Photo: Susanna Mason
Jon’s funeral was yesterday. I spoke at the service. It was really hard but I’m glad I did it.
I can’t decide if posting my tribute on this blog is a weird thing to do or not. But I slept on it last night and decided that if blogging about Jon’s funeral makes me feel better, then I should bloody well do it. So…here it is.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jon loved to tell me that I don’t speak English, I speak Americanese. So I apologize in advance and hope you English speakers are able to understand me.
I had the privilege of knowing Jon in many different capacities – first as an admirer of his work, then as his colleague and friend, and eventually as his partner.
Long before I met Jon, when I was a writer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and lived on the other side of the world, I would stare at his stunning photos on the Foundation’s website and then look at his curious last name. I wondered which African country he was from.
Then finally, I received an assignment to work with Jon on a fundraising trip in Tanzania. I called him before the trip to discuss logistics and was surprised when I heard what sounded like an Englishman on the other end of the line. It was the first of countless times that Jon would surprise me.
Jon was the first person I met when I set foot on African soil. Two days later, I watched him shoot pictures for the first time, at an orphanage in northern Tanzania. We walked into the orphanage and there were about 30 toddlers at tiny tables and chairs, banging metal spoons on plates in preparation for breakfast.
The kids all turned to look at us, and I moved awkwardly to the corner. Jon, on the other hand, waded into the center of the room, squatted down, and started shooting with no hesitation.
At first the kids were like magnets, crowding around him and peering into his lens. But eventually they all returned to their normal business, laughing and crying and smearing porridge on themselves, and on each other.
Taken that day.
Jon’s shutter kept clicking and I watched with tears in my eyes. I hadn’t seen his photos yet, but I could see that he was capturing the essence of that place, and the spirit of those children. That’s what Jon did best.
I also did my own best work on that trip to Tanzania. My writing was inspired by Jon’s photographs, and by Africa. Jon was Africa to me, and Africa was Jon. I eventually realized I couldn’t live without either one.
Years later, I moved to Johannesburg. Jon brought this city to life for me, and encouraged me to write about it and photograph it. He convinced me to buy my first DSLR camera and pushed me to take photos with it, even though I didn’t understand how it worked.
He set my camera’s dial to ‘P’ – which all photographers know is the camera setting for dummies — and told me it stood for ‘professional’. I believed him. Next thing I knew, I was shooting some pretty decent pictures of my own.
Jon taught me that good photography isn’t really about accessories, or exposure settings, or ISO. It’s about light, and composition, and beauty.
Jon recognized talents of mine that I didn’t know I had. He believed in me, in a way that no one ever had before. He showed me how to see the world, and myself, in a whole new light. He loved me so intensely that I could hardly bear it sometimes. Jon never did anything halfway. That’s why I loved him so much.
I always knew Jon wouldn’t be an easy person to love. I knew how complicated he was, how sensitive and fragile. Perhaps I always knew, deep down, that the time we had together would be short. But I also knew that Jon was a rare human being. The love we shared was rare as well. And really, I had no choice but to follow it.
I often listen to a song called ‘Sometimes’, by a band called James. The refrain of the song goes like this:
Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul.
Jon saw my soul. And I saw his. For that, I am grateful.
This song has always, always made me think of Jon. I can’t believe how prophetic it turned out to be.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
A couple of other blogging friends wrote nice posts about the service. Here they are if you’d like to read them:
Story of Bing: http://www.storyofbing.com/2011/12/a-funeral-in-johannesburg/
One Day in the Life of Jerome: http://jeromes1day.blogspot.com/2011/12/chi-mi-rithist-thu.html
And here is a lovely post written by one of Jon’s colleagues, Deaan, who I met for the first time yesterday.
I don’t think I will blog about Jon’s death anymore after today, at least not for a while. I want to try to get back to some happier topics. But there is one last thing I want to say.
I’m angry. I’m angry that Jon died. I’m angry at the disease that killed him. I’m angry that Jon’s disease forced us apart in the final weeks of his life, and that I didn’t have the chance to tell him I loved him at the end. I’m angry that this disease caused unbearable suffering to Jon, and to everyone who cared about him. I’m angry that his death has left all sorts of unresolved issues in many people’s lives. Especially mine. I’m angry to have lost him.
I’m really angry, and really sad. But I’m also really lucky to have had Jon in my life.
Goodbye Jon. I love you.
H, you were beautiful and strong and did a wonderful job paying an amazing tribute to Jon. I’m glad you blogged about it.
Hi, You don’t know ne but I have been following your blog for ages. I am originally from Cape Town but live in Sydney now, and love the way you capture South Africa, its heart and soul, in pictures and words.
I am so sorry to learn of Jon’s passing and I offer you my condolences from the other side of the world.
may God bless them, thank you for the post
Oh god, you just made me burst into tears. Big hugs, my friend. We are here for you and will help you find happier days again. xoxo, K
Thank you for sharing your tribute. I am amazed at your strength in speaking at Jon’s funeral.
A wonderful, touching tribute to Jon. You did him proud.
Be angry, be strong, stay strong. Time is a river that doesn’t pass over the same stones twice, and with time comes understanding and healing and also the knowledge that things were meant be as it were meant to be.
Thanks Derek. And thanks to everyone else who has commented who I haven’t responded to yet. I’m running out of comment steam 🙂
How very brave of you to do that for Jon.
Hi Heather. So sorry to hear about your loss. Much love and our thoughts are with you. Jo and the Past Experiences Team
A beautiful post Heather. Thinking of you. x
Thank you Heather, for sharing this. It is a beautiful tribute to an obviously incredible soul. ♥
Hi Heather. I stumbled on your blog looking for images and you gave me permission to use some of your photographs. I became absorbed in your stories and your beautiful photographs. I am so sorry to hear you have lost your love. I wish you strength for the future.
Thank you. I’m glad my photographs brought you here 🙂
C and I have you in our thoughts and prayers. Very moving tribute. So thankful to have met him and been with you both. Godspeed and know we are there for you.
Thanks Isaiah. Jon had so much respect for both you and Claire. He talked about you all the time. I’m glad I was able to include a photo from one of our evenings together in this blog post. We were all so happy that night.
*tears* … “Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul.”
You’ve both touched mine.
Thanks Darren, hope to see you soon.
Oh Heather, so lovely. I wish I’d met Jon when he came to Squirrel Hill, but then I felt like I already kind of knew him through your blog posts. I am grateful to him for bringing so much wonder and beauty into your life XO Drury
Thanks Drury. I wish he’d met you too, and all the rest of the Wellfords. You would have loved each other. I think Jon might have been a Wellford in another life 🙂
I am so very sorry…
That was beautiful, Heather, really touching. A wonderful tribute. I didn’t know him (nor you yet) but I feel as if I know a small part of him now. Thank you.
Thanks Marshall. I hope to meet you in person someday very soon. I know Susanna has lots of stories prepared for you this evening!
This is a stunning tribute to an amazing man, Heather. Congratulations on having loved even when it was difficult. Congratulations on acknowleging both the anger and the love–the pain and the passion, as they are inevitably linkded. Hugs to you, my friend!
Thank you Kathy. Happy new year to one of my best blogging friends.
Heather, Good on you kid for taking the risk, facing the pain of loss, and moving ahead. Its called life, and you are doing a job of it. Love, JD
Thanks for the comment, John Doe. All my love to you and Linda and the rest of the fam. I miss you guys.
Heather: What a beautiful tribute you wrote for Jon. Your love for him was so pure and strong. Don’t ever forget that. You are an amazing writer and I am so glad that you chose to share with us this beautiful tribute. I am thinking of you and wishing that you can see the sun through the clouds as the days march ahead. I am certain they will be painful, difficult and bleak, yet I hope sometimes a few rays of light pass through the dark clouds and give you joy and some peace.
Thanks Nicole. Life is painful right now but I never stop seeing the sun.
very moving indeed…………….you did the right thing………otherwise i’d have never heard of Jon—-special folk should always be remembered.
You’re right. Thanks for the comment.
I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to stand up there – but I believe you have done both yourself and Jon proud. You are so beautifully eloquent despite your grief.
Thank you for sharing this most difficult of times with us – May 2012 bring you sunnier days.
Thanks Lu 🙂
2011 has been such a sad year for the Mason family. Coonsie’s passing, the selling of Squirrel Hill.and now this. It sounds cliché’, but we can find solace in the fact that we will all emerge from this year as stronger people.
I am so glad you spoke at Jon’s memorial and that you continued to blog. I am sure it provided some kind of closure for you, and it was a wonderful tribute to Jon. I regret that I wasn’t there.
I also regret that I didn’t get to know Jon better. Except for a few casual remarks, we never even had a substantial talk about photography.
Hard to believe.
But your words have painted a vivid, insightful picture of who he was and what he meant to you. No one could ask for more.
You did him proud. You make me proud.
Thanks Dad. One of the first things I ever told Jon, on the telephone before we ever met, was that I was a photographer’s daughter. It was one of the reasons why we connected and why he encouraged me so much.
Your time with Jon was short and sweet. I hope you will cherish your memories of the happy times. You are very brave and I feel sure you will soon find your purpose and direction. Just let it happen. . .
Thanks Mom. I think this is your first comment ever on 2Summers.
Wow Heather! What a moving tribute!
Heather, what a beautiful speech. I’m glad you posted it here. Even though I never knew Jon, I feel like I did, as if he somehow touched my life and gave it more meaning, just through your writing of him. The funeral has stayed with me these past few days, especially the metaphor of the ship sailing over the horizon, and someone else now greeting it. Such was Jon, touching people wherever he went, even in death.
Thanks Sine. I’m glad you were there.
Lovely tribute Heather, thanks.
Thanks Jeroen. Wish you were here!
Heather, what a beautiful tribute! Thanks for sharing your love for Jon with us and his love for you, and both your love and passion for Photography and Africa. I’m very proud to be your friend and proud to have met Jon as well.
Lots of love
Thanks Sahar. I’m proud to be your friend too. And by the way, when are you coming back to Africa to visit??
Dear Heather, how sad to learn about Jon. Please accept our deepest sympathies. Your friends at Melville Koppies. Wendy
Thank you Wendy. Much appreciated.
Dear Heather, I’m so very sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute to Jon and his beautiful work. I know you don’t know me, but I’ve been following your blog for a while, appreciating the way in which you capture Jozi’s contrasts in your words and pictures. I read Jon’s obituary in the paper the other day, not realising he was your ‘Joe’. Stay strong, my thoughts and those of many other’s who your blog has touched are with you.
MzansiGirl, I feel like I know you too, from Twitter 🙂 Thanks so much for the kind message and thanks for reading my blog. Hope to meet you in person some day.
Dear Heather – I read your blog about Jon’s death while I was away on holiday – my heart really aches for you. Thank you for sharing both the happy and the sad at this time in your life – I know that it can’t be easy for you. I do hope that you’ll find some rainbows and some silver linings in those clouds that Jon loved so much. Take care
Thank you Dawn. This is a lovely comment. I hope you’re doing well and had a nice holiday. -Heather
Heather you were wonderful at the memorial. It was terribly sad and painful, but such tragedy is. And anger is part of it. Regret too. Some of the many conversations I had at the church that day with men just met were incredible, about connecting, reaching out, really checking on our friends and loved ones, slowing down, being a community again – they just spoke and spoke. Regret and anger are part of the process, as is disbelief, and some horror and trauma. But I have really appreciated you shining a light on beauty, happiness and light too. It helps me and my family tremendously to share your memories and photos – I especially love the last photo of you and Jon together. It makes me smile. Thanks. lots of love, Melinda
Thanks very much Melinda. This comment really means a lot to me. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.
Jon’s beautiful photographs and your gift for writing danced beautifully together. To love a tortured soul ultimately leads to heart break, but something truly lovely inside your creative soul will grow from the grief.
Your pen will set you free Heather.
Thank you Susan, that’s a beautiful comment.
Poignant. Touching. A beautiful tribute…
Thank you 🙂
You are an amazing woman H. Through and through!