Just breathe

The first time I saw her, she turned to look at me from across the room. I noticed the light in her face and the mirth in her eyes, and I sighed and thought, "I just love her." Everything about Jenny Fry was soft. From her fluffy blonde hair to her soft eyes, soft, soothing voice, soft shape, and soft heart, she was a hug even before she reached out.

It wasn't so much that she befriended everyone she met but that it felt like it. She looked closely and listened carefully, focusing less on what she saw or heard and more on what she could give of her heart. Which was amazing for a young woman who had lost half her heart the day her husband died.

SlidesLikely he saw the light in her eyes and understood, upon introduction, what Jenny could do with a camera. He was lead photographer at the Presidio in Monterey, and she was looking for a job. So he hired her. But surely he saw more that day in the talented young photographer with the clever sense of humor and the penchant for France and passion for Greece and that big, big heart she wore like Sunday best.

So he married her. And he promised to love, honor, cherish, and take her to Greece at least once a year. Till death did they part.

Chris and Jenny Fry knew what they had. They were great lovers and best friends, skilled artists and business partners in Fry Photographics, which they opened together and ran, side by side, for 15 years.

On March 3, 2005, they woke up in the Grecian-style home Chris had designed and built for Jenny. They fed their dogs and went to work at the place that had become as much a social hub, an artist enclave, a center of influence, as it was their job. They made photographs and enjoyed their staff and each other, and they celebrated this brilliant life they had created.

The next day, Chris died.

No warning, no negotiating, no hoping, no praying, no goodbye. His heart had just stopped. And for Jenny Fry, so did the world.

"I felt this intense loyalty to our employees and also to the photography community," said Jenny. "We were a really good lab; Chris had made us a really good lab. So I tried to keep it going. But as the year wore on, it became too challenging for me."

She talked to a friend who had experienced a similar loss, and he told her it was time to decide what she wanted to do with her life. Chris had always urged her to follow her bliss, but she felt quite certain he had taken it with him.

"It was our 16th wedding anniversary, my first without Chris. I put it out to the universe that I needed help, and I asked Chris what to do about it. I woke up and went to feed the dogs, and as I was reaching for the kibble I said, ‘Oh my gosh; I am going to have a store, and it's going to be really, really cool.' And from that moment on, I knew; I could see it."

Little more than six months later, Jenny opened Never On Sunday, a specialty store of "essentials, ephemera and art" in the same landmark stone building that had housed Fry Photographics on Pearl Street in Monterey.

A nod to her love of Greece and inspired by the edgy 1960 film of the same name, Never On Sunday was presented as a nest of nostalgia and the nuances of home. It was kitschy and clever, artistic and elegant, sassy and sentimental. And for three years running, it was voted "Best Gift Shop in Monterey County" by the readers of a local newspaper.

And then Jenny was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

Quite characteristically, the woman who had traveled the world, collecting stories and souvenirs, developed a "bucket list" of all the things she still had to accomplish in what might be her last year of life. She returned to Paris, to Greece, to New York. She wrote long and poetic letters to friends and entertained them with extravagant love and indulgent parties. One year after medical reports had predicted her fate, she was in Las Vegas with 17 friends, watching Cirque du Soleil, singing with a gospel choir, taking in a Tom Jones concert, and securing the Welsh crooner's voice on her cell phone recorder.

Another year passed, and still she fought her disease and found ways to celebrate life. For her birthday last fall, she went to Hawaii with family and friends to soak up the sun and swim with dolphins. And then, what seemed like moments later, she died.

But not before planning a service and celebration that would give her family and friends a night to remember and a lesson about living life we won't soon forget.