Her phone wouldn’t stop pinging. Baffled, she quickly reached for it and opened her notifications, frowning when she saw dozens of angry faces in reaction to her post. She looked at the photo again, trying to figure out why everyone was reacting this way.
But just then, she received a private message that would change her life forever. It simply read: ‘Turn on the news.’
Everywhere she went, 60-year-old Joyce Rhinehart carried her camera with her. But as she got on in years, her trusty Nikon became more cumbersome for her to cart around. So when her daughter bought her a new iPhone with a top-of-the-line camera built-in, she was ecstatic.
But, while many people enjoy photography as a hobby, Joyce had developed an unusual habit during her golden years…
An Embarrassing Habit
Joyce’s daughter, Linda, had expressed her concern about her mother’s preferred subject matter. They had had countless arguments about it over the years.
You see, Joyce had no interest in photographing pretty scenery or flowers. For as long as she could remember, Linda would cringe whenever her mother whipped the camera out in public. “At least you can be more discreet now,” she said with a sigh.
Joyce’s obsession had become something of an inside joke in the household. The walls of her house were filled with family photos — but they weren’t of her own family.
But Linda wasn’t jealous. Rather, Linda was worried that her mother would cross a line one day with her intrusive and embarrassing habit. Little did she know, that day was just around the corner.
She Couldn’t Resist
On that fateful day in June, Linda dropped her son, Blake, at his grandmother’s house. Joyce took her 8-year-old grandson to his tennis lesson, and then the pair stopped at Rita’s Italian Ice for a little treat.
But when they had eaten their ice creams and were on their way out, Joyce spotted her opportunity. Joyce whipped out her phone. She just couldn’t resist. But soon, she’d regret it.
An Uncontrollable Urge
Joyce approached the family of four where they were quietly sitting on a bench outside the ice-cream parlor. She assumed they were the mother, father, and their two children.
Although there was nothing striking about the strangers at the time, she quickly whipped out her phone and snapped a picture of the startled family. “Something urged me,” she said later… after she had heard the news.
A Private Moment
After Joyce had snapped the picture, she passed her phone to one of the children. “I took [the picture] and then handed my phone to the young daughter and told her to go ahead and text the picture to their cell phone,” she explained.
Joyce had thought that it would be a nice gesture and that the family would appreciate the unsolicited shot of their private moment. Then, she left them sitting there and went on her way, not realizing what she’d really captured.
Joyce uploaded the photo of the family she’d seen at Rita’s on Facebook and didn’t give it much thought after that. But, as it turned out, Joyce’s strange habit of taking unsolicited photos of strangers would have a surprising outcome for everyone involved.
Indeed, there was a lot more to that seemingly innocent photograph than met the eye.
A Viral Photo
Being new to Facebook, Joyce couldn’t understand why her phone had been pinging all morning. But when she scrolled through all her notifications, she was shocked to see that people were reacting to that particular photograph that she’d uploaded just a few days earlier.
The post was full of broken heart emoticons and more than a few angry faces. Then, she got a text message from a number she didn’t recognize.
All Over The News
The message simply read: ‘turn on the news.’ She walked over to her TV and turned it on, not knowing that what she was about to see would change her life. There, all over the news, was that photo she had taken of the family sitting outside Rita’s.
She turned the volume up and her blood instantly ran cold. Then, just at that moment, she received another text message.
The message, as it turned out, was from the remaining members of the family from that fateful photo that Joyce had snapped. They had some terrible news that they wanted to share with the stranger who had felt compelled to take their picture that day.
When Joyce finally understood why her photo was on the news, a chill went down her spine.
Brought To Tears
Joyce shared her story on Facebook: ‘I have an incredible story to share,’ she wrote. ‘One that still sends chills through me and brought me to tears.’
‘I took this picture below and then handed my phone to the young daughter and told her to go ahead and text the picture to their cell phone. Left to take Blake home and explained to him how I have done this before when I see cute family moments of total strangers so they can have the memory… But, wait till you hear the rest of the story.’
Message From A Stranger
‘Suddenly my text message alert goes off and it’s just a number (no name attached)…’ Joyce continued.
‘Dear madam,’ the message read. ‘You took our picture in front of Rita’s on June 8,’ the message began. And as Joyce read on, she began to get goosebumps. The fact that she had happened to be in the right place at the right time absolutely floored her. Then, the gravity of the situation hit her and tears began to run down her face.
‘My wife has passed away yesterday,’ the message continued, ‘…and this is the last picture we have together as a family. Please accept my deepest gratitude for your kindness, it means the world to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’
Understandably, Joyce was shell shocked. But she was also touched that the family had reached out to her. Joyce’s heart broke as she texted back.
After a few messages back and forth, Joyce eventually discovered what had happened. She learned that, despite the mom in the photo’s appearance, she had been ill for about a year. The struggling mom had tried to be strong for her family on that day they had all gone out for ice cream together.
Nobody knew that that outing would be the family’s last. The memorial was briefly aired on the local news, and the family had decided to use Joyce’s photograph.
Joyce was beyond touched that the family had reached out to her and showed her what a difference she had made in their lives. Even if she had no idea what moment she was creating, she was glad her habit had made a difference.
Days passed, and the family slowly faded from Joyce’s mind. But she had no idea that it wasn’t the last she’d heard from them.
It had been a week since Joyce had seen the news. And she saw a Facebook message on her phone from a familiar profile. It was the husband from the family she had taken the photo of.
It seemed that he wasn’t done with her yet and had more to say. Joyce was nervous when it came to confrontations.
Dozens of thoughts raced through Joyce’s mind. She was an overthinker and worried she’d done something wrong. Had he changed his mind about the photo? Was there some kind of backlash from social media, and was she now liable?
She put off reading the message as she went about her day. But by the end of the day, she knew she couldn’t ignore it any longer.
Checking The Message
Joyce knew that she had to look at the message sooner or later. She sat down in her living room and breathed in deeply before opening her social media and going into her messages. There it was, at the top of her inbox.
But once she read what it said, she felt tears form in her eyes. She could never have expected the man to say something like this to her.
Wanting To Meet
All the message said was, “We need to meet. Come to the place you took the photo” This was Joyce’s worst nightmare. She had no idea what he wanted to talk about nor what he wanted from her.
If she had done something wrong, she wanted to write it. She sent him back a time to meet the next day and put her phone on charge. She knew she’d get little sleep that night.
Joyce woke up the next morning, scared to face the day. She put on her most comfortable clothing and got ready to leave the house. She had no idea what to expect but knew she had to face it.
She left her house and headed for the same place she’d taken that fateful photo. Once she got there, she was even more confused than before.
No One There
Joyce looked around, but there was no one there. There were a few people walking around but not the man she expected to meet. Was this some sort of joke? But then, after a few moments, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
Joyce whipped around to face the potential danger. But when innocent eyes stared back at her, she felt her posture immediately soften.
Two pairs of innocent eyes were staring at Joyce. She immediately recognized them as belonging to the children from the family she’d taken the photo of. They were staring up at her with smiles.
A moment later and Joyce noticed their father walking up toward them. He didn’t look angry, so what did he have to say?
A Thank You
The husband was more than happy to see her. He gestured for her to sit down at a table so that they could have a chat. Joyce complied, and he explained why he had called her there.
“My children love what you did for us. They’ve been asking me all week when we would see you again, so I arranged this little meeting.” Joyce couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Let’s first just enjoy lunch together. We think we at least owe you that.” Joyce smiled and accepted their offer. The two children were boisterous and play-fought each other while they waited for their food.
They were also curious about Joyce, so they asked her about her photography. She didn’t often have people asking her about her hobby.
Showing Them Pictures
Joyce happened to have her camera in her bag and pulled it out. She started showing the children all of the photos she’d taken over the years. Their dad smiled as he watched them fixate on the pictures.
But then he cleared his throat and got Joyce’s attention. It seemed that there was more to the meeting than just a lunch.
A Proper Thanks
“We wanted to properly thank you for taking that photo of us. It means so much to my children that they have that photo. They haven’t stopped looking at it after I printed it out and framed it.”
“You mean a lot more to my children than you think. I’m gonna need a babysitter for them and was wondering if you’d mind looking after them.”
Couldn’t Believe It
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Joyce loved children, and her heart broke when she heard about their mother. She was more than happy to help look after them, especially since they lacked a mother figure.
At her age, she’d raised her own kids and helped to raise their grandkids. This wouldn’t be her first time doing this.
She accepted their offer and the kids immediately jumped for joy. “Can you teach us how to take photos as you do?” One of the kids asked. “Of course, darling, I’ll show you how to take photos of anything you like!”
With that, the waiter brought them their food, and they all chowed down. Joyce enjoyed this special meal with the family.
Going Their Separate Ways
The lunch concluded, and Joyce swapped numbers with the man. He told her his name for the first time. It was Jerry. She saved his phone number and started the journey back to her property.
She was happy to have a new friend and a new child to look after. And it all started through a fateful photo.
A Thousand Words
It’s often said that a picture can paint a thousand words. And, in circumstances like this one, they can also offer some comfort and remind us of happy memories.
Pictures can serve as everlasting reminders of loved ones, especially when they are in their final days. But, as surprising as Joyce’s story was, it wasn’t unique by any means…
In September 2015, a man named Alan Wright visited a castle in Kent, U.K., with his wife. While they were there, a man asked to take their photograph while they were strolling on the castle grounds.
Sadly, Alan’s wife passed away a few months later. After Alan realized that this was the last photo taken of his wife, he appealed to a magazine to assist him in tracking down the picture.
Another photograph involved a Canadian couple John and Jackie Knill. They were on a beach in Thailand when the tsunami struck in 2004. Unfortunately, they were among the estimated 280,000 who perished in the disaster.
However, when their camera washed up, the photographs it contained provided a lot of comfort to their surviving sons.
Patrick Knill, John and Jackie’s son, told the Seattle Times in 2005: “This is more than we could ever have asked for.”
He continued: “It’s like being there with our parents and seeing what they were seeing in those final moments. So many people still have no answers. It has taken so much stress off me and my brothers. It’s hard not knowing anything and now we know.”
‘Never underestimate a simple act of random kindness. I corresponded back with him a few more times and found out his wife had been ill for the past year,’ Joyce wrote. ‘My heart is heavy for this sweet family I don’t even know and the tremendous gift that was left to them cause I listened to my gut that day. I’m in awe!! This has the hand of God!’
Joyce was meant to take that photo that day. It was fate. Similarly, a woman named Amy thought that fate had led her to her fiance. Then, an old photo revealed who he really was…
Amy Giberson’s very first crush was a boy in her preschool class in St. Petersburg, Florida. As you’d expect from any kindergarten romance, their dates mainly involved sitting together during lunchtime, enjoying games of tag in the schoolyard and constructing castles out of building blocks.
Soon, 30 years had passed and they long since forgot about eachother but something would bring them back together again.
Their teacher reminisced on the toddlers’ adorable romance, “They had a blast with each other. It was a quiet, bashful romance. They liked each other from afar. It was a young love, like a sweet crush.”
Sadly though, this cute love affair was short-lived. Amy, then three, and her tiny man went their separate ways after graduating kindergarten. But would this be the end?
Several years later, Amy was off to university, leaving her long lost preschool crush behind her. She found new loves in adulthood, but they all proved to be tough experiences that left her heartbroken.
After being hurt time and time again, her friends stepped in. So no matter how hurt she was, her friends were always there to help her move on. And move on she did.
Heart On Her Sleeve
“People would tell me, ‘Don’t be so open, Amy. Don’t trust so easily,’” Amy said. “But if I stopped doing that, it wouldn’t be me. It’s just absolutely nuts that I [was] the tragically misguided girl who was always let down.”
But this unlucky streak wouldn’t last for long. When she hit 32 years old, everything changed.
Ready To Settle Down
At 32 years old, Amy was ready to settle down so she decided to move back to her own hometown of St. Petersburg. But without her dream man, she felt like she was only half of the equation. So she signed up to an online dating site.
Not soon after, her shiny profile caught the eye of another St. Petersburg local, Justin Pounders.
Two Broken Hearts
They were bound to hit it off. Much like Amy, Justin had also returned to his home town after a heartbreaking love story of his own.
Justin and his then fiancée, Adrianne Roberts, were about to move in together when tragedy struck. On her way home after having a few farewell drinks with her roommate, Roberts was attacked and brutally murdered.
It took Justin two years until he finally felt prepared to move on from his unfathomable loss. So there he was, back in St. Petersburg, looking for a real connection for the first time since the incident when he came across Amy’s intriguing profile.
He thought about what to say for a moment and then got in touch. It was a move that changed his life.
“I saw her photo and for whatever reason was instantly drawn to her,” Justin said. “She just had this great energy, you could tell. I can’t explain it, but I knew I had to get to know this girl.”
They chatted for a while online and felt an instant connection. It wasn’t long before they planned their first date.
Justin asked Amy out for dinner at a classy restaurant. They met, and Amy felt an instant attraction to him.
“When we met up and we hugged, it was like I had known him my whole life,” she said. They talked for a whole 4 hours straight. Time passed in the blink of an eye as she looked at him from across the table. But how did Justin feel?
Shivering With Excitement
“Not even halfway through dinner I found myself shivering because I was so excited,” Amy reminisced. “I remember telling myself, ‘I’m going to be having dinner with this man for the rest of my life.’”
Justin felt equally as hopeful after the success of the first date. He even told the waiter to write the date on their desert. Their love began to blossom as they started meeting up nearly every day.
A Telling Confession
It was about two months into their relationship, when Justin made a very telling confession. “Justin casually mentioned he always liked my name because his first crush was a girl named Amy in preschool,” Amy said.
“I joked and said, ‘Well it wasn’t me, so I don’t want to hear about this Amy.’” But she wasn’t joking. In fact, she was a little jealous.
Amy had always been a confident and secure woman. She was independent, smart, loving and funny but when it came to men, she was also weary.
She had been hurt so many times before that she started to listen to the advice her friends had given her. To not trust men so easily. And now, she was putting that into practice.
She wasn’t feeling too secure in the genuine feelings Justin had for her since he told her about his fiance. She was heartbroken for him and her of course, but she was worried that perhaps she would never match up to the real love of his life who had tragically died.
Sometimes, she felt unsure as to whether he looked at her as second best. The thought hid in the back of her mind.
She did her best to talk herself out of her insecurities. After all, he was doing nothing wrong. She just wasn’t sure if she should get involved with a widow who was already deeply in love.
She was worried that he mightn’t be as emotionally available to her as she needed him to be. But then something happened that gave her all the reassurance she needed.
She started to pay closer attention to how Justin behaved around her after he told her about his fiance. She was looking for any behaviors in him that made her feel unwanted.
As the days passed, she was coming up empty, she really couldn’t fault him. He was attentive to her, affectionate and caring. But something did annoy her.
Randomly, he would talk about his first crush. The Amy he had met in kindergarten. He laughed as he reminisced on their sweet relationship.
When she asked if he knew where she was now, he looked sullen as he answered no. It was obvious to Amy that he was curious about her. Then something happened that changed everything.
After the third month of their relationship, Amy caught Justin touching a small scar on his forehead.
He told her it happened in preschool when he was horsing around on the monkey bars, he fell and cut his head. That was the moment that they discovered they had much more in common than they first realized.
While they knew that they had both grown up close by, they figured that they had never known each other as they didn’t know any of the same people.
But as it turned out, 30 years ago Justin went to the exact same preschool as Amy did. They tried to work out if they would have been there at the same time. They were.
This revelation led Amy to ask her mom to find the old photos from her preschool days. When she brought out the old group picture of the kindergarten class, Amy and Justin’s connected past became crystal clear.
Astonishingly, Amy and Justin were there 30 years ago. And not only in the same photo but sitting side by side!
“We asked our parents to dig up any preschool photos they had,” Amy said. “Justin’s mom found a photo of the two of us together and I just started crying, I was ecstatic. I was the Amy he had liked all those years ago! It was definitely meant to be.”
All her doubts of what he felt for her vanished. She was finally at peace, but was he?
A Good Year
A year had passed since they had met – for the second time! And now, Justin had a surprise up his sleeve. After making a special appearance on The View, while the couple were retelling their amazing story, Justin sprung into action.
Unexpectedly, the cameras were rolling at the preschool where they first met. There, a group of little students were holding up a sign that read, “Amy, will you marry me?”.
Mrs. Amy Pounders
A year after the big engagement surprise, Amy and Justin became husband and wife. They married at the Mahaffey Theater in their beloved hometown, St. Petersburg.
It was a love that defied time and all other outside forces of life. It took them 30 years to unknowingly reunite. It was like the universe was guiding them to meet again.
Friends and family were gobsmacked at their incredible love story. And after word got out, so was anyone who heard it. But it wasn’t always an easy ride.
Justin and Amy knew they wanted to start a family immediately. That’s when they encountered their first heartbreak and challenge as a couple. It was a challenge that completely blindsided them.
Starting A Family
“We had three early miscarriages,” Amy said. “I would test positive and then lose it.” It was a really hard time for them. But soon, their fate would change.
When their son Conrad was born, Amy remembers how they both “cried and held him close.” Now, she looks back at everything that had happened and thinks of the impossible chances that led them back together.
“The stars really had to align for everything to happen,” Amy said. “Everything that transpired in our lives, us coming back together and making this beautiful little person, it’s all very surreal”.
“For Conrad Pounders to exist, it’s been a long journey, but it does feel like everything has come full circle.” A truth stranger than fiction!