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Jen’s World: Friend’s legacy was to live — loud and gloriously

November 15, 2018

Bonnie Hedrick models accessories she made herself for a Rochester Magazine photo shoot.

About nine years ago, a woman named Bonnie Dinneen Hedrick sent me a message on Facebook. She’d been reading my column and, it seems, saw a kindred spirit in me.

“I think we should be best friends,” she wrote.

Nine years later, here’s one thing I know for certain: If the only thing I ever receive from writing this newspaper column is Bonnie’s friendship, it is enough.

Because for the last nine years, I’ve been able to call one of the coolest, funniest, most creative, genuine, generous, and positive people I’ve ever met my friend.

Case in point: Shortly after we connected online, I posted on my Facebook page that I was decorating for a grade school carnival and needed strings of Christmas lights … in March.

“I can help!” Bonnie wrote to me. Two days later I was standing outside Dunn Bros. with this beautiful redhead in tall brown boots, a hand-knit sweater and funky jewelry as she filled the back of my minivan with boxes of lights. Then we headed inside where we drank tea for an hour, talking and laughing like we’d been friends our entire lives.

She was right, I told her. We were supposed to be friends.

Christmas lights weren’t the only things she delivered to me over the years. She once knit me a bright pink hat and hand delivered it to me. At a coffee shop, of course, where we downed more tea.

And there was the coloring book. In early 2016, I spent an afternoon as Bonnie’s “chemo buddy” on Gonda 10 as she received treatment for multifocal intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer. When we parted that day, she gave me a gift — an “Enjoy This Moment” coloring book.

“This is to remind you to take time for yourself,” she said. “And to let your creativity flow.”

When I returned to work, I paged through the book to see she’d written a message on one of the pages in the middle — under lyrics to a Katy Perry song. “You are gonna hear me roar. It will be loud & glorious. I will survive. Thank you for listening to my story. Much love, Bonnie.”

I’d arrived at her chemo appointment with nothing to offer but tea in a paper cup. She gave me a life lesson in attitude and thoughtfulness.

Bonnie had been diagnosed with cholangio in 2015. Her doctors told her to get her affairs in order and do any traveling as it was too late for treatment.

“That didn’t turn out to be the case, did it?” Bonnie posted a year later. “I’m still here! And I plan on continuing to be here for a long time yet. … Here’s to another year of sunsets, new adventures and experiences, laughter, and LIVIN’!”

And, boy, did she live. When she was able, she and her husband, Nate, traveled with their kids, Connor and Eleanor. They spent time at her beloved Lake Superior. She made memories. She even got back on her snowboard.

Last year, she stood on top of a table at a brewery for a Rochester Magazine style photo shoot — wearing, of course, accessories she made herself intermingled with an “Everything will be OK” pendant. Her mantra.

Over the years, our conversations — and there weren’t nearly enough of them — covered the gamut from families to art, from politics to travel, from kismet to, yes, cancer. But mostly? We talked about life and what it means to live well.

“Cancer sucks,” she once told me. “If someone would’ve laid choices on the table for me, this is not what I would’ve chosen. Not in a million years. But it’s like life. You make the best of it. … It’s made all of my relationships better. And I know what I want. I know that anything we want, our dreams, we need to be working on them every single day. Not putting it off to someday. Not putting it off to when the kids are gone. Cancer has helped me reprioritize, and remove things that aren’t meaningful to me.”

Bonnie’s life was a gift to me. Which is what I told her family last Friday night at Riley Funeral Home in Chatfield. Bonnie, the woman who was grateful for every day, passed away more than three years after her diagnosis, on Oct. 26.

In her beautiful obituary, Bonnie’s brother, Pat, wrote, “Cancer itself is no blessing. The love, and the reprioritizing of what is important, and what is not, that come in its wake can be.”

Bonnie was a blessing to me — and one of the great teachers of my life. I’m determined that her lessons continue. I’ve taped her picture to my mirror, to remind me, every day, to love, to create, to be kind, to be generous ... and to live, loud and gloriously.

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