Special Reports

One year later: Bonnie Fuller struggles to live with loss after her son's sudden death

Bonnie Fuller always figured she'd have a premonition if one of her children were ever in danger. A chill down her spine, a twinge in her neck, a loss of breath.

But there is no warning on Jan. 31, 2000.

Roused by soft music on her clock radio that cloudy Monday morning, Bonnie rolls out of bed at 4:30 and into another day. Even with the usual bumps, things could hardly be better for her. At 51, she has her health, a good job, a loving husband. Her three children are grown and promise her grandchildren.

After a shower, she dresses, pours a cup of coffee and leaves her home near Graham. She pulls into Boeing's Frederickson plant shortly before 6 for her shift assembling tail sections of airplanes.

During her afternoon break, Bonnie excitedly tells a friend that her son and his fiancee are flying home from a three-week vacation in Mexico.

"They're traveling right now," she thinks, noticing it's around 1:30.

An hour later Bonnie's shift ends and she heads off in her green, 1999 Dodge Ram pickup to her physical therapist. As her son's plane skirts the coastline northwest of Los Angeles, she's enduring a painful session on her shoulder, damaged after years of heavy lifting at work.

On the drive home about 5, she tunes the radio to the news. The station carries vague, hurried reports about a plane crash off the California coast.

She barely listens.

Learning the worst

Back in her kitchen, crowded with knickknacks and cooking pots, Bonnie chats on the phone as she starts dinner. She ignores her call waiting, thinking it's her husband, Rick, calling to needle her about fouling up at work and bringing down another Boeing jet.

Finally, she takes the call.

"What flight are the kids coming back on tonight?" Rick asks.

Bonnie's heart races. She doesn't know.

She starts making phone calls. She leaves frantic messages at her son's Seattle home, trying to reach the house sitter who has the information. Stunned, she sways in front of the TV and watches news updates.

A jetliner has crashed into the ocean. There are no signs of survivors. The plane was headed to Seattle.

She drops to her knees. Please, God, she prays, don't let my son be on that plane.

Arriving home at 6:30 p.m., Rick finds his wife scared and crying. After two tense hours, he reaches the house sitter, who checks the flight itinerary and comes back sobbing. Rick hangs up the phone and grasps Bonnie.

"They were on it," he says.

Bonnie buckles. Only Rick keeps her from falling. The couple alerts their 26-year-old daughter, Tori, and the family rushes to Sea-Tac Airport. No one says much during the long drive through the darkness.

In Bonnie's mind, desperate optimism fights with her sense of reality.

"It was just a mistake," she tells herself over and over. "They're fine."

When the family reaches the airport, Bonnie finds herself in the middle of a maze of reporters and TV camera crews.

Alaska Airlines employees and security guards meet them. Rick, 56, quietly directs his wife through the crowd, supporting her with a hand and a steady demeanor. A wide-eyed Tori silently follows with her boyfriend, Dave Stone.

The employees whisk the family up an elevator and into a meeting room slowly filling with friends and relatives of passengers on Flight 261. Bonnie and her family sit at one of the tables and wait.

At one point, an Alaska employee introduces himself. He asks for the name of their "traveler," then walks off to check the passenger list. The family prays Monte Donaldson, 31, and Colleen Whorley, 34, are not on it.

While the Fullers wait they spot a man who resembles Colleen. They speak and learn he's Colleen's brother, Todd. He joins them and they wait some more.

In the meantime, Bonnie calls her other daughter, Desirae Donaldson, who goes to school in San Francisco. She reaches the 29-year-old Desirae on her cell phone and tells her middle child to sit down.

"That airplane that went down, we think Monte and Colleen are on it," Bonnie says.

"They just can't be on it," Desirae replies, her words rushing out. "They just can't be."

"We're hoping that, too," Bonnie says.

After several minutes, the Alaska employee confirms Bonnie's worst fear - Monte and Colleen are listed on the flight. Bonnie's head falls into her hands, the bad news plunging her heart into blackness.

Drowning in tears

The next morning, dark clouds hang low over the family's homestead, six acres of land lined with fenced pastures and alive with animals.

A light blue wheelbarrow inscribed with "FULLER'S" welcomes visitors. Today, the closed gate at the driveway shields the family huddling in the one-story, cream-colored house with green trim.

Inside, Bonnie turns on the TV and never switches it off that day, listening for the latest news on the crash.

"I can't not watch it," Bonnie says.

The rescue effort continues, involving dozens of boats. Searchers hear pings from the jet's black boxes and seek them in 700 feet of water.

There are no survivors among the 88 on board. Searchers find four bodies - one man, two women and an infant - and line them up in black body bags on shore.

Which one is Monte? she wonders.

Images of the crash play over and over on the TV, with footage of debris bobbing on the fuel-stained ocean.

"I just know some of Monte's things are floating in that," Bonnie says.

The phone rings steadily as his family mills around their Graham home. Friends and relatives console Bonnie, adding their tears to hers. Floral arrangements arrive by the bushel, their aroma filling the house.

Bonnie has no strength for small talk. Sadness shrouds her. Hesitant and restless, she absently rubs her fingers.

"This has been terrible," says Bonnie, blonde and gray curls framing her face, her eyes distant. "But I am sure there are going to be worse days ahead."

The activity around her slowly consumes Bonnie, who struggles to breathe and concentrate. People talk to her and she thinks she answers, though the words don't always make it past her lips.

Alaska workers assigned to help the family call or come by. They bring coffee and fresh doughnuts. Bonnie's grateful for their help.

Later that day, Rick and Bonnie drive to Sea-Tac to pick up Desirae.

When the plane pulls to the gate, Desirae's legs turn to rubber. Sobbing, she can't rise from her seat. Alaska Airlines employees help her off the plane and into her mother's arms.

The next day, the National Transportation Safety Board hosts a conference call to update the families. The Ventura County medical examiner tells them all 88 people aboard died when the plane hit the water.

The examiner says 200 to 300 body parts have been recovered and explains how they will be identified. One family member asks when the bodies will be returned home. Once they're identified, an official answers, noting it could take weeks, even months.

Stunned by the words, Bonnie slumps into a chair.

"I realized my son was in pieces," she says.

Alaska offers to fly the family to California to see the crash site and attend a memorial service. At first, Bonnie rejects the idea.

"What good would it do me?" she asks, choking back tears.

Tori agrees.

"Their souls aren't at the crash site," she says. "They're right here with us."

Bonnie's relatives tell her she'll regret missing the service and, after some thought, she gives in. The family boards an Alaska Airlines plane and flies to Los Angeles four days after the last Flight 261, the flight number forever retired after the crash.

Some of the family worry about flying an Alaska plane so soon after the crash. But not Bonnie.

"I was in so much pain," she says, "that if it went down, so be it."

Bonnie and a boy who loved music

Throughout her life - from a kid riding horses to a mom raising kids - Bonnie was happy, outwardly and inwardly.

"She loved everybody and everybody loved her," says Betty Ulleberg, Bonnie's mother.

Born March 25, 1948, in Seattle, Bonnie Bradshaw grew up in Auburn and Federal Way. She was the middle of three girls and often dreamt of saving animals as a vet.

As a teenager, she met Richard Donaldson, who was a year ahead of her at Federal Way High School. The two dated for a couple years and married shortly after Bonnie graduated.

The newlyweds moved to Tacoma and turned to starting their family. Bonnie enrolled in cosmetology school and worked as a hairdresser.

In 1968, Bonnie gave birth April 1 to her first child. The baby boy arrived three weeks early and weighed 61/2 pounds. Bonnie and Richard named him Monte Lane.

Bonnie had a miscarriage six months before becoming pregnant with Monte. Wary of another blow, this time she'd gathered only a few diapers and clothes. I may never bring that baby home, she thought.

By Monte's second birthday, Richard and Bonnie - pregnant with Desirae -- had separated. They soon divorced.

A short time later, Bonnie, working as a waitress at the Cortina Villa restaurant on Pacific Avenue, met Rick Fuller. The two quickly fell in love and married March 25, 1972. Monte started calling Rick "Dad."

Within a year, Bonnie and Rick had Tori and moved their young family to Graham in a lush valley at the foot of Mount Rainier.

Monte was 5 when he got a little sister and a new home. The blond-haired boy, who his mom nicknamed "Monte Magoo," delighted in the antics of Tigger, the bouncing tiger in the Winnie the Pooh stories.

He raised all kinds of dogs and cats - plus rabbits, goats, turkeys, chickens and horses. He especially loved a rabbit named Bernice.

For more than three years, Monte and Bernice earned 4-H ribbons, topped off at the 1978 Pierce County Fair with a grand championship. He also showed Bernice in statewide competitions at the Puyallup Fair.

Over the years, Monte played soccer, baseball and tried basketball. His hair turned a dark brown. He was smart but didn't focus on his school work. His teachers frequently told Bonnie he would get better than average grades if only he applied himself.

At Bethel High School, Monte lost interest in athletics, his attention diverted to music. He mainly enjoyed the drum-and-guitar bands of the time - Bon Jovi and Ratt - the flashier the better.

After a while, New Wave music captured him. He started collecting dozens of vinyl records and, with a friend, played them at the Pacific Breeze, a teen club in Tacoma.

Monte's relationship with his mom took a hit when he went through a rebellious streak in high school. He let his naturally wavy hair grow and occasionally wore makeup to school. His clothes ranged from paisley to all black.

During his sophomore year, he noticed a friend getting better grades after he worked at it. Monte started studying at home and his marks climbed as well.

He graduated in 1986. A few months later he lugged some of his records and clothes to a cramped dorm room at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Before long, spinning records won out over writing essays and reading textbooks. He landed an early-morning music show on the college radio station.

One day during his freshman year, Monte called home, catching Bonnie at a bad moment. She'd just spilled a pot of coffee when the phone rang. Cursing the caller, she picked up the phone.

"Just calling to tell you I love you," Monte told Bonnie, the words turning mother and son into friends again.

At Western, Monte met Colleen Whorley, who was three years ahead of him at the school. "She's my soul mate," he told Bonnie after he'd started living with Colleen.

Monte dropped out of Western after two years to focus on music. He played in a band called "The Poet, the Lover, the Lunatic." Monte was the poet.

After a couple years, he moved to Seattle and fine-tuned his skills as a disc jockey. He was a regular at several downtown Seattle nightclubs and among the DJs who brought club music from the underground to the forefront of the city's music scene.

Playing off the term for measuring the electric force in the brain, he adopted the moniker "DJ EEG," based on his belief in the power of music to alter the psyche.

"Music is a living entity; fluid and breathing, an ally, a true friend," Monte once said in an interview with The Stranger, one of Seattle's alternative newspapers.

He preferred playing downbeat, atmospheric music over hip-hop or rap, and loved sharing his arrangements with others. He frequently offered to perform for free so people could learn from his music.

"He had a lot of soul," says Desirae, who shared her brother's interests in music. "He was real passionate about what he was doing."

During the day, Monte was a freelance landscaper, earning off-and-on paychecks doing maintenance work and suggesting how to spruce up yards.

He was independent, a loner some said, but never shy about showing his emotions. For no special reason, he'd phone his mother or send his grandmother a card.

He embraced a tradition started by his late grandfather, who took his grandchildren to Dash Point to pick fresh trilliums. Monte took to bringing the wild three-petal flowers to family gatherings.

At Colleen's urging, Monte started exploring the world, beginning in 1999 when he and some friends made a six-week trip to Southeast Asia.

"Found the closest thing to paradise on Ko Bulon, Thailand," Monte wrote Jan. 21 in an e-mail to his mom and others. "Nothing to do here except crawl to the next meal and in between meals reading, swimming and looking out for the donut lady to bring the only chocolate on the island."

Before long he wanted to get away again - this time with Colleen. He wanted to escape some of the responsibilities of adult life - looking for a career, paying a mortgage, preparing for a marriage.

His excitement bubbled at the thought of their trip to Mexico. The last time he saw Bonnie they talked about the vacation over dinner at the Red Lobster in Federal Way. As they left the restaurant, Bonnie told Colleen she'd help anyway she could with the wedding.

"I love you," Bonnie told her son, hugging him tightly for what turned out to be the last time.

Monte and Colleen flew to Mexico on Jan. 11, 2000, and spent the first week with her family in Puerto Vallarta before setting off with just a backpack each. Colleen wanted to show Monte parts of the country she'd explored before.

Monte relaxed on Mexico's sun-drenched beaches. His worries disappeared with a cool cerveza, an authentic meal and a joint rolled from marijuana he'd bought in the beach town of Playa Zipolite in Oaxaca.

As the vacation ended, he wanted to stay longer and started planning a second trip.

Two families gather

Four days after the crash, Bonnie gazes out the window of another Alaska Airlines flight, this one taking her to California for a memorial service for her son.

The clouds make everything look so peaceful, she tells herself.

Once they land, Bonnie and her family are shuttled to a nearby hotel where rooms are reserved for the families of Flight 261 victims. The hotel staff issues Bonnie an Alaska Airlines name tag.

In the crowd, she runs into Colleen's brother, Todd, and the rest of the family. Bonnie has never met Patty and John Sanchez or even seen a photo of Colleen's mother and stepfather. Monte and Colleen talked about getting the families together for a summer picnic or barbecue but things never worked out.

Bonnie walks over to Colleen's mother.

"Patty?" she asks softly. "I'm Bonnie."

The two embrace for a long moment and then cry.

Colleen was the youngest of Patty's three children. A free spirit like Monte, Colleen was a graphic arts designer at Microsoft, an environment where she honed her love for photography.

Her knack for taking pictures meshed with her passion for travel. She'd gone to Mexico four times before the January trip with Monte. From each destination, whether Ireland, Spain or Morocco, Colleen brought home rolls of film and longed to show others her shots. She displayed her photography at several local galleries and shared it with her family in homemade calendars.

Her creative streak included designing her wedding dress and invitations. Sketches of the Victorian-style gown lay atop wedding books and magazines stacked on her desk at home.

Bonnie thought of her future daughter-in-law as an Irish princess with curly, auburn locks, creamy complexion and soft smile.

"You knew this was not just a usual person," Bonnie says. "She was elegant, although she was very simple at the same time."

Trinkets from the heart

Eighty-eight doves sweep across the blue sky and over the sun-dappled ocean. Watching them, Bonnie and her family sit with more than 800 people at Pepperdine University in Malibu for the memorial service Feb. 5.

Afterward, Monte's and Colleen's families drive to the Port Hueneme beach, the spot closest to the crash site. Bonnie awkwardly walks onto the white, sandy beach in her dress clothes and heels. A few surfers bob on the waves, but Bonnie doesn't notice.

Colleen's family builds a bonfire to keep warm as the sun slips lower. In tribute to Colleen's heritage, the group stands in a circle, holds hands and sings Irish carols, sometimes finding it hard to get the words out.

Each relative collects some sand and sea water. Tori scours the beach for shells and rocks, finding a heart-shaped stone she gives to her mother.

"Look what Monte left for you," Tori says.

The next day, Rick suggests they all go to Disneyland to relax. Bonnie rides the Space Mountain roller coaster. The darkness, flashing lights and noise as the cars climb the mountain remind her of the crash.

Surprisingly, it soothes her.

"When we were going toward a white light, I felt Monte telling me this was how it was and to put my torturous worries out of my mind," Bonnie says.

As the family stands in line for another ride, a woman and her young daughter notice Bonnie's name tag. They ask whether she works for Alaska Airlines. Bonnie says she's the mother of a Flight 261 crash victim.

Later, the little girl approaches and tugs on Bonnie's arm. She hands Bonnie a Piglet watch and Tigger key chain.

"She wants you to have it," the girl's mother says.

Bonnie sees a message in the gesture.

"It was like through her, Monte and Colleen gave me a gift," she says.

Saying goodbye

Bonnie flies home and her thoughts turn to flowers, food and invitations.

A week ago, she was thinking about what Monte and Colleen would need for their wedding. Now she's thinking about their memorial service.

The families reserve the Stimson-Green Mansion, a three-story, ivy-covered house in Seattle where the couple intended to exchange wedding vows. The memorial service is set for Feb. 12.

That winter morning, clouds dim the sky as Bonnie and her family get ready at home.

Munching on breakfast, Rick sits at the kitchen table amid newspapers, dishes and plants. As usual, he says little.

Desirae quietly joins Rick. In a show of independence, she keeps her dyed-blonde hair in a buzz cut and says she's sometimes mistaken for a boy. She's partial to dark colors, trendy pants and clunky boots.

Desirae considered Monte her best friend and each looked out for the other. Their free-spirited philosophies of life differed from the rest of the family and each ventured away from their small-town upbringing.

Desirae has not cried much since he died.

"I didn't want to see pictures or have memories," she says. "I just wanted Monte back. I was tired of the tears and hugs. I just wanted him to walk in and hug me."

Bonnie, clad in blue pajamas, has the TV tuned to the local news.

Inspections continue on the tail sections of Alaska Airlines MD80s, the same series as Flight 261. Federal investigators order the checks after finding problems with the downed jet's horizontal stabilizer, the wing-like segment of the tail that makes the nose point up or down. Medical investigators identify the remains of 42 of the 88 people aboard the plane.

Neither Monte nor Colleen is among them.

In one corner of the living room sits a box stuffed with newspaper clippings and topped with a printout of the Flight 261 passenger list. Flowers cover table tops and overflow onto the floor.

No one says much as the family dresses. Their dozen pets, which usually long for attention, barely make a sound.

Tori floats in and out of the house, often heading back to the fifth-wheel camper in the driveway where she and Dave are living temporarily.

Tori loves the rural life and enjoys riding horses and four-wheeling. Unlike Desirae and Monte, she hasn't ventured far from country life. A dental assistant, she's studying at Pierce College to be a hygienist. Her artistic side comes out through arts and crafts.

Dressed in a gray wool suit, Bonnie fiddles with the Winnie-the-Pooh trinkets, now connected by a silver chain. Eventually, she puts them around her neck.

The phone rings with friends looking for directions to the mansion.

"I didn't know we had this many friends," Rick says. "It's a crying shame it takes something like this."

The family travels to Seattle and gathers at the mansion. During the private service, David Kirkham, one of Colleen's cousins, stands near the hearth in the hushed room and reads a poem, "Points of Light," he wrote after the crash.

Those of us who remain must take a positive step

towards carrying on that spirit Monte and Colleen had

That spirit of adventure, that spirit of life, that spirit of love. ...

Do not let the hopes of those loved ones perish in the ocean.

Let their hopes be 'Points of Light' in the darkness,

guiding us to keep their memories alive.

Guiding us to be here for each other. Guiding us to love."

Others sing "Angel" and "When Irish Eyes are Smiling."

Afterward, the families welcome friends. Monte and Colleen's black Lab, Lucy, greets many of the guests, who smother the dog with kisses and attention.

Muted conversations drift through rooms decorated with flowers and the photos of Monte and Colleen. A man in a kilt plays the bagpipes as he slowly walks through the house. Old friends of Monte's hug Bonnie and tell her stories of her eldest child.

Later, Bonnie and her family drive to the Alibi Room, a Seattle club where Monte was a resident DJ. In a packed room, they watch a slide show honoring Monte and Colleen, his recordings playing in the background.

"I felt bad that I never went to see Monte play," Bonnie says. "I always figured I would go with Colleen."

'The rest of our lives together'

For years, Monte and Colleen worked to meld their lives. College friends on the road to marriage, they bought a house and talked of kids and a long life together. Now their families face the task of disassembling that life.

The week after the memorial service Bonnie and Desirae rent a van and drive to the couple's house in northeastern Seattle to haul away some of Monte's things.

"He kept everything so nice and tidy," Bonnie says, going through his closet. "That's neat."

As she and Desirae fill boxes with his records and clothes, chimney smoke billows into the cold February air. In the home's dining nook, friends have arranged flowers, posters and mementos on a wooden table Colleen's family owned for years.

Monte and Colleen discovered the dark brown, A-frame house during a walk with Lucy in the quiet Wedgewood neighborhood.

"They were absolutely beside themselves when they found this place," Bonnie says.

They bought the two-story home in December 1998, seven years after their friendship blossomed into romance.

Initially, as their feelings for each other grew, both were nervous and told the same friend they didn't want to risk destroying a good thing. The friend persuaded Monte to pursue Colleen.

He did.

"He thought the world of Colleen," says Ulleberg, Monte's grandmother.

Knowing her son had serious girlfriends before, Bonnie was guarded with Colleen at first. She didn't want to grow too attached too soon.

But, like the rest of Monte's family, she did.

"There was a gentleness about her," Bonnie says. "She was just genuine."

Monte and Colleen loved to go on weekend getaways or sit in front of the fireplace in their home. They also enjoyed visiting Bonnie and Rick's cabin in Packwood, south of Mount Rainier.

As a Christmas present in 1993, Monte gave Bonnie and Rick a journal to leave at the cabin so visitors could share their explorations. Monte and Colleen often detailed their long hikes in the forest, leisurely times in front of the fireplace and playful outings with Lucy.

"This was yet another wonderfully short sabbatical away from the world of concrete, money hustling, greed and despair," Monte wrote Nov. 26, 1995. "I have determined that this is the time of year I like best up here at the cabin. So green, so wet, so foggy - so, so moody!"

For years, Monte sidestepped a formal commitment. He loved Colleen and they talked about marriage, but he didn't propose, frustrating Colleen. Let's get married already, she urged him.

Bonnie also dropped hints. A couple of times Monte asked what she wanted for Christmas.

"A wedding invitation," Bonnie needled.

"When the time is right," Monte always replied.

He came around during his 1999 trip to Southeast Asia.

"Everything I see I think of you," Monte wrote in one of the many postcards he sent Colleen. "I am enjoying myself but miss you terribly. At times when I see a couple embracing in tropical waters I get little pains in my side. When I see a couple arm and arm walking toward the sunset, I shed a few tears....

"It felt so good, ecstatic to know that we are together, you and me. And to know that we'll spend the rest of our lives together. And to know that I am with you because you are so incredible, too incredible for words. I love you more than I express. Monte."

Months later, Monte awoke early on a warm morning over the Labor Day weekend. He slipped downstairs and cooked breakfast. He ordered Colleen to stay in bed and brought her the meal.

Then he asked her to be his wife. They set the wedding date for Sunday, Sept. 10, 2000.

After everyone leaves

Finally, two weeks after the crash, the chaos around Bonnie and her family eases.

The NTSB updates for the families stop. The phone doesn't ring as often. The medical investigators continue their work, with 47 passengers and crew members identified so far.

The Alaska Airlines employees assigned to watch over Bonnie and her family return to work or take time off. She thinks they'll be family friends forever.

"They're grieving, too," Bonnie says. "They had to put all that on the back burner to be strong for us, which was nice."

Desirae returns to San Francisco and Tori and Rick go back to work.

"We're on the last leg of getting back to normalcy," Bonnie says.

Still, she's not yet ready to return to her job and stays home alone. She keeps busy with chores - making dinner, doing the laundry and, as always, feeding the four dogs, five horses and seven cats.

"I couldn't imagine not having them with me," Bonnie says. "They're a part of me."

As her numbness fades after the crash - which Bonnie always refers to as "The Accident" - she has trouble focusing. Overwhelmed, she gets extension after extension on filing her income taxes.

Occasionally, Bonnie looks through a plastic bin in the corner next to her worn, brown couch. The box is filled with Monte's folded clothes, including a pair of Banana Republic wool slacks, a tan vest and earth-tone shirts.

"His style of clothing was kind of hippie with a little bit of money," Bonnie says.

A black guest book sits atop the clothes. On the cover is a photo of Monte and Colleen on a boat in Puerto Vallarta. Looking at the photos, it bothers Bonnie that he and Colleen will never grow older.

"It's such a waste of two beautiful people," she says.

She has designed thank-you cards, using a photo Desirae took of Monte and Colleen, for those who sent flowers, condolences or presents. Slowly, she works her way through a box of neatly organized cards, trying to personalize each.

"It's not going to be enough," Bonnie says of the 200 cards she had printed.

The house is silent but is still Bonnie's refuge.

"I didn't want to get back into the world again," she says.

Her emotions churn. They flare, then fade as her moods change or her attention drifts. Her thoughts take odd turns - she fears Tori or Desirae thought she wished one of them had died instead of Monte. Bonnie loses her appetite, even though friends stock the house with food. Recollections of Monte and Colleen leave her weeping.

"They're OK," Bonnie keeps telling herself. "We're the ones that aren't OK."

She regrets she didn't see her son more.

"I viewed him as living so far away," Bonnie says. "I just as easily could have gone up to see him more often."

She can't ask Monte about the crash and what he went through in those final moments. Was he praying? Did he write something to his family on a slip of paper? Did he look into Colleen's eyes in a moment of calmness among the chaos?

She prays for a connection - a dream, a nightmare, a sign.

Something.

Anything.

Nothing comes.

Jolts and anger

Nearly a month after their deaths a postcard from Monte and Colleen arrives in the mail.

"Hello Hello," Monte writes. "Having a blast traveling, eating food that is out of this world, immersing ourselves in rich Mexican folklore.... Hope all is well. Miss and love you."

"The sunshine is drying out our rainy disposition," Colleen adds. "Wish we could stay until June. Cheers."

The postcard hits Bonnie hard.

"You think you're handling everything OK, but then something silly happens and you just fall apart," she says.

In late February, Bonnie ventures back to work.

"Being alone isn't always your friend," she says.

Bonnie has always worked, first doing odd jobs and then, seeing college bills stretching for years, holding down a full-time job with Boeing. She has been a machinist since 1988.

She sees the irony in her job and the crash that killed her son. But she doesn't blame Boeing for the crash, since McDonnell Douglas built the plane.

When she returns to the Frederickson plant, a few co-workers shy away. Others hug her and Bonnie cries every time. She spends the hours putting together the ribs of tail sections for planes, drilling holes, then placing fasteners and rivets into place.

"I'm kind of blessed that I'm still working," Bonnie says. "It focuses me in a different direction."

So far, the medical investigators have identified 52 of the 88 passengers and crew members. There is still no sign of Monte or Colleen. As the crash investigation continues, Bonnie learns more about the probable cause of the accident - a worn, 2-foot-long "jackscrew."

Investigators are focusing on the $57,000 part and an accompanying gimbal nut that helps control the horizontal stabilizer.

When recovered from the ocean, Flight 261's jackscrew looks frayed and as if it had not been greased. Investigators pore over the 8-year-old plane's maintenance records and question whether the jackscrew should have been replaced in 1997.

The details begin to harden Bonnie's opinion of Alaska Airlines.

At first, Bonnie and other families of Flight 261 victims praised the company for its attention to detail and round-the-clock support. Following international treaties, Alaska paid the families nearly $140,000 per victim in compensation.

But as Bonnie learns more she grows angry at the maintenance workers who didn't replace the jackscrew. She's also mad the pilots flew the plane for more than two hours after they had problems.

"There were so many opportunities to land," she says, her eyes welling up. "I just don't understand why the pilot didn't."

Her change in outlook takes her by surprise.

"I wouldn't have thought I would be mad at the pilot," Bonnie says. "I didn't even know him."

Despite her anger, Bonnie isn't ready to sue the airline as several other families have done.

"Putting a dollar amount on my son's life had such an ugly connotation," she says.

Nevertheless, the lawyers - from as far away as Florida, Illinois and California - find her. One firm's pitch comes via a white folder containing news stories on the crash, a booklet about wrongful death suits and testimonials from previous clients.

"Ambulance chasers," Bonnie says.

Death certificate

For nearly two months, Bonnie harbors the thought that somehow, somewhere, her son is OK. But over and over, the realities hit home.

The NTSB finishes its recovery work March 15. Crews have retrieved 90 percent of the destroyed jet from a patch of the ocean floor about the size of a football field. On land, investigators piece the 160,000-pound plane back together.

A California court grants the request of the medical examiner to issue death certificates for the passengers and crew. The office tells Bonnie and the other families to expect the notices shortly.

Monte's comes March 21.

A Federal Express employee drops the envelope off at Bonnie's house on a rainy Tuesday. Tori is there on her lunch break and leaves the envelope on the kitchen table.

The return address lists Kenyon International Emergency. The NTSB hired the Houston-based company to sort, clean and return to family members the personal effects of those killed.

Bonnie spots the envelope when she gets home, but pays little attention to it.

"I thought it was another ambulance chaser," she says, "so I just kept walking by it."

Later, while on the phone with Rick, Bonnie opens the envelope and sees 10 copies of her son's death certificate. A sickening feeling sweeps over her.

The words "COURT ORDER DELAYED REGISTRATION OF DEATH" top the certificate. The details are typed in small boxes. Name: Monte Lane Donaldson. Race: Caucasian. Gender: Male. Time and date of death: 4:22 p.m., Jan. 31, 2000.

Cause of death: "multiple traumatic injuries."

The spot for funeral arrangements is marked "pending."

Two days later, Bonnie's phone rings. It's Colleen's mom, Patty. The medical examiner's office just called and told her that, using dental records, investigators have identified part of Colleen's jaw.

The news wipes out Bonnie's last lingering hope that Monte did not board Flight 261.

"If they identified something of Colleen, Monte was definitely there," she says.

They'll be calling me soon, Bonnie thinks.

But no one does.

A trio of birthdays and a sad sale

Bonnie's grief shadows her through late March. Fretting over upcoming birthdays and holidays, she tries to cushion the impact by getting her crying out of the way early.

Bonnie turns 52 on Saturday, March 25. Friends urge her and Rick to go with them to Lake Tahoe to celebrate and relax. Bonnie resists and chooses instead to spend the day at home.

As a birthday present, Tori gives her mother a homemade memento of Monte and Colleen.

Tori glued several pictures to a piece of smoothed, oval wood. The centerpiece is a heart-shaped photo of the couple. The other photos are of Lucy, the sunset at Port Hueneme beach and 88 candles lit at the Pepperdine memorial.

Tori wreathed the photos with gold-tinted leaves.

The next week, Bonnie and Rick sign the papers finalizing the sale of their Packwood cabin. They're selling it because they weren't using it much. They had hoped Monte and Colleen would buy it some day.

"Monte just loved it there," says Bonnie, wearing one of his beige, long-sleeved shirts. "He liked the peacefulness and quiet."

Colleen would have been 35 on Thursday, March 30. Bonnie spends the day with one of her sisters exploring Anacortes. Heading home, they stop in Seattle to visit Patty and her husband, who have decided to buy Monte and Colleen's house.

Monte would have celebrated his 32nd birthday two days later. Afraid to fly since his death, Desirae manages to take a plane to Seattle for a joint birthday gathering at Monte and Colleen's house. Flying into Sea-Tac, she feels guilty about landing safely at the airport her brother never reached.

The morning of the birthday gathering, sunshine streams into Bonnie's house. The smell of bacon and eggs fills the kitchen as she makes her family breakfast.

"Ever since he died, I've been really wanting to just hold Monte," Desirae says, sitting down to eat. "Give him a hug, give me a kiss on the cheek."

Later, Bonnie clears away the breakfast dishes and makes a salad, slicing green onions and adding them to a bowl of precooked Top Ramen.

"I haven't felt like crying yet today," says Bonnie, dressed in jean overalls and a pink polo shirt. "I don't even think about the birthday now. A couple weeks ago, it would send me into inconsolable tears."

Not wanting Bonnie to mope around the house, one of her sisters suggests she plant flowers to help get through the day. Bonnie buys Star Gazer lilies for Monte and Colleen's house.

She also chooses a New Dawn climbing rose. It's popular with gardeners for its silky petals, blush pink color and fruity scent. But that's not why Bonnie picks it. It's a new dawn, she thinks, and we've got to go on now.

During the celebration in Seattle, Monte and Colleen's families plant trees and flower bulbs in the couple's flourishing garden. Afterward, they barbecue and tell stories.

Later, Bonnie and her family drive to Tori and Dave's new house in Yelm. They huddle around a bonfire. Bonnie reflects on the day after fretting about Monte's birthday for weeks.

"It makes me realize I can get through these things," she says.

For once, Bonnie skips her weekly call to the medical examiner's office to ask if they've found any of Monte's remains.

No holiday from pain

In her fight for peace, Bonnie turns to books and pamphlets about grieving. But they help little and unexpected moments often trip her up.

One comes at the grocery store when a clerk asks about the light blue ribbon Bonnie has pinned to her shirt. Telling her it's for her son, Bonnie starts to cry. In public, she tries to stop herself when she starts to "blubber." Only when she's alone or with family does she allow herself to let go.

Easter is the first big family holiday after the crash. Normally, Bonnie fills Easter baskets with goodies for each of her children. This year Bonnie avoids the tradition and Tori makes the baskets.

Bonnie eats Easter brunch with her relatives at a restaurant in North Tacoma. The extended family talks continuously, Bonnie fading in and out of the conversations. No one talks much about Monte.

Bonnie's emotions spike when a nephew talks about seeing a field of trilliums in a canyon near Dash Point the day of Monte and Colleen's memorial service in February.

She sees it as a message from her father: "I know you're going through a tough time, but here are the trilliums to show you I'm here."

When Mother's Day rolls around three weeks later, it's "just another day."

"It is not that I don't feel sad," Bonnie says. "I just don't feel any more sad today than I did yesterday."

Still, she wishes for a special connection with Monte. She prays her dreams will bring a Mother's Day present from him.

"But it didn't happen," she says.

Nevertheless, Bonnie delights in the day's pleasures - the warm sunshine, getting some chores done, the news that one of Dave's horses is pregnant. She spends the afternoon at her sister's house in Sumner, where her family gathers for strawberry shortcake. Children run in and out of the house.

Bonnie finishes sketching the design for a pendant to honor Monte and Colleen. Shaped like a crossed ribbon, it has a heart and two flying doves in the center. Each end of the ribbon holds two birthstones - one for each of her three children and Colleen.

She checks around to see what it would cost to make the pendant. At one jewelry store, an employee asks about the design. Is it supposed to be a mother pendant like many women have made with their children's birthstones? Are the doves important? Is one dove acceptable?

She avoids telling the story behind the pendant.

"I don't like to let the accident be the beginning of the conversation," Bonnie says.

Eventually, she mentions the inspiration for the pendant. The employee urges her to keep praying because God will make her stronger. She's heard that several times already.

"I'm getting kind of tired of that because I periodically get a little bit miffed at God," says Bonnie, a practicing Christian. "I don't know what kind of comfort I can get when I am feeling a little bit angry."

'Alaska murdered these people'

Transcripts of the radio calls about Flight 261's last seconds only fuel Bonnie's anger. The Federal Aviation Administration releases the records in May.

"We're in a vertical dive," one of the pilots tells an air traffic controller. "Not a dive yet - but ... uh ... we've lost vertical control of our airplane."

Two other pilots see the jet plunge toward the ocean.

"Plane's inverted, sir," one pilot tells a controller. "And he just hit the water."

Bonnie gets a copy of the transcripts before the FAA makes them public. She skims them but has her own vision of what happened when the pilots didn't respond to the controllers.

"I think at that point, angels came down and engulfed the airplane," she says.

Shortly after the transcripts are released, a former Alaska Airlines mechanic appears in a nationally televised interview. He talks about the airlines' maintenance practices and implies the jackscrew on Flight 261 should have been replaced after the 1997 inspection.

The news reports that the FBI has started a criminal inquiry into the airline's maintenance practices.

All this reinforces Bonnie's increasingly hostile opinion of Alaska Airlines.

"Alaska basically murdered the people on that flight, not intentionally but inadvertently," Bonnie charges. "They might as well have taken them out and shot them."

In Bonnie's mind, Alaska Airlines robbed her of her son, her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren.

"I hear testimony and see people give interviews 100 different ways," she says, "but it still comes down to my son's gone, Alaska's responsible and that's it."

As spring blends into summer, Bonnie's obligations mount. Her tables overflow with paperwork from law firms, the estate lawyer, Alaska Airlines and Kenyon International.

She learns that some information from the NTSB is being mailed to her former husband, Richard Donaldson, who doesn't pass it along to Bonnie. It's difficult for the former couple to communicate.

"In all honesty, though, chances are I wouldn't inform him of things either," she says. "I guess I'm no better than he is."

Hearing from the medical examiner doesn't help either. The office needs another two or three months to finish DNA testing on several hundred samples of human remains.

Two births the same week in June stab at Bonnie. Still, she's happy for the new mothers - a niece of Bonnie's and a friend of Tori's. She cooks and visits often so the women can relax and recover.

The new lives remind Bonnie that Monte and Colleen will never have the child they'd hoped would make them a family. It's so unfair, Bonnie thinks.

She makes a surprising connection to her son when she starts to use his cell phone. After dealing with paperwork problems and a faulty charger, she finally gets the phone to work - and hears Monte on the voice-mail greeting.

"You've reached King Monte the First," he says cheerfully. "Leave a message and I'll have a courier pigeon deliver one back."

Bonnie treasures the recording and keeps the greeting on the phone.

"It's important for me to have it to listen to," she says. "Sometimes I think I hear him talking to me."

In mid-July, Rick, a construction supply salesman, takes a different job with his company. He'll work full time in Central Washington and live on the family's farm near Okanogan. He doesn't want to leave Bonnie and the move further saddens her. But she encourages him anyway.

"For him the stress is much less," she says. "I'm all for it."

Back to California

Bonnie decides to join Colleen's family on a vacation to California.

For weeks, she looks forward to the trip. She'll be staying on the beach near Port Hueneme. She doesn't know exactly why she's going or what she hopes to find.

"There will be some significant healing or there will be something beneficial about doing this," she hopes.

Tori joins her mother on the trip, though she's nervous about flying. Tori fidgets throughout the 21/2-hour flight, tensing at the slightest sense of turbulence and religiously checking her watch.

"One hour, 55 minutes to go," Tori thinks. "One hour, 50 minutes to go."

The two women check into their hotel in Oxnard. Though again staying near the ocean, Bonnie seldom thinks about the crash.

"It's funny how days go by and I don't give the accident a second thought," she says.

Desirae plans to join her family but can't because of problems during a quick stay in England. She's there to clear up questions in her heart about her girlfriend, but is stranded with a standby ticket.

In Oxnard with little to do, Bonnie is drawn to the ocean. Fog loiters over the Pacific, hiding Anacapa Island and Point Mugu, the landmarks that bookend the crash site.

Bonnie spots an oil rig off shore near where Flight 261 went down. It reminds her of a salvage ship that helped with the recovery operation. The sight steals Bonnie's breath.

"Your emotions and mind stifle a bit," she says, "and then something will just bring it right back into reality."

Bonnie and Tori spend much of the afternoon with Colleen's family. It's like a picnic, Bonnie thinks, a day at the beach.

The sun lingers at the horizon, spilling streaks of orange into the ocean. Tori's thoughts turn to her brother.

"I go through times when I can't remember anything about him," Tori says. "That bothers me. Then I get vivid memories."

She remembers them horseback riding and him taking her to the store for candy - without charging her $5 like Desirae did. And once, when she was a kid, she got mad because he bounced her balloons on kitchen forks until they popped.

When the shock over Monte's death wore off, Tori wanted her boyfriend close.

"I would take a bath in the morning and couldn't control my crying," she says. "Then I would get so mad that I was crying over nothing."

Tori wears the engraved bracelet she gave Monte five years ago and keeps a stack of his clothes in her bedroom. Every night she speaks to a framed photo of Monte and Colleen on her nightstand.

Midway through their stay, Bonnie and Tori walk onto a rocky spit at Hollywood Beach. They want to say a private goodbye by throwing two bouquets of flowers and ash from the couple's fireplace - symbolizing their love - into the ocean.

"This is all the love you guys have and we're giving it back to you," Bonnie says softly.

The wind blows some of the ash back at Bonnie and Tori, powdering their faces and clothes. Tori whips her head away and spits the ash from her mouth. The women can't help but laugh a little.

Afterward, they walk up to a Tibetan prayer flag raised in honor of the crash victims. Attached to a white pole are the tattered remains of the blue flag and a small sign.

"People from around the country wrote blessings, prayers and heartfelt messages on the strips of cloth and sent them to be constructed into this memorial. There is one blessing or prayer for each person on the plane, 88 in all.

"It was placed here on Sunday, April 9, 2000, in loving memory to those who lost their lives and in hope of offering comfort to those who love them. Anacapa Island will forever be a grave stone in the Pacific.

"Please treat this with respect."

Strains and gains

Back in Graham, Bonnie turns away from outside events. The big stories on the evening news pass right by her, including the Air France Concorde crash that killed 109 people in July and a Gulf Air crash in which 143 people died in August in the Persian Gulf.

"My thoughts of missing my son and losing Colleen and my grandchildren get to a level that anything else is really a shame but doesn't make me feel worse," Bonnie says.

Increasingly, she's losing the emotional shield that came from hiding in her job. She can't focus on her work. She feels trapped. Her relationships with co-workers fray. Sometimes, she yells at a friend who criticizes her.

Co-workers don't know what to do and stay away just as Bonnie needs a hand. She often feels like running but stays and fights her tears, her isolation festering.

One day, in the last 30 minutes of her shift, Bonnie's stomach churns from the anxiety and she hurries from the plant.

"I got into the truck and just bawled and bawled and bawled," she says.

Many workdays end like that. She never knows what will trigger an attack.

Rick thinks Bonnie could shake off her grief.

"She's seems to carry it on," he says, at the same time acknowledging why she hurts. "She's the mother. He was her first born, her only boy."

Tori and Desirae try to protect and nurture their mom. Viewing from different perspectives - Desirae from a distance; Tori from nearby - each sees Bonnie reacting differently.

Tori finds Bonnie more panicky than before the crash, fretting when errands keep Tori from getting home right after work. Desirae sees her mom acting mechanically, going through the motions.

Their worries unite Desirae and Tori, who grew up fighting and rarely hung out together.

"We're good friends now instead of just being sisters," Tori says. "We've come to grips with how special family is."

Bonnie also grows closer to her daughters.

"She's my buddy," she says of Tori. "I really hated it when she moved to Yelm."

Both women have gained some weight, which mystifies Bonnie. Neither overeats. In fact, sometimes they have no appetite at all.

Bonnie worries about Desirae, living alone in San Francisco, working odd jobs to pay her rent. She calls Desirae each Sunday night to see how she's doing.

Nevertheless, tensions simmer between mother and daughter. Desirae angered Bonnie when she flew to England and missed the July trip to California. Desirae makes no apologies for living on her own terms and sometimes making erratic decisions.

"I know I put my family in a lot of grief," she says, "but I needed to get away."

The tough months strengthen Bonnie's relationship with Rick. In the days after the crash, he was steady, thoughtful and strong.

"It made me realize how much I loved him and how truly wonderful he is," Bonnie says. "It kind of turned a light on in me."

Now separated by hundreds of miles, Bonnie and Rick talk on the phone every night and see each other almost every weekend.

"Love you, sweetie," she says as she bids him good night.

Monte's backpack

Nearly seven months after her son's death, Bonnie learns Kenyon International is sending her the backpack he carried during his vacation. She's torn. She'll finally get to touch the last things he touched. But will they stink? Will they be in pieces?

Bonnie picks the backpack up from the lawyer handling his estate.

Kenyon workers used heavy detergent to wash away the pungent odor of jet fuel. They put each item and the hunter green pack itself in plastic bags and attached a white slip of paper to each. The slips list Monte's identification number - IAS 1191 - and a number designating each item.

Monte's biological father, Richard, has taken his son's passport and canvas rain hat. Bonnie and Tori bring everything else home in a paper grocery sack.

Hoping Monte wrote something to the family minutes before his death, Bonnie thumbs through his mangled travel journal as soon as she gets home.

The washings have reshaped the once-smooth and sturdy black cover into a lumpy mess. The cardboard spine is frayed and no longer holds the pages in place. Monte's words, mostly written in black ink, are faded.

"We spend our days there, sipping coffee, sunning, swimming and a few cervezas before heading off to dinner," Monte wrote Jan. 24. "Zipolite is nice to spend ultraromantic nights with your sweetheart arm in arm in the sunsets + hand in hand in the moonlight."

Bonnie finds extra meaning in his words.

"This says he was there," Bonnie says. "It's one more little bit of reality."

Four days later, on a warm summer day, Bonnie and Tori decide to open each plastic bag. Bonnie carries the grocery sack onto her back porch and arranges a picnic table and a couple of white wicker chairs.

"It gives me the creeps," Tori says, looking at the stack of packages.

Bonnie raises the backpack to the sun. She turns it over and peers inside. It's still usable, though the scent of detergent is strong.

She and Tori take out the items, smelling them, rubbing them and showing them around. Photos of Monte, Colleen and Mexican scenery are discolored. Some show only half of the original picture.

Several postcards have a dampened-then-dried look. The ink is smudged.

Monte's books - Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude," a Mexico guide book and a Spanish language dictionary - look and smell worse. The odors of fuel and detergent cling to the crumpled pages.

"I don't like the smell of them," Tori says. "With all that was in that water, you don't know what it is."

"This one almost smells like something deteriorating," Bonnie says, taking a whiff of the Mexico guidebook.

Bonnie's attention drifts to something else.

"He always wore these shoes," she says as she unpacks a pair of brown leather sandals with tire-tread soles.

Bonnie looks at a tattered address book and knows from the handwriting it's Colleen's. The book's metal spine is twisted and the tips of the pages are orange from the rusted metal.

The women keep pulling out things: Monte's Oral B toothbrush, its white bristles stained brown. His grooming bag, containing a shaver, charger, tweezers and scissors.

A green pair of shorts has yellowish blotches. Other items, including a rose-colored shirt from Thailand, are in near-perfect condition.

"Some of these things look new," Bonnie says. "I wonder if he bought them as gifts?"

As Bonnie works through the items, Tori grabs Monte's journal and reads it to herself.

"Here he talks about how much he pays for his laundry," she tells her mother.

At the bottom of the sack, Bonnie finds bags containing scraps of paper -- a money order, business cards from bed and breakfasts and a tanning salon.

There's also a folded copy of his driver's license. It's now a ragged piece of white paper, with a hole where Monte's address appeared.

"They're part of him, even though they were insignificant things," Bonnie says.

Bonnie thinks she can handle keeping most of the items around.

"If I can't get the odor out, then they're basically garbage," she says. "And yet I don't want to get rid of them. It's real tough to decide what to do."

Finally getting counseling

For months, Bonnie has put off grief counseling, saying her life is too hectic. The looming holiday season and the date of Monte and Colleen's wedding change her mind.

"Counseling was something I'd been dreading, yet at the same time, something I knew I needed to do," she says. "Facing Thanksgiving and Christmas without somebody to really lean on is just going to be ridiculous."

In August, she nervously goes to her counselor's office in Puyallup for her first session. The receptionist hands her a form. Bonnie pauses over the question: "What problems are you experiencing or what is it that brings you to counseling?" She writes, "the death of my son," and tears escape before she finishes the words.

Bonnie meets with the counselor for nearly an hour.

"Mostly, I just cried," she says. "It's the nature of the beast."

During the session, Bonnie realizes dealing with Monte's biological father over financial matters is adding to her grieving. The counselor also taps Bonnie's sense of helplessness in keeping her kids safe.

"When God calls you home, He calls you home," Bonnie says. "There's nothing you can do to gather the flock and keep them right here."

Over the next several months, she meets with the counselor every other week. The sessions leave Bonnie tired and guarded.

"I've puked up all my emotions," she says. "I get to where I feel exposed and it's very strange."

Though she appreciates the counselor's advice, some days Bonnie feels she doesn't need it anymore.

"Sometimes I feel pretty normal," she says. "I have days when I laugh and joke. I'm moving beyond the horrendous grief to remember the good things."

She also reaches out to the other families of crash victims living in the Puget Sound area. The relatives hold informal monthly gatherings in Seattle and Bellevue to talk about the crash investigation, legal issues and a Seattle memorial.

Bonnie watches the other relatives. Some, she thinks, are having more trouble dealing with their pain and grief than she is.

"Other people are torturing themselves over the last few moments," Bonnie says. "They're never going to heal if they keep feeling that."

By the time Bonnie starts counseling, both her daughters have been to several grief sessions on their own. Tori started in the spring; Desirae goes each Monday.

"It's my time to put myself first," Desirae says. "It's almost like my time with Monte."

Monte's biological father, Richard, still battered by Monte's death, begins counseling.

"I had a hard time dealing with my emotions," he says. "The grief doesn't go away. You relive a lot of stuff."

Bonnie's husband, Rick, fights his grief but remains the only one in Monte's immediate family who doesn't go to counseling.

"It's easier to cope with if it's not constantly in front of you," Rick says. "I just want to get it over with."

The wedding that never was

Monte and Colleen had set Sunday, Sept. 10, as their wedding day.

The short ceremony would start at 5 p.m. at the Stimson-Green Mansion. The rooms would be decorated with blue hydrangeas and lilies.

Monte would be dressed formally in a morning coat, Colleen in a Star Gazer lily headdress and the simple, off-white wedding dress she'd designed. They would exchange their own vows in front of teary-eyed relatives.

Afterward, good food and music would fill the mansion as the newlyweds, their families and their friends celebrated the new union.

It surely would have been a highlight of Bonnie's life. Now she dreads the day.

She thinks she's prepared. But the Friday before the wedding date, Bonnie clenches in a fit of tears after telling co-workers about the canceled ceremony.

A few hours later, Bonnie calls Colleen's masseur in Seattle after hearing he'd made a psychic link with Colleen. After playing phone tag, he leaves a phone message about his experience while in a trance.

"When the accident happened, Monte was very heroic and very much helping Colleen," the masseur says. "They were very bewildered and sorrowful. Monte is now far away. He's gone to a plane very high. He still has attachments and sorrow. ... Part of his sorrow is your sorrow. He is sad for you."

Nevertheless, the masseur says, Monte is basically OK. He will be reincarnated and will connect again with his mother.

The message soothes Bonnie. For years, she has believed people who die can communicate with their loved ones.

"As a surviving mother," she says, "I find comfort in it."

She'd never spoken to Monte about it but hopes he tries to reach her. Bonnie says her father did shortly after he died. She says it happened after she'd had a drink with some co-workers, something her father would have frowned on.

As Bonnie relaxed on the couch, a hanging plant fell from its hook and landed on her stomach. The hook hadn't broken and nothing had happened to jerk it free.

"It just flat got off that hook by itself," says Bonnie, who believes her father was sending her a message. "He was such a puritan."

A few hours after listening to the masseur's message, Bonnie lights two candles in her darkened living room and sits on the floor. She is alone with her dogs and cats. She focuses on Monte and Colleen and imagines their wedding in heaven.

She pictures the ceremony in a beautiful cathedral with angels serving as bridesmaids and attendants. The angels float down a long aisle carpeted with gold.

Instead of flower girls and ring bearers, cherubs throw out flowers as they giggle and glide along the aisles.

Monte stands at the altar, awaiting his beautiful bride. When Colleen appears, Monte is awestruck at the angelic sight.

"I am picturing the most beautiful wedding ceremony," Bonnie says. "No matter what we would try to do on earth, we could in no way capture the beauty I am seeing." Then Bonnie, who has fantasized about singing at Monte's wedding, softly recites a prayer.

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name," she sings. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Afterward, Bonnie says goodbye.

"Monte and Colleen, I love you," Bonnie says. "Thank you for indulging me for this probably very foolish - but for me, very important - few minutes. Have a good eternity."

On Sunday, the day she would have seen her eldest child marry, Bonnie eats dinner with Tori and her boyfriend. No one talks about Monte, Colleen or the canceled wedding.

"It would have been too emotional just to bring it up," Bonnie says.

Later that night, the words from the masseur's message replay in Bonnie's mind. She listens to his recording several times.

"This really got me through that wedding day," Bonnie says.

The following weekend, Rick returns home and attends a friend's wedding with Bonnie. As she sits in a pew and watches the ceremony, her thoughts are on Monte.

"I pictured Monte, God, Jesus and all his disciples," she says.

Bonnie normally cries at weddings but she tells herself repeatedly not to get emotional. This time she doesn't shed a tear.

Memorials and messages

The ribbon-shaped pendant Bonnie designed in May arrives in late October. She immediately hangs it from her neck and hasn't taken it off since.

She also wants to place a bench in Seattle's Magnuson Park, one of Monte and Colleen's favorite spots for walking Lucy. She'll have to wait to dedicate the bench until after a park renovation.

Bonnie and Colleen's mother plan to make a video of their children's lives. Music will play softly in the background while photos of the two fade in and out.

For a more private memorial, Bonnie plants flower bulbs on the Okanogan farm. She put in the New Dawn rose bush and later adds a sapling. She names the patch Monte and Colleen's Garden.

Monte's relatives also experience what they take to be mystical messages from him.

Bonnie thinks she's heard Monte's voice a couple of times since his death. Once she hears him while getting a massage from Colleen's masseur.

"Just be at peace, Mom," Monte tells her. "Be at peace."

"I never know if it's my imagination saying these things or if it's Monte," Bonnie says.

Another time she sees two heart-shaped mud puddles in her driveway and believes Monte is sending her a message. She also talks to him when she meditates.

"I think of Monte and Colleen and kind of chant, 'I love you, Monte and Colleen, I love you,'" Bonnie says. "And sometimes I can kind of see images of their faces."

Tori and Desirae think Monte tried to contact them a few nights before his birthday in April.

In Tori's encounter, she wakes up to music outside her bedroom door. Her boyfriend thinks it's an intruder. Tori disagrees.

"It's my brother," she says. "I know it."

Tori traces the music to an old music box playing in another room. The next day, the couple can't figure out how the music box played without anyone winding it.

Desirae has a vivid dream about Monte and Colleen in which they all ride a bus through a mountain range. Desirae questions them about the final moments of the flight. Monte tells her the pilot did everything he could to save the plane.

"He was incredible in the way he handled the situation," he says.

Desirae wakes up with goose bumps.

"It was nice to see them and talk to them," she says. "I really felt like I made contact."

Tori has her own dreams. In one, her family stands around a campfire and talks with Monte, who lounges in a lawn chair. He tells Tori how much he loves her and reassures her that she has a bright future.

The family takes several photos of Monte, but when the film is developed he does not appear in any of the shots.

But the strangest message is the one the family thinks Monte sent them in the minutes before Flight 261 crashed.

Desirae receives a seven-minute voice-mail message on her cell phone in San Francisco. It's a jumble of clanking sounds, whooshing air, noises that resemble a sputtering engine and muffled voices over a public address system.

Bonnie, Tori and Desirae believe Monte tried to call from an airplane phone. He either did not hang up the phone properly or dropped it as the jet plummeted.

FBI agents analyze the message and tell the family it was from a car phone, not the plane.

"I don't necessarily always believe the FBI," Bonnie says. "It would have been so much like Monte to call her, especially if he knew there was some problem."

'Unassociated Personal Effects'

In late October, Bonnie picks up a package at the post office. It's from Kenyon International.

Once home, she opens the box and finds a green, 3-inch binder, the "Unassociated Personal Effects Catalog."

It is stuffed with photos and lists describing 2,133 belongings that had been pulled from the ocean but not yet linked to any of the passengers or crew members on Flight 261.

"You elected to receive this catalog," a form letter emphasizes. The families are asked to examine the book and, if they find an item they recognize, complete and return a claim form. If more than one relative requests the same item, Kenyon warns, the company will seek documentary support. Arbitration will settle any disputes.

Kenyon divides the items into eight sections - electronics, jewelry, footwear, photos, "grouped items," articles marked with nonpassenger names, miscellaneous and textiles. The textiles section is the largest with 1,052 pieces of clothing.

Line after line, the company lists the item number, provides a short description, identifies its condition and gives a size, when appropriate. Then come pages of color photos.

All items are listed as damaged.

A Sony Discman CD player, broken headphones, a smashed camera, hair rollers, a chipped hair dryer, a damaged face for a cellular phone.

Bonnie clears off a spot on the dining room table and opens the catalog. She skims the electronics and footwear sections.

Nike running shoes, a little girl's rainbow-striped sandal, flip flops, a pair of black pumps and an orange tennis shoe.

There are 216 photos of shoes. Several have only one of a pair. Some are discolored, others mangled. Still others look worn but otherwise wearable.

"I don't have any idea what could be Monte's," Bonnie says.

She skips to the jewelry section. She's looking for her father's Mason ring, the one piece of jewelry Monte always wore. She scours the pages, intently studying each small photo.

The "best" half of a two-piece best friends pendant, a shell and silver ring, two watches frozen at 4:08, one shattered watch face stopped at 4:23, a cross and rosary, a Gucci watch face stopped at 5:23.

None of the items in the photos resembles a Mason ring.

Disappointed, Bonnie moves to the section of "grouped items" -- articles that were found together, like in a fanny pack, backpack or purse.

"As I look at these pictures," she says, passing a page of children's toys, "it brings so much to mind that this was avoidable, so avoidable."

Fish earrings, Lady Speed Stick deodorant, six pennies, a quarter and two dimes, a stringed puppet, a hotel pen, a cardboard Burger King crown, a scrunchie for a woman's hair.

"I haven't seen anything that jumps out at me and says, 'Monte!'" Bonnie says.

She shifts to the miscellaneous section and its 398 items. Her eyes land on a scrap of paper with handwriting that looks like Monte's. Scribbled on the paper is a Seattle phone number and the name "Desiree."

Bonnie marks the page with a sticky note and moves on.

Shattered hangers, an opened package of Doublemint gum, a child's drawing, a baby spoon and twisted baby bottle, a Harry Potter book, John Irving's "A Widow for One Year."

After several minutes, she flips through the 180-page textiles section.

Part of a buckle, a large Pacific Trail coat, a pair of tan Banana Republic shorts, a black Super Bowl XXXIV T-shirt, Calvin Klein briefs, a two-piece child's swimsuit.

"I feel like I'm going through someone's personal stuff," Bonnie says. "It makes me feel sick." She points to a pair of white socks with gray tips. "These are little guys', aren't they?"

She finishes looking through the book. She's tagged only one page. Nothing else looks familiar.

The holidays

Bonnie eases into the holiday spirit by starting her Christmas shopping list in late fall. This time Monte and Colleen's names are not on her list of presents to buy.

"It really bothers me that I didn't have their names on it," Bonnie says.

She decides to donate the money she would have spent on Monte and Colleen's gifts to their favorite charities. She also decides not to send out Christmas cards or decorate her house.

Desirae returns home Thanksgiving week. Bonnie takes a day off and spends time with her daughters. Desirae reads Monte's diary and flips through the catalog from Kenyon.

"When you see these things intact," she says, "you think people would be intact."

Meanwhile, Bonnie sorts through a stack of papers from her lawyer's office.

"I am just so tired of forms that I could just scream," says Bonnie, wearing the rose-colored shirt from Thailand that Monte had in his backpack.

She has finally decided to sue and, as preparation for the wrongful-death claims, her attorney asks her to write statements about Monte, his personality and his earning potential.

"I just can't think of things to say," Bonnie says. "I really didn't know what his work potential was."

She asks Desirae, Tori and several of Monte's friends to help her fill out the forms.

On Thanksgiving, a day of pounding rain and winds, Bonnie and more than a dozen relatives go to her younger sister's house in Sumner for a turkey feast. Bonnie brings a pumpkin pie, some silk hydrangeas and Star Gazer lilies.

When it's time for dessert, Bonnie asks for everyone's attention and tells how the only thing Monte wanted at his wedding was pumpkin pie. He didn't care about anything else, as long as they had pie at the reception.

After telling the story, Bonnie toasts her son with a fork-full of pumpkin pie.

"I was so focused on sharing the story," Bonnie says later. "Anything I can do to make me chuckle and not tear up is a step forward."

After the holiday, Bonnie and Rick spend a few days at the Okanogan farm with Tori and her boyfriend.

On Sunday, with snow dusting the ground, Bonnie walks to Monte and Colleen's Garden. She looks at the sapling and a plaque dedicated to them. After a few quiet moments, she crunches across the snow to join what is left of her family inside the house.

A letter about Monte

The letter Bonnie had dreaded for months comes unexpectedly Dec. 7.

Holding a handful of mail, she opens it while standing in the middle of the post office. She cringes, then goes numb at the words.

"Dear Richard and Bonnie," the letter begins. "The medical examiner's office has concluded the DNA test on the remains of Monte. Therefore it is time to make a decision as to the disposition of the remains.

"... available are the following: cremation, embalming or, if not embalmed, then a sealed coffin must be sent to Bonney-Watson Funeral Home. Cremation may be the most practical choice after taking into consideration the amount of remains and delivery to the funeral home.

"Please let me know as soon as possible as to your mutual decision regarding the disposition of Monte's remains."

She'd had no idea the medical examiner had found part of her son. After more than 10 months, she thought they never would.

"I had put that behind me," Bonnie says.

Originally, she wanted the remains sent to the funeral home and then cremated.

"That was back in the naive stage when I thought there was going to be a body found," Bonnie says.

Now she wants Monte's remains cremated in California and shipped home.

For a moment, she wonders just what investigators found of her son.

"It must not be any part of his face or head because otherwise it would have been identified with dental records," Bonnie says. "Then I felt gruesome even thinking about that."

A round of hearings

The following week in December, Bonnie has the chance to hear first-hand about the crash.

The NTSB offers to fly victims' families to Washington, D.C., to listen to four days of testimony. It also sets up satellite viewing in Bellevue and San Francisco.

Bonnie skips both.

"A side of me feels a little guilty about not being there," she says. "But I know the truth. I build airplanes."

She watches news reports on the hearings. The first day focuses on the cockpit recordings by Capt. Ted Thompson and First Officer Joseph Tansky.

"Folks, we have had a flight control problem up front here," Thompson tells the passengers over the public address system. "We're pretty busy up here workin' this situation. I don't anticipate any big problems once we get a couple of subsystems on line."

The pilots struggle with the plane. The nose pitches down as the jet rolls upside down and starts to stall.

"Mayday," Tansky says.

Eighteen seconds pass.

"Ah, here we go," Thompson says a second before the plane hits the water.

The pilots' words jar Bonnie's image of the minutes before Monte and Colleen died.

"I don't like that if the pilot was conscious 20 seconds before the crash, so were the passengers," she says. "But even if they were conscious, it was over quick."

In the following days, Bonnie hears about the jackscrew, its design and the grease that lubricates it.

"There were just so many stupid blunders," Bonnie says.

An unhappy year finally ends

As the days count down to Christmas, Bonnie loses ground physically and emotionally. Her joints stiffen, her muscles ache. She's on edge and feels shaky inside. For no reason she loses her temper and cries when Rick makes a mess putting together a new computer desk.

"I want to be happy for everyone and be in the Christmas spirit," Bonnie says. "My subconscious is doing something different."

On Christmas Eve, Bonnie sews a new stocking for Monte and Colleen from green felt and a patch of Monte's bathrobe. Later, to keep the couple a part of the family's holiday, she writes them a letter.

At first she struggles but finally the words come.

"Dear Monte and Colleen, I love you so much. This year was supposed to be your year. Your marriage, perhaps the conception of your first child. On the kitchen wall where the Christmas cards go is one of the many pictures Desirae took last Christmas of you, Colleen and me. Every time I pass by it I can't help but stop and smile and chat a bit with the two of you."

Bonnie tucks the letter into the stocking and goes to sleep. She awakens in the morning feeling sick. They're really dead, she tells herself. Knowing it's Christmas Day only makes her feel worse.

She drags herself out of bed to make ham and potatoes for breakfast. Unlike in years past, Monte and Colleen aren't there to finish the cooking so Bonnie can get dressed.

While getting ready, Bonnie is stunned when she sees a promotional commercial for a Seattle television station's recap of the top stories from 2000. It ends with tape of the crash and someone repeating the pilot's last words.

Irked by the insensitivity, Bonnie leaves a message for a station director, who pulls the commercial and calls Bonnie with an apology.

Tori and Dave join Bonnie and Rick to open presents. Later, they drive to a family gathering in Sumner and Bonnie calls Desirae.

Over the hours, the family talks about presents, jobs, the future. Again, nobody talks about Monte and Colleen.

"It's just hard to," Bonnie says.

Two days later, she follows Rick to the Okanogan farm. She mills around the house, waiting out the last week of the year. Neither Bonnie nor Rick feels like celebrating 2001.

"What's the sense?" she asks.

They finally give in and join their friends. They welcome in the new year, knowing the next month will be difficult. Bonnie will spend four days in California for the crash anniversary. She'll attend the memorials but doesn't want to see the reassembled plane.

"It would be fuel for nightmares," she says.

The long road ahead

Bonnie's journey through her pain is far from over. Sometimes she wonders whether it ever will be.

"Every day is the same as far as my grief goes," Bonnie says, her voice flat. "There will always be an emptiness."

She's a different woman than she was a year ago.

"I was so happy they were getting married," she says. "It was like a whole new beginning."

Now she can hardly remember what happiness feels like. On good days, when she thinks of Monte, the memories can draw a smile and even a chuckle. The bad days are drowned in tears.

"I don't ever want to live another year like this," Bonnie says. "I can see where people get so low they consider suicide. I can see where people isolate themselves."

Nevertheless, she has learned to enjoy her own isolation. Alone with her pets, Bonnie cherishes the photos of Monte and the memories that warm the home where she raised her son and two daughters.

Closing her eyes she sees Monte, looking as he did that last day at the Red Lobster. His hair is short, a smile shines through a trimmed mustache. He'll always be 31.

But Bonnie worries the image and the memories will fade over the years. She fears her friends, even some of her family, won't remember she ever had a son.

She ends each day the same - with a few words to Monte.

"I miss you so much," she says. "I wish you were here. Please grant me a visit."

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* Reach staff writer Stacey Burns at 253-597-8268 or stacey.burns@mail.tribnet.com.

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SIDEBAR: About this project

News Tribune reporter Stacey Burns and photographer Russ Carmack shared hundreds of hours with Bonnie Fuller throughout 2000, chronicling her year of pain - from the unexpected turns of grief to bittersweet births, deferred traditions and a canceled wedding.

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