Bonnie Bonetti-Bell (MDiv ‘86 and MA ‘87) is one of PSR’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. Upon her passing in November of last year, Jim Bell, her widower, offers this reflection on grieving the loss of his beloved life partner while social distancing in the time of pandemic. See Bonnie Bell’s full Distinguished Alumni profile here.
Grieving the Loss of My Beloved and Grieving the Human Distance of the Coronavirus Pandemic
By Jim Bell
After taking our granddaughter Sofia to Norway and Amsterdam to celebrate her 12th birthday this past summer, we learned on September 12, 2019 that my wife and PSR Alumna, Bonnie was suffering with stage 4 colon cancer that was so advanced that it was beyond treatment. Over 100 unique visitors came to see Bonnie at our home in Berkeley during her illness. Bonnie was a bright light that touched hundreds and changed lives. Over 400 friends, clients and family witnessed her Funeral Mass on Valentine’s Day this year at The Cathedral of Christ the Light on Lake Merritt.
My grief is terrible, and this time of human distance due to COVID-19 is horrible. I live each day with a double pain: the loss of my Bonnie, and my loss of physical contact with my three grandchildren, my family and my friends. In this time of solitude with my only human contact coming on screens, God is calling me to come closer. I am reading books like for lovers of god everywhere, Poems of the Christian Mystics edited by Roger Housden and Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours edited by Kathleen Deignan. Merton writes, “I no longer want to have anything to do with love that forgets to be grateful.” Through my pain and distance, I celebrate gratitude every day. I celebrate that God gave me the very best woman I could not even imagine. I celebrate that PSR gave Bonnie the very best education as she grew her spiritual roots and launched her brilliant ministry as a career and life coach. I am grateful that President David Vasquez-Levy stood up to be spiritually involved with Bonnie and our family during the 75 days of her illness. In our remaining days, let us all love generously and remember to be grateful.
I received my M.Div. from Starr King in November 1979, and I was able to enroll in the Psyche and Spirit class as a post-graduate. Bonnie was just beginning her studies at PSR, and Psyche and Spirit was her very first class. Bonnie was already a Catholic convert when we met, and independently, I was called to Catholic spirituality from studying the Gospels and St. Paul’s letters with the Franciscan Fathers and from my introduction to the Catholic mystics from Dr. Dody Donnelly. I was initiated and confirmed as a Catholic at Newman Hall Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, and on January 7, 1984, Bonnie and I said our vows at St. Jerome Church in El Cerrito. I thank God for 36 years of beautiful love and marriage.
Bonnie completed her studies at PSR in 1987 with an M.Div. and M.A. in pastoral counseling. Bonnie’s 30–year ministry manifested as a brilliant career and life coach; my ministry manifested as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) helping people discover the meaning of their lives and their money. Bonnie and I incorporated Bell Investment Advisors in 1990 as a platform to integrate our ministries in the business world. 30 years later the firm is still going strong now led by our son Forrest Bell, CFP.
Being Bonnie’s husband is the greatest accomplishment of my life. Her love for God was so beautiful, and I celebrate our spiritual pilgrimage together. We taught marriage preparation classes at Newman for 18 years. Teaching about marriage always made our marriage stronger and closer to God.
Six days before she died, Bonnie turned to a dear friend as they were looking out at our back garden and said, “Isn’t this a beautiful ending.” I was with her at home for the last 90 minutes of her life with our son Forrest and daughter Emily holding her, praying with her, saying Hail Mary’s, which she loved. I was able to tell her, “Your work here is done now, and you can go to the arms of Jesus. We will be ok, and we will see you in Paradise.”