more eccentrics per capita in northern Jefferson County than anywhere else in the world. I’ve lived here now for 46 years. I’ve seen and met the evidence. We really do have a lot of characters here!
Benita was the doyenne of characters.
She wore red berets, vintage apparel, flamboyant socks. She painted her classroom pink. She adored flamingoes.
She hiked, biked, camped, fly-fished. She sang, danced, and laughed her head off.
She stood up and spoke out for the vulnerable, made good trouble, went to jail (once with Jane Fonda), and gave that polluter Rockwool fits.
But to see Benita only as an eccentric character is to miss what she really was: a beautiful person with a flair for living.
Benita had enough life in her to outlive us all. But alas, she didn’t. Although she was fully vaccinated, her immune system was depleted. COVID broke through.
On Thursday, October 28, Benita crossed over the river to the other side. I’m pretty sure she was met by a band of flamingoes who carried her into the arms of everlasting love.
And just like that, our world was darkened. The sun, moon, and stars had fallen. We faced the valley of the shadow of death. None dare walk it alone.
And so last Saturday we gathered in Benita and Steve’s back yard against the wind and cold—to lament, to laugh, to lean on each other. Then we walked behind a jazz band playing a dirge, accompanying our beloved Benita’s ashes to Elmwood Cemetery.
Sarah placed the urn in the grave. One by one we covered it with handfuls of earth.
Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
We sang “Amazing Grace.”
The band struck up “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Our spirits lifted, at least a little.
Grief hurts. But grief is not a problem. Grief is a gift. Grief is a measure of what we had and what we have lost. Don’t hurry grief. Let it be.
Yes, it will linger for a season.
But other seasons will follow.
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