The following is what I wrote as I processed my grief for my sister at her passing, which I read (mostly) during her memorial last weekend.
It was the week before her death, Jennifer called me from the hospital, giving me the update on what she was going through. We talked about how she was doing, the prognosis and plan, about how Katie and I were doing; but towards the end of our conversation we talked about books. I remember she mentioned she had been reading a lot and she mentioned both Tad Williams and Isaac Asimov. I have only read one or two Tad Williams books, though I've read many more Asimov. We moved on in our chat and soon enough we hung up, intending to talk again soon.
I tried to call her a few days later to see how she was doing but she didn't answer. Little did I know that Williams and Asimov would be the last thing we would speak about.
Given that, as I wrestled with the reality of her passing and my emotions, I found myself drawn to those authors as a bridge to hold onto as I worked through my mourning and grief. I went looking for quotes by them and was struck by this quote from Tad Williams.
"The wisdom of our parents, grandparents, ancestors. In each individual life, it seems, we must first reject that wisdom, then later come to appreciate it."
Wisdom is a fickle thing, and it is up to each of us to be open to the wisdom of those who came ahead of us and who lived life. To me, Jennifer lived this quote, going through a period of her life rejecting the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, but eventually coming around to, well, some of it. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone here that my sister could be... stubborn.
She taught me a lot, both directly and indirectly as well as both up close and from afar. One thing she never taught me was how she managed to be my elder sibling while also managed to somehow remain only 21 years old for something like 30 years or so...
But, I digress, I did learn a lot from Jennifer. I learned, as you'll hear, about love, family, and passion. And I also learned a lot about what not to do as I went through adolescence and into adulthood learning from the road she blazed being a rebel. I watched the path she took and learned what I could from it; from her.
And, as I wrote this, I kept thinking of the affectionate turn of phrase for how she would refer to me and our brothers: "brothermine." That and sistermine. They were words emblematic of how she operated and viewed her family. We were hers. As a family, we were hers.
She loved us, and despite our differences at times, she was quick to remind us that if someone messed with one of us they were going to deal with all of us.
Jennifer loved us all, but without question, she most loved and was most proud of her children and her grandchildren.
COVID was rough for us all, and during that time we started having family Zoom calls to stay in touch through it. They filled a small bit of the needed socializing in the heart of the pandemic.
I'll always remember how her entire face lit up and her voice raised in pitch at the sight of her kids and grandkids on the call. She loved fiercely and openly. Another lesson I take to heart from her.
This brings me to the second quote I found which spoke to me. This one, from Isaac Asimov, "Someone who dies leaves his work behind and that does not entirely die. It never entirely dies as long as humanity exists." For Jennifer, this work IS her children and grandchildren.
Jennifer was passion incarnate. She lived life on her terms and despised all which stood between her doing that.
Death is the ultimate unfairness. A fact this family is all too familiar with. There is an unfairness to life that those who are most important to us all leave at some point. Children lose parents. Jennifer lost her birth mother, Jackie, in 1976. At the age of 12. And a loss like that leaves a mark on you. Then, she lost her adoptive mother, my mother, Dale, in 2007. Our father died in 2014. And last year she lost the love of her life, Bill.
We're no strangers to loss, and yet it never gets any easier. This is the way of it. The journey we each go on.
And this is a reminder to each of us to passionately fight for the time we have with one another, never forgetting that each moment, each hug, each laugh, and each phone call, might be the last we get with one another.
Tad Williams, again proving himself a quotable author, wrote, "We are none of us promised anything but the last breath we take." And it is true. It is on us to fight for everything along the way to that final breath.
Jennifer lived a full life. She touched all of us here. She brought four wonderful people into this world, who together, are finding their own ways through life. Facing their own challenges. Making their own journeys. Journeys which, today, are steeper, scarier, and darker than they were while she was with us.
But, as she would be quick to point out to us all, you're not alone. You have each other. You have us. We are a family, we are friends, and we're here for you. You just need to call and we'll be there, by your side, ready to help however we can with whatever is needed.
Jennifer's passion, and love, lives on in each of us.
Did you know that you can sign up for the email newsletter of this blog? Get an email with the day's posts delivered to your inbox! Sign up here.