Mother honors late son’s memory, finds purpose in repurposing

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CHICAGO — She’s a mom on a mission to remember those she loves.  And she’s found that mission in the most unlikely place: a thrift store.

Those who say beauty is only skin deep, have never come face to face with Bobbie Van Bogaert and her hobby of rehabbing old jewelry.

“Some people look at this and see a bunch of junk,” she said. “I see possibilities.”

She has always seen the possibilities not only in her talents but those of her kids, including her youngest boy, Daniel.

“It was a very special relationship. I loved him a lot.  He was my sixth child,” she said. “It was something there that wasn’t with the other kids”.

It was a closeness she held onto in the 80s, when, just a teenager himself, Daniel came out to her.

“When he told me, I have to be honest, I was like ‘No no.’ And then as time when on, I was like ‘He’s my son and I love him no matter what.  So I want him in my life.’”

And even though Daniel lived with his partner in San Francisco, he and his mom talked all the time.

Two years ago, at the age of 49, Daniel’s life was cut much too short.

“He died of liver cancer,” Van Bogaert said. “It was sad. But he’s in my mind all the time and sometimes I can hear his voice.”

Perhaps it was his voice that brought Van Bogaert to The Brown Elephant thrift store about a year ago.

She now helps the store’s mission of giving health care to the LGBTQ community.  She is a weekly fixture at the store.

She will gather sometimes broken jewelry and fixing it up into something the brown elephant can sell again.

“It makes me appreciate my mother,” manager Matt Talaga said. “It’s good that she finds support from those of us here and customers as well.”

This Mother’s Day is dedicated not to her, she said, but to the beauty she keeps in her heart and the legacy of Daniel.

“I think he’d be very proud,” she said. “I think it would touch his heart, too.”


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