Celeste and the hummingbird: remembering a beloved sister in the heart of Tucson

I parked my electric blue car outside one of the colorful barrio homes on a hot and muggy afternoon. I took out my camera bag and my water bottle, and slugged quickly as I sat on the warm sidewalk. I was getting ready for my first session of the afternoon and I was excited to meet a mother and her little daughter, whom I first met via instagram. Going from the screen to real life has been one of the best things that the internet has allowed us to do, and for an introvert like me, making friends has never been a more rewarding experience.

They introduced themselves. Mia, the star of the show, wore a white cotton dress embroidered with bright, colorful flowers. She was accompanied by her mother and tia. “We just got to Tucson. We came all the way from Phoenix to have a session with you.” Michelle, Mia’s mother, had contacted me via instagram, and since her profile didn’t show a location, I simply assumed she was a local. This was the first time that someone had traveled to Tucson exclusively for my portrait work and I was eager to hear their story.

As we felt the warm breeze on our faces, we walked around Barrio Viejo sipping cold carbonated water and sharing stories. Michelle played “Como la flor” on her cellphone, and Mia twirled around to the Selena hit. We talked about were our families were originally from; mine from Cananea and Bavispe; theirs from Cumpas, all of which are located in the beautiful and arid state of Sonora, Mexico.

Michelle also told me about her only sister, Celeste, who passed away 5 years ago. Mia wore a silky black dress with hummingbird details on it. Hummingbirds are special to the family, because it is a way to pay homage to the beautiful spirit of Celeste. “The meaning of a hummingbird is fitting for our Celeste and we wholeheartedly believe our daily visits or sightings in out of the ordinary places of these dainty birds are reminders that Celeste remains close.”

Celeste, as Michelle told me, was a giver in all aspects of her life. "There was nothing she did not share with those around her...nothing."  To memorialize her generosity, Celeste became a organ donor and gave another chance at life to four other people. While Michelle’s family remain so proud of her selfless act, they continue to grieve her.  “Grieving her is loving her.”

Having lost my father a little over a year ago, the pain of losing someone you love was familiar to me. However, their way of remembering Celeste was special. They wanted to make sure that Celeste was present in this photo shoot, and she certainly was. Her favorite music was played, the bright colors of downtown Tucson served as backdrops, and there were definitely hummingbirds to honor her beautiful spirit.

At the end of the session, I hugged the three ladies and thanked them for sharing such a personal story with me. I love the ways that the internet connects people and stories to let us know that we’re never alone in our tribulations. I will remember Michelle’s love for her sister, and her desire to keep Celeste’s always close to their hearts by honoring her memory every day, but most especially through hummingbirds. After all, it is the bird that is always moving, but despite all the hard work, it still hums, flies and dances.  



From Michelle Montijo, Celeste's bereaved sister:

“Our love transcends our physical connection, our love is a testament to her everlasting place in our lives and hearts. It has been 5 years since my only sibling Celeste Machiche,  sub came to a traumatic brain injury she sustained as a result of a car crash.  Celeste was a giver in all aspects of her life there was nothing she did not share with those around her...nothing.  She memorialized her generosity in her final act of charity by being a registered organ donor and giving life to four others.  Celeste  is missing from every aspect of our lives, she always will. Grieving her is loving her.

Families who have lost a loved one are often plagued with fear that their beloved will be forgotten, that their names will no longer be said so it's  our hope Celeste's love and name live on.  We speak her name daily and strive to weave bits and pieces of her in all we do.”

To each of you, thank you for making a space in your heart for Celeste's memory.  May Celeste inspire giving in ways that are authentic to you. May she remind you to reach out to your family or friends who are missing a beloved, giving you the courage and compassion to speak of their loved one using their name often.  Or if you find yourself compelled to register or reaffirm your commitment for organ donation or learn more about Celeste, please visit: https://www.liveonaz.org/stories/celeste-machiche/?lang=en