I've been putting off writing this post for awhile now, but I don't want to drag this out too much longer. I don't typically share personal work, but I shoot my personal life constantly. My mom badgered me as a teen and early twenty-something for taking selfies and photographing old buildings over my family. Well I guess at some point all that got through because I've photographed all of us incessantly ever since. Every get-together I bring my camera, mostly to photograph my grandparents. Having grandparents in their 90s has really made me appreciate what I can capture and preserve. Since Grandma begin losing her memory, since Grandad had his stroke; through every hospital visit or ER run they've endured I've always been prepared to get that fated call. That's why it seems so strange to be reflecting on the one death that I didn't see coming.
I never really cried over my uncle Terry's passing. I was so shocked by it I never really reacted. I cried early on about his diagnosis, but I never really thought he wouldn't be around. It's only now that I find it creeping up on me in quiet moments; a bite of Chili's queso, a red van, walking through a small town exploring. All these little things that I never even thought about, memories that I didn't hold dear suddenly precious.
I volunteered early on to speak at my uncle's funeral. It was important to me that someone speak about him as a person. In the end, there were four speakers. I can't recall word for word all the messages and memories we collectively shared. And so, I leave you with my own small tribute:
Good Afternoon (I say good with that subtle hint of sarcasm I just know Terry would appreciate)
My name is Juliana Jumper, and I am Terry Danner's niece. Being his niece, I had the privilege of knowing him for my entire life, but he was far more than a distant relative as uncles so frequently are. He was a staple throughout my childhood and into adulthood. He attended every birthday party, family dinner, suffered through each school production (sorry, about that), and braved the highways to each graduation, each vacation destination.
Terry was a rock within our small family. I watched him care for my elderly grandparents during my wedding, alongside Pam of course. He fixed things, answered questions (sometimes poorly and with a smart attitude, but you know, he answered.) He had a love of animals and saved more than one of our family pets; my grandparent’s black cat, and a red dog he found on the side of the road. He was a very dutiful person, who provided for his immediate family and those of use beyond it. He was our pair of broad shoulders, our ears that would analyze “this weird noise my car just started making, and do you think you could take a listen?”
Terry was a kidder. Him and my aunt after dates used to sing “Happy Trails” at my mother’s bedroom window in the middle of the night, and he must still be trying to kid her from the great beyond since he requested that song be played today. We had nicknames for each other. He constantly called me a monkey. (and I can assure you Terry, that you are truly the monkey not me! Okay?) But I think what I’ll remember mostly about my uncle is that he was a collector. He’d go through phases of interest, each one bringing with it a new item to examine; typewriters, fans, cameras, the list goes on.
But what will forever have the most profound effect on me was his camera collection. He showed me how to use a digital camera, let me borrow one of his manual cameras while I studied film photography abroad. He was always interested and inquired about my photography. Today I am a professional photographer, and I would not be without him indulging my curiosity. Letting me examine these objects and showing me how they worked, letting me borrow his equipment, only to have it returned in questionable condition. (Sorry about that too.)
The day of his diagnosis I saw him for a few minutes in the ER shortly after he found out he had cancer, but well before the severity of his circumstance had been realized. If a month is really enough time to realize anything at all. When I saw him that day he told me he wanted me to have his camera collection. He said that even if I didn’t use them that they were beautiful objects and maybe I could use them as decor. And I kind of laughed and said “Thank you” because SCORE, and because it had never once dawned on me that in six weeks time I would be here in front of you all. I laughed because I thought, I knew, that was months if not years down the line.
It was one of the last conversations I had with my uncle, and if I could redo it, if I could go back to that moment I would tell him that of everything he could give me, of all these parts and pieces and precious objects he left behind, that it would never be enough to replace the man he was. That no image I can produce with those cameras, no arrangement of decor; no shutter snapping to capture that phantom image of reality would ever be enough to convey his compassion, his humor, his impact, his life.
This is the last picture I took of my uncle. It was late March in Pawhuska on my mother's birthday. It was the last normal family meal I recall. We walked the town and the light was perfect. If there had to be a "last"; a last photo, a last good day, I'd say this is a good one.