I had the opportunity to meet Jennifer last September, and she was such a delight. Can you share a little more of who she was to you? What was her personality, motherhood, wifehood, etc. like?
It sounds cliche, but Jennifer was my everything. Jennifer and I have been together for my entire adult life. We met around our second week at U. of I. and started dating soon after. When we first met, I was a kid trying to reintroduce myself to the world. I was loud but timid, outgoing but private, passionate and unfocused. Jennifer was the complete opposite. She knew exactly what she wanted and had the drive to make it happen. As soon as I met Jennifer it became very apparent that she was exactly what I wanted out of life. Jennifer was this incredibly brilliant woman, who's intellect was only matched by her genuine compassion for others. More importantly, she understood and accepted me for who I was and who she knew I would become. In every practical sense, we grew into adults, side by side. We were both each others' biggest cheerleaders and critics. From teenager to adult, from marriage to motherhood, in every stage of life I saw something new in Jennifer that made me love her even more. As a wife, it was as if we were Co-CEO's of our family. It just felt right coming home and having her there to hug and kiss, talk about our days, and make future plans. As a mother, I'm not sure words can accurately describe the level of love, care, strength, and emotion that arose from Jennifer. The most important thing in her life was Deacon. She planned, scheduled, organized, and guided his life until she couldn't. But even at that point, the footprint that she left behind continues to make an impact on his development. If there is one thing I can say that people may not know about Jenny was that what people saw of her and in her was not an act. Jennifer was an incredibly multifaceted woman with strength, intelligence, beauty, and compassion but also experienced weakness, sadness, regret, and pain. She was human with all of the strengths and flaws that everyone experiences.
What were the final weeks like when she decided that she would no longer do treatment?
They were mixed with some of the most complicated emotions that I've ever felt. It will be something I will treasure, something I will never forget. The best way that I can describe the final weeks would be to imagine a seemingly endless whirlwind of happiness, sadness, frustration, joy, angst, and gratefulness. We spent just about every moment, that I could fit in, by each other's side. Jennifer and I couldn't change the diagnosis. We couldn't cure cancer. We couldn't control the when, why, or how. We couldn't control the ways in which cancer rapidly spreading quickly changed her way of life. All we could do was make the best attempt at happiness. In many ways, things went back to normal, or a resemblance of normal. During the final weeks, Jenny still did homework for her PhD program. Deacon went to school. We watched TV, ordered out, we talked, we laughed, we cried. Family and a few friends visited. Jenny had quite a few girls nights. I won't sugar coat how utterly frustrating it was at times. But as we always did, I had her back and she had mine. One day I told her, that my body was hers, whatever she couldn't do, she had me. But at the same time, she kept me strong. One day, I was frustrated with everything, I couldn't get the day to go correctly. She didn't say much by this time, but unprompted, she looked at me and in her calm Jenny voice, she told me I was doing a good job. It was everything I needed to hear, and even with what she was going through, she still kept me from falling. So as heartbreaking as our final weeks were together, it was the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced. I could have lived in those weeks forever.
What does "grieving" mean to you?
This is a hard question to answer. As strange as this sounds, I'm not sure I exactly know what grieving is. As one would expect, earlier on my grief came in the form of tears, sadness, and disbelief. But those moments don't really describe how I've felt over the past few months. The best way to describe what grieving means to me is the feeling of "being off". It's like I'm navigating through life trying to get my footing on shaky ground. I'm less consumed with sadness or depression, I'm not sure if my personality allows me to sit in those mental states for very long. Instead, what I'm left with is a feeling of void that I can't quite explain. So maybe it's less about what grief means to me and more about how my mind has chosen to deal with it. Either way, my hope is that the grieving process will get better as I find my balance again. Until then, I'll just keep pushing forward.
What's been your source of courage and strength during this season?
My wife and my son. The explicit promise that I made to my wife is that I would be okay, and the implicit promise that I made to my son is that I will always be there for him. I've never broken a promise to Jennifer, and I have no plans on starting now. Living with cancer is hard and my wife made the best attempt at life, the least I can do is match her will.
I noticed you started a Facebook Page in honor of Jennifer, can you share more with what you are hoping to do with it?
Jennifer was more than a woman with breast cancer. She had breast cancer for about three of the 33 years on Earth. Even when she was diagnosed, she went on being a mother, wife, friend, daughter, sibling, aunt, teacher, student, and scholar. Jennifer and I had so many conversations about her passions in life. My goal is to make sure that these things are never forgotten. That people remember her less by how she died, and more for how she lived. I'm going to use every medium I can possibly think of to push forward her memory and advance the causes that she was passionate about. I'm currently working on a few projects, including a website called LivedLovedHere.com, that will help me properly memorialize her legacy. Whether it takes me months, years, or the rest of my life, that is what I plan on doing. That brings me happiness.
What encouraging words would you give to someone who has recently lost a loved one to cancer?
Eventually, the pain slowly fades and what it's replaced with is beautiful memories. Jenny would always say, no one loses a battle to cancer. As if trying harder would have provided a different result. When it comes to cancer, it's not the ultimate outcome that defines success. Success is defined by who that person was, and how they lived; no different than anyone still blessed to be breathing right now. What helps me is that through the loneliness, I'm never really alone. For anyone who has recently lost anyone to cancer, know that you are not alone.
To read Jennifer's story click here: http://www.clickforhope.net/blog/2016/10/21/jennifers-story