To everything there is a season.
* * *
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.
* * *
Not a subscriber? Subscribe here. It’s free.
Grief is a gift. I like that. I will remember those words as we remember all the beautiful people that have touched us in some way through this journey.
Grief IS a gift…’”’tis better to have loved & lost than to have never loved at all”. Benita went “back to the stars…”, & left us with so much joy, beauty, laughter, purpose & pink that I know these tears are a cleansing to the hole she left. You chose just the perfect words & pictures to begin to describe her. Giving Thanks…
Thank you for this. I long admired Benita and her creative, zestful life mostly from afar. She was such a great example of (choose your cliche): play with the cards you are dealt or cast down your bucket where you are. Or brighten the corner where you are. She seemed to take the world she was born into and push its boundaries and brighten it with zest and imagination and courage. I was struck with her photojournalism when I first moved here and much later with her dedication to Rockwool opposition. May her generous spirit be distributed so that we all get a portion.
While I did not know Benita, this story touched me deeply. It reminds me of a truth told by author Joan Didion: “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”
Beautiful remembrance of a woman I would have greatly enjoyed knowing. Thank you – and thank you for reminding us how many delightful neighbors with whom we’re blessed here in the Panhandle.
Thank you for sharing the life of someone I didn’t know but can now celebrate and grieve with you.
Thank you for this tribute to Benita and these photos. The service for her and the dixie-land jazz band procession to Elmwood for the burial of her ashes was so well done, so well organized, so generously prepared and given. Credit goes to Linda Shea, Kathy Burns and Mary Beth Kilmer for these arrangements and preparations along with many others, including Laura First and of course, Steve Parker and Benita’s daughter, Sarah. The party, food and drink that was given following the return from Elmwood, the musicians who played in the band, all honored the generous spirit of Benita.
I’m so happy I got to meet Benita! Her spirit gave me hope against evils such as Rockwool, but also peace in that despite the outcome, the victory was the community we enhanced. She is a hero!
Thanks for this story. I also had come to know Benita and her work when I lived in Shepherdstown.