By Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
Bonnie Hunt’s father Bob is never far from her mind, be it on Father’s Day or any day of the year. Though she wanted to travel to Hollywood to be an actress and storyteller from an early age, Bob convinced her to pursue her interest in nursing first. Bonnie followed his advice and was newly into nursing school at age 18 when Bob unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and died.
Recalling the experience on “Christopher Closeup,” Bonnie endured near-total despair and felt angry at God, asking, “How could you take our dad?!” She also decided to quit nursing school. Her motivation for that career died with Bob. Bonnie’s mom, Alice, convinced her to at least go back to school for one more week in honor of Bob. On her first day back, Bonnie regretted her decision when one of her instructors took her aside and said, “You know, Hunt, you’re not the only person whose father ever died, so buck up...You can’t be telling people what’s going on in your life.” Though Bonnie accepted these orders without complaint, she felt pained at the heartlessness of the comments.
Then, the time came for the nursing students to be assigned the patients they would care for. Though there were hundreds in the hospital, Bonnie was directed to a man named Mr. O’Brien. After she introduced herself, he cheerfully called her “my Bonnie lass” and told her he was “doomed” because he had terminal cancer. Bonnie was shocked by how casually he spoke of his own impending death, but Mr. O’Brien explained, “I feel lucky to have cancer…I’m Irish, and there’s a lot we don’t say to our families. We’re kind of stoic. But now I’ve been able to tell my boys how much I love them and tell my bride…I had a friend who died suddenly, and he’d always talk about his kids as his greatest accomplishment. He didn’t get to say goodbye, and I’m getting that opportunity.”
Bonnie developed a real affection for Mr. O’Brien. When she learned he worked at the Board of Education, which was where her father had worked, she broke the rules her instructor had given her by asking him if he knew Bob Hunt. Mr. O’Brien touched Bonnie’s arm, saying, “That’s the man who died suddenly that I’ve been speaking about.”
Bonnie and Mr. O’Brien cried together about Bob’s death and this unlikely connection between the two of them. She decided she couldn’t leave Mr. O’Brien, so she stayed his student nurse until his death a few months later. Bonnie told me, “When I look back at my life, becoming a nurse defined me in so many ways and gave me a more thoughtful approach to life. And patients gave me a deep perspective. I really believe in divine intervention because I think my Dad got to heaven and said, ‘Don’t let her go to Hollywood! Can we find anyone within a five mile vicinity that could stop her?!’ Somehow, they found this one patient out of 500. I mean, I was assigned one patient!”
That connection also helped Bonnie begin to resolve her anger at God and her grief in general. Though she went on to a successful career in Hollywood in movies like “Return to Me” and “Cheaper by the Dozen,” she still relies on her nursing skills in both personal and professional settings. She added, “Until this day, whenever I experience great sadness...the thing that helps me the most is to help someone else.”
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