In Memory of Jennifer

Wayne’s first cousin died this weekend. She died without warning or fanfare. Her lungs were attacked by a blood clot and the doctor’s attempts to save her last week failed. She wasn’t a smoker, she wasn’t on any medications that predisposed her to this… and she was only 39. It’s a somber time for the entire family. It’s hard on Wayne because they were close. After all, Jennifer was the reason for that scar he carries on his forehead. I remember asking him about that when we were dating and tracing that light line with my forefinger.

Apparently, Jennifer and he were both barely out of diapers when she tried to give him a kiss. He ran and looked back instead of looking forward for a split second, bashing into a doorjamb headfirst.

Jennifer was a month and four days older than Wayne, and this was his first face-to-face staredown with is own mortality. He lost his grandmother last year, around this same time, but she had lived a full life. He misses her terribly, but she wasn’t in her thirties. He has now announced that he hates this time of the year.

From my perspective, this loss has shaken him more because it was both unexpected and happened to someone so young. I’m only a bit younger than Wayne, and I know it’s shaken me. Her boys are just a little older than my own.

She was one of the caregivers of the family. I still remember her fussing over their grandmother when she was in the hospital, questioning the nurses and grilling the doctors and keeping the family informed. She was the “go to” person during that difficult time as their grandmother’s long illness came to an end.

Watching the faces last week in the waiting room at the hospital was heart-wrenching. The doctors tried to save her, the machines kept her body functioning while the family prayed. And everyone was shocked and dazed, trying to hold onto a lifeline of hope in an abyss of despair. Wayne has a large, close family and they rely on each other during difficult times.

Watching her husband and her boys try to cope has been difficult and has left me feeling helpless, but watching her mother deal with losing her only child has been even more painful. There is something inherently unnatural about a parent dealing with the loss of a child. I don’t know if I could survive such a loss, myself. It is the duty of the children to bury their parents, it is NOT supposed to fall on the shoulders of parents to bury their children. It’s just not.

This tragedy makes me even more determined to slow my life down a bit, enjoy things more and live life for today instead of constantly shoving aside the today in preparation for tomorrow.

What if tomorrow never comes?

What if I continue to throw away the precious moments today in the hope that tomorrow will be there waiting for me, and I’m wrong?

I’ve recently discovered I’m middle aged. Yeah, discovering that sort of hit me all at once. It’s really depressing and hard to understand… but the loss of Jennifer has put that in a whole new perspective for me.

Suddenly, it’s not about what I don’t have anymore, and it’s become more about appreciating what I do have and taking time to enjoy it more.

Today we have the visitation, tomorrow we will attend her funeral, and sometime soon, I hope to finish my own grappling with all of this. And it is my hope that everyone in the family gains something from this loss — wisdom, a refusal to take any moment of any day for granted, or maybe just the time to review the good times in the midst of grief.

My prayers for Jennifer, her mother and father, her boys and husband, the new grandchild and all the members of the family struggling to make sense of it.