Trees and Angels and Believing

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The day I learnt the Magnificent Redwood Tree in Prouty Garden had been taken to with saws and axes in the first stages of the destruction of the healing space at Childrens Hospital Boston; the place where Jesi, conscious and laughing and chatting in her wheelchair inhaled her last breaths of fresh air, (August 2014) where she watched the squirrels play, felt the silky soft petals of roses and smelt the aroma of summer: On that same day, the last remaining lights of her Christmas tree which has stood in her bedroom through all the seasons of all the years since that first Christmas without her, extinguished completely, leaving her room that night in total darkness.
When I passed by the black empty space of her doorway and it occurred to me why there was no light shining from within, I was not surprised.

 

I cried when I heard about the tree in Prouty Garden. I imagine Jesi did too. If spirit children cry. Perhaps that is why it rained and snowed on Monday, the day they took to the tree with saws and axes, (I imagine, for I was told it was blocked from public view.) Perhaps that is why the sky that day sobbed, all those angels in heaven weeping for that tree which had given their-suffering-sick-child-bodies hope that they would, that they could reach for something beyond the illnesses that ravaged their bodies. That if a tree could grow so magnificent in the midst of city buildings and city streets with all the noise and commotion buzzing around it, they too could heal from pain and suffering. But the tree could not survive the illness either. This past week it lost its arms and legs. I wonder where those lost limbs lie now and who will grieve their passing.

Jesi has been close to me this week. She understands. When I arrived at Walden Pond to walk on Friday afternoon she blew in on a gust of cold wind, across the pond from the south west. I got this sudden sense of her completely unexpected. She knew that last week when I was there I was thinking about her and about Prouty Garden and the tree. {If you wish to read the blog post, or see a couple of photos of Jesi in the garden click here. She was letting me know she was with me again as I wandered amongst the trees this past Friday.

She was with me last Sunday when I went in search of a special ornament to hang on what would be a new Christmas tree in our house this year.
Knowing Jesi’s special tree was losing its light, Alan and I decided to buy something new for Christmas to honor Jesi’s presence within our family.
“I have no idea what I’m looking for” I told Alan as we drove to the local Christmas shop. “But I’ll know it when I see it.”

When I found it I had already spent about fifteen minutes scanning the hundreds of ornaments dangling from trees, sitting in baskets and displayed on tables as I navigated my way around the store. I was beginning to lose hope that there was anything that would feel right at all. Alan who had headed off in another direction appeared with a long candle holder decorated with birds.
For the table,” he announced.
It was pretty, but it wasn’t the Jesi ornament. We began talking and as we did I continued to scan a basket to my left, but I knew I was distracted. After he wandered off I thought about how mindless I had been looking at its contents. So I walked over and peered down at the gold and silver foil ornaments it held. Then I saw her.

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I picked her up and held her in my hands for a couple of minutes turning her over and lying her inside my palms. She was perfect. She had Jesi’s youthful energy and her lightness of spirit. I must have stood there holding her, looking down at her for a couple of minutes. The once busy store seemed to have emptied of people. Except for one person, a short dark haired woman who walked purposely past me toward the front of the store. As she passed me said
“That’s my favorite piece in the whole store.”
I looked up and replied. “Yes, I am sort of taken by it too.” But she had continued on her way. Then she disappeared.
When I found Alan I told him I had what I had come for and showed him my angel. We headed toward the cashier to purchase it and the other ornaments we had collected along the way.

It wasn’t until the following day that I was able to put the last piece of the puzzle about the angel together completely. During a meditation while I was contemplating fulfillment the image of Jesi’s face appeared as she had appeared to me many times in the past …. During many swims across Walden pond in the summer of 2014 while she lay in her hospital bed I would visualize her face as serene as the Buddha’s and next to the Buddha face itself. No, no I would cry into the waves and the water. Please don’t take her from me. For that was before she passed into spirit. Those were the times I would touch some knowing inside me that I could not bear to let myself know. Now, in my meditation her Buddha face appeared again. I had no fear of it now though, for when she did pass in September 2014 and I lay next to her lifeless body on her bed, hers became that same Buddha face. Serene and beautiful with pale soft skin and only hair like peach fuzz framing her face. But this time, next to her Buddha face the young angel girl skipped and danced and sparkled merrily. And I heard Jesi whispering. I’m here mama. I’m still here. I’m with you.

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And I knew that was what Jesi had come back to tell me.

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Posted in angels, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Prouty Garden Childrens Hospital Boston, Spiritual Beliefs, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Family Weekend for Kari … How Jesi makes her presence felt!

Online registration for Family Weekend at Oberlin College is frustrating. Even the woman on the other end of the phone, an Oberlin employee who I have called for assistance keeps reminding me so, although the knot in the base of my skull is reminder enough. It is the second time I have run through the series of “next” buttons to move through the pages, filling in the required pieces of information. I am back to entering the names of the family members who will be attending the President’s Breakfast on Sunday morning. This time there is a gitch in the system. “It’s never happened before” she reports as she walks me through each step. As Family weekend is only two days away and we are a late registration I assume my contact has been through this a number of times. “Oh, quite a number,” she assures me, with a certain rattled disquiet in her voice.

I enter myself first, then Alan and then Chris, who is flying from Philli to meet us to spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday visiting Kari at her new college “home.” I do not have to add Kari, yet I sit poised on the edge of the keyboard at the next empty box, my tongue at the tip of my mouth. I am about to say, “Then there’s Jesi. She doesn’t need a seat, but she’ll be there,” before I stop myself.

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When Alan and I drive into Oberlin on Friday afternoon the sun illuminates the square in the middle of the college campus casting a blaze of orange and golden light through the autumnal trees and throwing long shadows over the grass and walkways between them. A handful of students meander along paths or relax on the grass, in the pavilion or lean against sculptures scattered throughout the lawn. There is a gentle, almost inaudible murmur rising from the square above which the sound of cars passing on the road can be heard. Alan and I wait outside Kari’s dorm for her to appear. I remember how anxious I felt leaving her here only two months ago. How would she like it? Would she be homesick? When she appears I realize how different I feel as I sense her commanding her environment, casually greeting the other students we pass in a relaxed friendly manner. She offers to show us around. We head for the town to buy lunch and then to the rooftop garden of the Conservatory to eat.

Once on the rooftop Kari shows Alan and I her newest tattoo. A couple of weeks ago she had two inverted hands, and the word “beloved” written below them, etched into the skin of her left forearm. I did not have to ask what it signified when Kari first told me about it. I had my own memories of hands.

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They say time heals. Perhaps even with death, there is an element of truth in this. Or perhaps time blunts the memory and it is this which allows one to revisit the cavern of despair without despairing completely. So on the rooftop garden of the conservatory on the sunny Friday afternoon I told Alan and Kari the story of how, on the evening I said good bye to Jesi, the evening before she lapsed into unconsciousness, her hands and my hands connected in a most unspeakable manner; communicating SIMPLY EVERYTHING through touch. I go back into that place now and I know what love is. Her hands touching mine. Her skin gently brushing my skin along my inner forearm, around my wrist. My fingers around hers, hers around mine. Running circles, stroking up and down, cupping her hands, placing my hands in her hands. On and on it went. Magnetizing. Rooting me to the place I was standing next to her bed, unable to leave her side. Unable to tear myself away. Unknowing of what lay in store. That this was the final goodbye. That the next time I would be with her, her brain would be locked inside an unresponsive body. That this would be the end of understanding, until we meet on the other side. Time had blunted that memory. Until I chose to open the door to it again, and share it with Alan and Kari on the rooftop of Oberlin Conservatory.

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The following afternoon we drive to the airport to pick up Chris. As we are driving away from the airport Kari announces “Now we are all here together again. It’s been ages since we’ve all been together. And Jesi’s here too.” I don’t say anything. Kari and I instinctively thinking the same thing.

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Back at the Conservatory Kari makes a bee line for the Timara Lab to show us where she has been learning to synthesize electronic music. Whereas I am feeling lost in a sea of black boxes and shiny silver knobs, Chris immediately understands what all the equipment is and does. Alan notices Kari has a file of her work on the computer.

“Can we hear some of your work?” he asks.

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A month or so ago Kari told me she was working on a piece for her Timara (Technology in Music and Related Arts) class using Jesi’s laughter, Jesi and her talking, Jesi coughing and the ventilator to construct a piece. I remember feeling both protective of her and that she was incredibly courageous to use such raw material to both work with and present in front of her classmates, especially when she said, “I feel like an outsider in this creative community mum. I’m just so different from the other composers and sometimes I feel really challenged because of it.” Then about a week later she called again, really upset. The peer critique of her work had been negative and hurtful.
She got a 100 % grade on the work.
“You sure you want to hear it,” Kari replied to Alan’s request. “It’s hard to listen to. It might make you sad.”
“I want to,” I replied. “What about you Alan?” Alan nodded. “Chris?” Chris nodded also.

Kari’s piece is striking in that it is initially lighthearted and gay, with laughter and talking and bird-like song which she produces by playing the Theramin (an instrument played, without touch, by manipulating sound waves) only to end with the deep somber sounds of the ventilator, drowning out all other “voices.” She does this to indicate how every action carries so much weight with it, and that things inevitably change through time. She uses repetition to build tension. She also develops themes, for instance, occasional coughing evolves into gasping for air and the repetitive narrative “Kari you’re going to kill me” (Jesi says this as Kari is making her laugh so much, yet the sound of her laughter also could be construed as crying), and the eventual plunge into the dark sound made by the ventilator. The narrative ends; consumed by the sound of birds going awry (the Theramin) and the ventilator, initially in the background becoming louder and louder until it overtakes all other sound, drowning out the entire sound set until the piece plummets into an eerie darkness. Kari is showing us that joy and pain (like love and hate) are in reality closely linked to each other.

I am stunned… I think of how must have been for Kari to be down in the Timara lab late at night recording that work until she got it the way she wanted it. And then walking back to her dorm and trying to go to sleep before she had to get up for 8.30 am lectures the following morning.

Stunning.

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Sunday morning; before Chris and Alan and I pack up and return to Philli and Boston respectively, Kari takes us on one of her favorite nature walks to the Arboretum. It is another warm and sunny morning, just the sort of lazy Sunday when walking on a dirt track around a pond, watching the changing perspective of colored leaves reflected in the water (itself the color of the sky) reminds me that despite everything happening in the world, there is good and we are in the midst of it.

Chris also reminds me of this when we come upon a piece of fishing line with both sinker and hooks attached. It has been carelessly thrown aside on the earth. “Some poor creature might get caught up in that,” he announces, before he scales a nearby tree and lodges the hook firmly in its trunk with the line wrapped so tightly to it so nothing can get caught up in it.
We continue on our walk in single file along the narrow path. I walk last, content to meander and listen to the birds and gentle buzzing sounds from the grasses, and gaze into the pond watching the water insects flit along the surface, (and of course, take photos.)
Since our walk on September 11 at World’s End where we spent Jesi’s second anniversary walking in the woods, I feel that even without words there is some special connection happening as we wander and stop to gaze at the pond, Kari pointing out her favorite spots, the rope swing where she swims, the place where the dogs gather and plunge in, her running track… And although there are no words spoken about the missing member of our family, I know we all share thoughts of Jesi and she is there too. I can feel that something special in the air. Something that makes the morning whole and fulfilling.


Then we get back in the car we set out on a long drive through the Ohio countryside. We have our lunch with Kari and one of her friends, visit the local museum and the cat rescue to cuddle some kittens before we head to the airport to fly home.

Posted in College Freshman after Loss of Twin Sister to Cancer, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, Spiritual Beliefs, Using Music as an Agent for Healing after Losing a Twin, Writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Tuning into Jesi

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I am lying on a yoga mat listening to the instructor’s voice. She is telling me to breathe into my belly, to feel it expand. I rest my right hand on my chest and feel the swell of it under my palm as my breath pushes upward and my ribs expand. I feel my belly and ribs fall again as the breath leaves my body.
My left hand is lying flat across the mid line my chest. I am completely in the moment of this rise and falling motion, lying on a yoga mat in the movement studio at OMEGA, holistic educational center in Rhinebeck NY. It is my first evening here. I have come to attend a five day workshop with James Van Praagh which is to begin the following day. But for now I am moving into the stillness of the evening not thinking about the workshop, or what might happen this year: remembering that last year, James, a world renowned spiritual medium bought Jesi through to me and told me how joyful and happy she was in her spirit existence, caring for the horses that had recently passed from this world into the next dimension.

I am not thinking about any of this, but just rejoicing in the peace I am feeling, the steady rising and falling of my chest. Until suddenly I am jolted by a sensation I had not expected. The breath is leaving my body. My hand is on my chest. All the breath has been expelled from it and there is an instant of complete stillness. And in that instant there is a searing sensation, a knowing beyond all doubt. Whether it is a feeling in my body or a knowing in my mind I cannot distinguish. But I absolutely know what it is. It is the moment of Jesi’s passing and it is happening in my chest and under my hand where my heart and her heart are suddenly one. I am sensing the moment her heart came to a standstill. I am jolted into this awareness yet simultaneously I understand that this is not her heart, but my heart, that this is not her death, but my life.

This is a message from her that she is present with me, and she will be with me this week.

I breathe in deeply feeling my chest and heart expand beneath my hand. And as with all the sudden appearances of Jesi’s spirit, I want that moment to come again. And again. But it doesn’t, so I relive it in my mind while the instructor’s voice recedes into the background.

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Three days later I walk into the group to begin the morning session of the workshop. I am not wearing my usual black jeans and layering of tee shirts and sweaters. I am wearing a long brown skirt and a green shirt with swirls of brown and gold sparkles and I have thrown a flowing green scarf with silver threads woven through it over my shoulders that reaches down past my waist. When I enter James looks up and I sense he notices the change in me. Today I have vowed I will share my experience of Jesi’s visit and her presence with the group. During the morning discussion of experiences from the previous day (or days) I raise my hand asking for the microphone. I find it difficult to speak in front of groups. (The times I have, such as after Jesi passed away and I spoke in front of hundreds of people at the Light the Night walk for Leukemia, I knew I was the only the conduit for some light greater than myself to speak through me. The words that came out of my mouth flowed effortlessly and spontaneously. I still have no idea how or what happened that night under the stars and in front of all those lights. But I’m sure Jesi’s spirit was somehow responsible.) Surely, I think, Jesi is with me now. I nervously roll the mic between one palm and the other while waiting for the previous speaker to finish, desperately trying to focus on what they are saying and on the ensuing conversation, not on my own partly rehearsed script. When it comes to my turn, I put the mic to my lips and begin by telling of my experience in the relaxation class on the evening I arrived at OMEGA. And how I knew beyond a doubt that it was Jesi.

“I was both startled, felt a pang of the loss of her, but mostly I knew that she sending me the message that she was with me this week,” I told the group.
Then I continued, “Last year at this workshop, you did a reading of my daughter, James. You showed me how light and free and happy she is in the spirit world. I went home from the week feeling so much better than when I arrived. Like my spirit had been lifted in knowing Jesi’s spirit was happy….
Yesterday in one of our partner exercises Jesi came through again, and my partner who sensed her also felt her light and joyful spirit. She described her as impish and playful. A perfect description of Jesi. I’ve been in the doldrums this past summer. Going through a real period of grieving Jesi as her twin sister prepared and left for college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of coming here this year. I came without any expectations. All I knew was that I needed a kick start to get me back on track. I had forgotten that Jesi is light and energy and full of joy in her real home in the spirit world, I have been so wrapped up in my own loss. Being reminded not only that Jesi is full of light and free from pain but that she is really here with me… only not physically… is just what I needed to be reminded of. I can be sad at my loss of her physical presence but happy at her being free from pain.”
Then I handed the microphone back for the next person to speak.

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Later that morning, at the break one of the other members of the group came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story. She told me how she could sense my light as well as my grief, and how she appreciated that. I remember thinking Wow, I never realized I would be giving others a gift by speaking up. My partner from the previous day’s reading who had bought Jesi through also thanked me for sharing the story and validating her experience too.

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On the final morning of the workshop I also received a wonderful gift.
We were working in groups of five doing speed mediumship readings. I was sitting on the end of a row, this time a “client” being read by each of five “mediums” sitting across from me. James was circling the room checking with us as we worked. He came over to me and my partner and knelt beside us.
“How are you going?” he asked.
“Good,” I replied. My partner was bringing through my father.
“You’ve lost a child,” James said nodding at me. “A boy?”
“No, a daughter” I replied.
“She’s here.”
Then he turned to my partner, the medium and said. “Her energy is strong. Very loving. See if you can pick up the love.”
At that point my heart started to open up. It was as if it were a pair of lips that having an allergic. I could feel it swelling up inside me.
“I can,” I replied.
“You got it?” James was asking my partner. “That’s you’re way in. Just let yourself feel her love.”
My partner then was able to pick up on Jesi and give me a message from her. So like Jesi too, to remind me to take care of myself, to trust my instincts and believe in myself!

Then James stood up and walked off to another group. And as he did, I looked up. He gave me a nod and smiled ever so slightly. He put his hand to his mouth and pointed one finger upward to the sky. I couldn’t quite read what it meant. But it was an affirmation. And it was about Jesi.
And it sent me over the moon and into the heavens to her.

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Posted in Dealing with Loss, James Van Praagh, Mother's Healing Journey after Loss, Photographs, Spirituality and Beliefs, Writing, Writing about Loss of a daughter | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Walking in the Light

Six years ago we sat in the lounge room at Alan’s house, the floor scattered with inflated balloons. We were all there; Kari, Chris, Jesi, Alan, the dog sleeping among the debris of paper and streamers and marker pens. Even the cats were prowling around, suspiciously  eyeing the odd shaped balls, light enough for them to push with their tails, transparent enough for them to see through. There were others gathered in the lounge room too, school friends and soccer friends. And a crescendo of excited chatter and laughter.

Yet I did not feel festive. I was worried. Jesi was sitting in the middle of the room  in her wheelchair, sick with a heavy head cold. It was windy and cool outside. And the air had a crisp bite to it, a reminder that is was Fall. It was mid afternoon and the sun and the blue sky promised some warmth, yet the early arrival of darkness would squelch that soon enough.

Alan and I were discussing whether it was safe for Jesi to do the three mile route around Lake Quannapowitt in her wheelchair.

This was the first year of Teamjesi at the Wakefield Light the Night walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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Jesi was adamant she would do it, so we compromised. It was so tough to deprive her of the joys of being a kid, when only three months earlier she had been on the soccer field with these same friends, kicking balls and running laps up and down its length. But now, bundled in blankets so high she could hardly see, wrapped in so many rounds of scarfs she could hardly breathe, with a beanie on her bald head, gloves masking her emaciated and weakened hands, and layered in socks over her boney feet and wearing thick baggy sweats, we pushed  her into the van to drive her to Wakefield.

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Today, those same friends have grown six years older. Perhaps some of them have joined freshman soccer teams at college. All of them have left town for colleges in different towns, in different states. They have scattered across the country, perhaps some even across the world. Only Alan and I and the prowling cats remain to pace the floors, while the dog sleeps her fifteen years away on the lounge. And at Wakefield tonight, only a handful of adult friends carry the banner for Teamjesi in the LLS walk.

What is important tonight, though, is not numbers (though Teamjesi has raised over $3000 this year) but what we represent. Not only Jesi’s spirit, she, who happily wanted for others what she couldn’t have for herself, health and the chance to live a full life, but the spirit of the team itself.
Teamjesi came into being six years ago when Jesi’s soccer friend Talia Ruxin created the team. When she left for college in Connecticut last September Talia was concerned how Teamjesi would survive her departure, but as soon as she heard Alan and I were interested in walking she (and her mom) set about registering the team again this year.

There are other Light the Night walks throughout the States where Jesi will also be remembered. A few weeks ago I received FB message from another of Jesi’s old soccer friends. Lucy told me she had signed up to do the walk in Madison Wisconsin. It seems that rather than Jesi’s light diminishing, her spirit is being spread even further afield.

So whatever the weather, however many feet tread the familiar path around the lake tonight or around however many other lakes or paths in the coming weeks, Jesi’s spirit and that of her team will live beyond us all, warming us and keeping us striving for the light.

 

If you would like to donate to TEAMJESI 2016, visit

http://pages.lightthenight.org/ma/Wakefld16/TeamJesi

Posted in In Memory of a Teenager who died of Cancer, Leukemia and Lymphoma society Light the Night Walk, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Jesi Memorial on 9/11

 

For the days leading up to this, the second anniversary of Jesi’s passing, I have felt a wash of emotions. Sitting in yogic pose on the edge of the pond three days ago, I remember the unthinking comment of a friend some weeks back. “I suppose you’ve moved on.” She said this as we spoke of the opening comments of the Senior Class Captain of Lexington High School’s speech at the graduation ceremony last May. “Someone should be here with us today. One of us is missing from our group.” Moved on? My jaw dropped.

I have wondered about that phrase a hundred times since that afternoon. How does one? How could one … move on? Would one ever really want to? And yet one has to. When the friend said those words to me, I have to admit, I was so taken aback, all I could think to say was… “You have to keep living.”

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Today, on the second anniversary of Jesi’s passing, I return to the pond. This time with Alan and Kari and Chris. We are on a mission. I have been frantic to get us there. All three weather apps on my phone predict thunder around 11 am.
We will each scatter some ashes. Alan and Chris and Kari from the shore and I have taped a plastic bag to my belly and slipped a small silver box down the front of my swimsuit. I want to swim into the middle of the pond, to somewhere near the deepest part and let go of them. For days, since this idea came to me I have been thinking how best to make sure I can safely transport them. What tape would be strong enough? Where on my body would they be protected? I wake this morning still pondering this question. It was that day after I finished my stretches and was swimming that I asked Jesi how she wanted us to rememberer her. “What do you want us to do on your anniversary this year Jesi?” Then, almost asleep the idea came to me. Jesi must have wanted it. Sprinkle ashes in the pond. Then she would be always be here swimming with me.

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As we arrive at the beach, the light cloud cover swells a deep blue stain before turning a menacing grey. It brings with it a stampede of water which tramples the pond like thunderous hooves, galloping from the cove in the east to the boat ramp in the west. The wind whips the water back towards us so that it is almost impossible to face it. We stand huddled together under a cluster of trees, mesmerized by the force of the wind and the rain.

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“I feel like this weather happening now is some sort of a message,” Kari is the first to speak. I nod my agreement, deliberating whether the lightning, now only 12 miles away (shown on one of my phone apps) is going to cause us to abort the planned swimming aspect of our ceremony.
But as fast as the hooves have galloped across the pond they seem to have taken with them the dark stain that covered the world, and the winds ferocious gusts quiet. A second weather app suggests I have 23 minutes until the thunderstorm will arrive.
“Do you think you can get to that point in 23 minutes?” Chris asks.

It seems like a ‘now or never’ situation and I think of the planning that I have put into this, not to mention the desire to carry through on wanting this to happen today, on the second anniversary of Jesi’s passing, with Chris and Kari are both back from college, and the fact that we don’t have time to wait around until the storm passes. They both have to return this afternoon.
“Let’s do it then,” I reply.

I grab by swim cap, ear plugs and nose clip. Alan offers to carry my bag. We plan to meet at the other end of the pond, somewhere short of the cove. They will keep me in sight and if the sky looks ominous will wave their arms to attract my attention. I will keep an eye out for them and stay close to the shore.
I plunge in. The water is surprisingly warm. Because the wind is whipping it up in swirls all around me it is not possible to lie flat along the surface. I feel like a surf life saver, torso angled up with my head pointed forward like the bow of a boat. I come up for a breath and forget to submerge my head and find myself face to face with a wall of water. For a split second I panic, but I do not have time to lose control. I have to keep swimming. All the time I am watching the sky. It seems to be clearing. I start thinking about why I am here, which in my near panic I had almost forgotten. I begin to talk to Jesi. I tell her what I want to do. That I want to her to be in the pond with me always. I thank her for telling me she wanted this too. I make a slight curve so I am heading toward the center of the pond. The sky is clearing. The wind is dropping and the water is calming. I am finding a rhythm in my stroke. I feel rested and peaceful. I remember the plastic bag taped to my belly and the small box which I feel slide under my bathing suit. I continue until I am in the middle of the pond where I stop and tread water. I look across to the shore, just short of the cove and see two figures. I think it is Kari and Chris. Later I learn it is Alan who is with Kari. Chris has walked a little further on.

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First I reach into my suit and find the small box. I had not thought how I would do this. I guess I had imagined I would just drop it. But when I pull it out, something very different happens. I turn to face Kari. I hold it up. Then I imagine the sun, which is now glinting through a hole in the clouded sky, will catch the light and reflect it. I wave it back and forth a couple of times as high as I can. I am laughing. I fling it up into the air. And I watch it, as it rises up, stops for a split second and then falls, down through the air and through the surface of the water with a splash. I tread water and watch it fall, feeling exhilarated and finding some sort of joy which I had not anticipated.

When I turn around and look at the sky. The sun has emerged. The sky over the boat ramp is a pale powder blue. White puffs of cloud drift across it. Now I am sure there is something larger than me orchestrating this event.

Next I reach into my swim suit and start tearing at the tape. I wonder why I was so worried about the tape not holding. I feel like I am pulling my skin off as I attempt to pull the plastic bag off. Eventually though, I get it free. Then I pry it open and reach into it. Little by little, as I float on my back kicking, I disperse ashes into the water. I hold them between my fingers and thumbs. I feel their softness even as they are sodden with water. I rub my fingers together after I have let them go. I think of Jesi’s young soft skin. I take some in my left hand. Then some in my right. I feel the same joy. I FEEL THE SAME JOY. Suddenly I remember over a year ago, in Birdwood Gully, Springwood Australia, sprinkling Jesi’s ashes when our family took her back to the place she had visited in her physical body two year before that. I felt joy then too. WHY IS IT THAT THIS BRINGS SUCH JOY, I wonder. But I do not wonder long. I look up at the sky and it is darkening again. This time over the cove where Kari and Chris and Alan are walking. So I quickly disperse the last of the ashes, replace the empty plastic bag under my swimsuit and turn back on my belly and swim over to the shore to join them.

Posted in Anniversary of Death of Child, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, Grief and Loss, Memorials and Remembering, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Taking Kari (and Jesi) to College

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As the minivan, loaded with boxes and bins crammed full of her clothes and music books and photos, and all the newly purchased dorm supplies lurches out of our street and onto the main road, I suddenly find myself thinking of Jesi. Chris is driving, Alan is next to him and Kari and I are behind them. We are heading for Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Kari reaches for my hand through the tangle of her two stuffed animal companions, Grandpa Jo, the cuddly soft bear that had been given to Jesi during the last months of her hospital stay, and Akira, a big black bear Kari was given when she was little.
“Do you think I’m too old to take stuffed animals to college mum?” Kari asks.
“Never too old for good friends,” I reply. “Besides, they love adventure and this is the beginning of a wonderful new adventure for you!”
It is, and I am truly happy for Kari and all she has achieved, but inside I also feel an indescribable sadness. Jesi should be here with us, also beginning her freshman year in college, and she isn’t.

For the past week I have been watching the progress in Kari’s room as her favorite belongings have gradually moved from piles on the floor into boxes and crates. As the walls of her room have been stripped of the laughter she shared with Jesi, and the echo of their life together has been folded away. I have stood silently, living the memory of Jesi, who, the week before she went into hospital for her bone marrow transplant over two years ago undertook a thorough cleaning and sorting of her room never to return to it. Watching Kari, I have felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention, alerted to her imminent departure, while the rational voice inside my head has kept reminding me, this is not the same, this is NOT the same.

As the car, weighted down with its cargo and four passengers lunges towards the freeway Alan asks Chris about the bike. It is strapped to the roof on its side. In order to have the handle bars lying flat the front wheel mud guard (they have taken the wheel itself off) is sitting at a right angle to the roof. It crowns the van like a silver beacon shining in the sunlight. Suddenly I realize Jesi is with us after all. I imagine her sitting perched on the top of the bike, her arms flapping in the breeze, mouth wide open laughing, her hair, its pre-cancer length to her waist, streaming behind her. Everything about her is waving untethered in the wind. I turn to tell Kari of my vision but she has her ear buds in and is listening to music so I squeeze her hand instead. A few days later, when we walk down the quiet streets of Oberlin I will imagine Kari riding her bike and Jesi perched behind her on her pannier, her same exhilarated laughter. Both girls hair will be loose and flying in the breeze. Kari will be yelling “hold on Jesi, hold on.” Jesi will be waving her arms and legs and screeching “go faster Kari, go faster.” This will be the way Jesi will attend college with Kari.

That evening, over dinner in a small Italian restaurant in Bethlehem Pennsylvania I suggest a family photo. This will be the last family photo of the trip, as in the morning Chris will peel off from the party so he can prepare for his final year at Lehigh University. We huddle together while I hold the phone for a selfie. Family photos have become a very complex issue for me. But I do not think this while we all lean in and make funny faces at the screen. I am busy making sure everyone’s head is visible. Click. But there is a nagging voice inside. Jesi is missing. We are not complete anymore. But I have to do this… just in case. What if something else were to happen …
There is something about losing a child… a sibling… that knits a family together in an undefinable way. Even a divorced family.

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When I look at the picture I look past the faces. I am looking instead at the flares of light surrounding the light bulbs. I want to find a sign of something supernatural, a sign that Jesi is with us and has revealed herself in the photo. An orb of light. But I find nothing. I look back at the faces. There are still only four of us and we are all still smiling.

As we drive Chris to his apartment the following morning, past the now familiar university buildings, I remember all the beginnings here. Three years ago when Chris was a freshman as Kari is now to be. Alan and I helped move him into his dorm that year. Kari had to stay in Lexington to try out for the high school soccer team. Jesi, in remission had been invited on a cruise to Bermuda with her best friend. Two years ago when Kari and Alan drove Chris to school to begin sophomore year and I stayed in Boston with Jesi who was in the ICU after her transplant. That was when everything went awry.
As I think about it I realize that even now my life is punctuated by Jesi’s life: her health, her illness, her death. It always will be a defining factor.

We pull up in front of Chris’s apartment and tumble out of the van and into his house. Jesi again appears in a vision before me. This time she is the fifteen year old she was when we visited Chris in freshman year for family weekend. She is wearing her tight black jeans and the waterproof grey jacket she bought in Australia earlier that year, and her favorite black lace up boots. She is jumping and leaping, larking around like the happy teen she was when cancer let go of its hold on her. When I see her I have walked through the front room of the house and I am standing at the door looking into an empty room. Except in front of me is Jesi, leaping, as if onto Chris’s back. The image is so vivid I have to stop myself for a minute. Sometimes it is like this because Jesi’s spirit is so enormous it is still difficult to comprehend she is not here with us.

We drop Chris’s bags off at his apartment and decide to potter around Bethlehem for an hour or so before driving on to Ohio. Unlike Oberlin, which is situated on a plain, Lehigh is built into the side of a mountain so Chris takes us up to a scenic lookout.
“This is a great place to come at sunset,” he explains and then adds, “One of our philosophy professors bought the class up here once and asked us all what we wanted out of life.”
I want to ask ‘and what did you say?’ but somehow it doesn’t feel right to make this carefree moment into an intense meaning of life conversation. Besides, I can feel a fluttering in my belly knowing I will have to stay goodbye to Chris soon. So I settle for
“Do you guys want a photo?” directing my question to Chris and Kari. “Sure,” they both respond.

The same pang hits me that did the previous evening when I point my phone at the two of them as they sit, Kari with her arms clasped around Chris’s middle, on the stone wall of the lookout. I know what goes through my mind. It is the same script as before. This isn’t right. Jesi should be here. Two is not right. I have three children. It happens to me all the time. A simple question in a doctors office survey. An innocent question asked by a new acquaintance. But what do Chris and Kari think? “He’s the only sibling I have.” Kari has said these words to me on a number of occasions. The same is true for Chris. Yet they both smile into the phone as I click some photos as if it has always been this way.  And this time I do not look for the orb of light. Then we all hop back into the car and drive down the hill.

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The road to Oberlin is long and flat and straight and for most of it I focus on Kari’s anticipation of the following day’s activities. It is a relief to have this to think about so Jesi takes a back seat in my mind. I also know that I struggle with the lingering thought of what it will be like when Kari is settled into her dorm room and the parent orientation is over and Alan and I get back into the car to start the long drive back to Boston. I am relieved to have a day or so’s respite visiting a friend in the Philadelphia area where we used to live to get used to the idea of being an ‘empty nester.’

That evening, dinner is very different. We are late arriving at our hotel and settle for a mix of take out dishes from a local south western style diner. Kari’s black bean soup ends up being white beans and beef. Not her favorite. She settles for the mac and cheese instead.
“Comfort food,” I announce.

It’s funny the things one remembers. Of all the times Kari has eaten mac and cheese it only now strikes me that Jesi would always choose mac and cheese when she was in the hospital. I mention this fact to Kari and we joke about it. We also joke about the way in which Jesi is making her presence felt on this trip.

The following day Kari moves into her dorm room. On the wall above her bed she pins two large photos of Jesi. Grandpa Jo nestles into her pillow below them. Kari entrusts me with the task of carefully unpacking the treasured items of Jesi’s she has bought with her: some jewelry, a head scarf, a small box of incense, candles and ceramic elephants, and a framed photo of them both taken when they were toddlers. I place the jewelry and scarf in the bottom drawer of her desk with her conductor’s baton and the photo on the shelf near her books.

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This is not the last advice I leave Kari with (let’s face it, mothers are always full of advice, especially when they are dropping their daughters at college for freshman year), but before we leave her dorm room I stand in front of her, her face glowing both from perspiration and with pride at having achieved this first step toward her independence and hold her hands and say,
“Maybe this is the best way for Jesi to always be with you, Kari. She can be with you everywhere now she isn’t restricted by a physical body. And through you, she can experience college that she never got the opportunity to do in her life.” I wonder while I say this how Kari will receive it. But Kari smiles and nods her understanding. We hug, a mixture of sweat and love before we wander out into the hall to find Alan and the cafeteria for lunch.

 

 

 

 

Posted in College Freshman after Loss of Twin Sister to Cancer, Divorced Family coping with Loss of a Teenager, loss of a twin to cancer, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Opening and Closing of Doors

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It’s been two months since I laid my hand, left palm flat against the peeling brown paint of the door, above the lock and took a long slow breath. Then leant my forehead, just above my hair, on the thin wood panel between the door frame and the glass insert and closed my eyes. A moment passed before I turned and moved away.

It’s been two months since I walked down the old wooden steps, holding onto the wrought iron railing that led from the porch to the brick walkway, and when I got to the second bottom step sat down and put my head in my hands. I remember watching Jesi walk carefully down those steps many times, her knees stiff, her legs supported in braces least her quad muscles would not hold her and she might fall. She clung tight to the railing that our landlord tightened once he observed how much she needed it for support.

I had just done the final walk through of my apartment before handing over the keys to my landlady. It’s been two months now. Moving is always difficult, but moving out of that apartment was even more so. In some small way it was like I was losing Jesi all over again and it has been almost two years since then.

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Upstairs the rooms, their polished wooden floors and white patched walls, scuff marks which have witnessed the history of our lives seemed to breathe in and out as I wandered aimlessly through them for the last time. When I came to Jesi’s room I stood and leant in the doorway. I would always remember how she curled herself up into tiny ball in her bed, and how one knee would invariably find its way out from under the covers. I was glad I was alone with my memories, though I wondered if Jesi was with me. I felt I should have apologized for giving up on her home. inside my head I said I was sorry, knowing she would understand, just as I did her need to leave us and this life.

They say when one door closes another opens…
Now, two months later Kari is preparing for a different type of leaving. It is both exciting, the beginning of a new adventure and a little scary. And it is something she always thought she would be doing if not exactly alongside Jesi, and least with Jesi moving onward too.

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When Kari graduated from high school in early June she “carried” Jesi not only in her heart, but also on her dress. The prayer card with Jesi’s angel face clearly visible as she promenaded down the steps to the marquee where the ceremony was to take place.
When we went on a family vacation to celebrate Kari turning eighteen back in March and a woman she met struck up a conversation with her, Kari told her about her musical compositions and college plans. At that point she had not yet been granted admission to Oberlin Conservatory but said that was where she wanted to study. Kari told the woman she was a twin. The woman asked “And what does your twin want to study?” Kari replied “Oh Jesi’s going to Tufts to study Veterinary Science.”
I smiled when I heard Kari’s response.

I have no doubt though, that when Kari packs her pillows and her pretty new sheets, (Jesi would tell me it’s about the thread count Kari, not the colors, Kari states as we drive to the store) and towels and musical posters and coffee maker and mugs in boxes there will be not only pictures of Jesi and perhaps a couple of Jesi’s favorite stuffed animals snuggled in with her dorm room supplies. Jesi’s spirit will be right there by Kari’s side as this new and exciting episode of Kari’s life unfolds, and the door to her dorm and Oberlin Conservatory of Music opens to welcome her.

As they say, when one door closes another opens…

Posted in Losing a Twin to Cancer, Memories of Loved Ones in Physical Places, Writing about Loss of a daughter | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Jesi Sends a Frog

The moving guys have gone and I am standing on the steps of Alan’s house in Lexington, the last of the three stops we have made. Most of my possessions are out of the apartment in Arlington. What is left is to be donated, to be picked up at the end of the week.

The early clouds and threat of rain have vanished and in return left the day under a cloak of scorching sun. I decide the only way to handle the churning inside my belly and the ongoing jittery feeling which has been surging through me all morning is to go to Walden.

I always marvel how being suspended in 100 feet of water can ground me, but it does.
It is a spectacular afternoon and the pond keeps her promise, or perhaps it is the constant rhythm with which my body responds to being present in her that soothes me. But by the time I arrive back at the main beach I realize how exhausted I am. No doubt a build up of anxious energy which, like a spring has finally let go and rebound with a force equal to that which it was previously wound tight.

Technically it is not yet the swim season at Walden, still being a week prior to Memorial Day, but the ropes are in place, marking the designated areas for swimming and given the heat and humidity many young children and their mothers have congregated in the shallow water. Little frogs, I think. I wonder if Jesi was ever a frog for Halloween? This thought seems to rise out of nowhere, except that I remember thinking the toddlers remind me of little frogs as they enjoy playing in the water. For a few minutes I run through all the Halloween’s I can recall to see if Jesi was ever a frog. The closest I come is when she was a ladybird and Kari was a bee. I grab my towel and make my way up the ramp thinking nothing more of it.

 

The following day I returned to my apartment to continue the clean up. The first thing I notice is a piece of bubble wrap which found its way onto the lounge room floor and is stuck to it with tape. For probably fifteen minutes the previous day I stood chatting to one of the moving guys as he wrapped and taped a large oil painting which hung on the wall, first with flattened cardboard cartons and then with bubble wrap so it could be put in storage. He used all four remaining rolls of my bubble wrap in completing the task. As he worked he told me about a particular move he had done where the house was so dirty and unhygienic, and hadn’t been lived in for three years he had to refuse to move the fridge. When I told him I had not lived here for over two years we started talking about Jesi and what had happened. I talked about her love of animals. As it was around the time her scholarship was to be awarded he asked if he could donate. When he finished the painting

I noticed the piece of bubble wrap lying on the floor, but given the apartment was such a mess and I was so anxious about the rest of the move I didn’t bother to pick it up. I didn’t realize the piece of bubble I left on the floor was stuck to it let alone thought it possible there might be something under it. But when I returned the day after the move, the first thing I did was pick up the piece of bubble, or try to. That is when I found the frog.

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I startled when it jumped out at me and landed about a foot away on the polished wooden floor. I bent down to get a closer look, thinking it was a cricket, and least it might jump again gingerly kept my distance. Then it dawned on me it was a frog, not a real frog, but a tiny plastic frog. So I scooped it up in my hand. I still have no idea how it came to be there, though I immediately knew who had sent it. Those children playing on the water’s edge at Walden the previous afternoon … those thoughts that had been placed in my mind … Jesi who had never been a frog …

Sometime there is no rational explanation for the things that happen to us. We just have to Trust … And Believe …

Posted in Being open to Messages from the Afterlife, Enduring Nature of Love, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesi’s Bed

Dear Reader: This is the first in a series of works I will be posting reflecting back on what it was like to pack up and let go of the last home Kari and I (and Chris before he went to college) lived in with Jesi. I hope you enjoy reading them!

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I cried the day I unmade her bed. It was a Sunday, cold and bleak for early May. The air was heavy and my mood added to the weight of it. I remember pressing my lips closed as if to allow any breath of air through them would be to let go entirely… and I knew I couldn’t risk that… I remember carefully, deliberately lifting first one, then a second pillow-pet off the covers. Placing them on the box opposite her bed. I remember pausing before I continued to remove the pillows, at first the one she lay her head upon and then the body pillow which lay along the wrought iron back of the day bed she had slept in. I remember feeling the soft cotton thread of the pillow, imagining I could feel her by touching where her head had been, although it was over two years since she had lain there. I touched it gently at first, then less cautiously, pressing it slightly as if I might reach her into her through the heart of the pillow. When I got no sensation in response, no satisfaction, I placed it aside and continued with the task. I reached for the soft brown throw with its red embroidered edging which covered the end of the bed. Inside my head I heard her saying it keeps my feet from hitting the cold iron bed frame mama. But something stopped me from moving it just yet so I reached instead for the colorful patchwork quilt, one of the many gifts she received from charities, this time from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a camp for kids like her who suffered from life threatening blood diseases. I picked up adjacent corners and carefully bought them together folding the quilt in half, and then again until it was folded into eights. Then I placed it in a box I had bought in for the purpose of holding her bedclothes. I paused before I went back to the foot of the bed, and running my hand along the soft fleece of the throw with red embroidering I quickly picked it up from where it hung over the wrought iron frame, folded it and lay it in the box too.

The unmaking of her bed continued like this, through tightly closed lips with slow deliberate breaths in and out through my nose, in the silence of the empty apartment. Until I came to the sheets.

Sheets became a special part of Jesi’s day when she was in hospital “recovering” from her bone marrow transplant. They had to be changed and washed every day, and because I could give her so little of what a teenager deserved I gave her two things: colorfully designed sheets, a choice of three different shades, green with lines made up of hearts and leaves and triangles; purple and blue flowers, each with long straight stalk with carefully placed leaves at regular intervals growing out of either side of the stalk; and pink with flower petals, hearts and other shape doodles, the peace sign being the most notable to me as it, together with the hearts epitomized what Jesi loved and believed in most, even before her age reached double figures. All these I had changed, taken home and washed each night with the other thing I was able to give her: colorful hospital johnnies which serendipitously seemed to match one or other of the set of the sheets. (I remembered how Jesi and I had made a big thing of which hospital johnnie to wear with which sheet set so she might look best). They too had to be changed and washed daily to prevent bacterial infections while Jesi had no functional immune system. But the sheets Jesi liked best at my apartment had stripes of yellow and orange and red squares. They seemed thin and soft and I had always wondered why she preferred them over the sturdier, crisper cotton sheets I had bought for her myself, for these too had been a gift as had the others from Childrens Hospital. It would have exasperated me to have woken with them trapped around my legs each morning the way I remembered seeing them wrapped around hers.
It was these which I now pulled back, revealing the place where she had slept. A body which no longer existed on earth.
For these, I unravelled a clean plastic garbage bag. I planned to take them back to Alan’s house where I had been staying for all the months Jesi lay in that hospital bed and for all the months since she had passed, to wash them and fold them and put them away. The life I had shared here in this apartment with Jesi and Kari had to be put away in boxes, ready to relinquish the lease on the apartment I knew I could never live in again.

Posted in Losing a Child, Writing about Grief | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering Jesi’s Passion for Animals

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I leant forward to give Eleanor a congratulatory hug. “I’m so glad you got the award,” I whispered. Even with the applause from the audience engulfing us, I could sense her gratitude. It was woven into her person. Eleanor struck me as a quiet young woman, grounded in her own being, modest and unassuming. It was interesting that out of all the applicants for the scholarship, a memorial to Jesi, to be awarded to a senior at Lexington High School to honor her love of animals, Eleanor seemed closest to Jesi in her sensibility. Yet it wasn’t those qualities that earned Eleanor the award. It was her passion for animals that she cared for in her community, how she often sort them out to spend time with, even when she wasn’t required to and her plans to volunteer over the summer at an animal rescue before beginning to study Animal Science and Pre-Vet in college, that won her the honor of being awarded the first annual Jesi Watson Memorial Scholarship.

The auditorium at Lexington High School was probably only half full and the lights made it difficult to make out the individual faces from the stage. Faces of the group of seniors who I knew as young children. Behind them their parents sat, moms and dads who stood on the sidelines at soccer matches or other school events with us. Together we had watched our children grow and learn and slowly discover their themselves and their passions. Now, as Kari was, and as Jesi would have been, they would soon be making their way to college. It was a special year to be initiating the scholarship and Eleanor was the perfect recipient.

Alan had first suggested the scholarship to Kari Chris and I, so when we were called to award it he spoke on our behalf at the presentation. As he explained the idea behind its conception, he talked about Jesi and her love of animals; how entranced she had been as a young child by baby goats and calves when we visited petting farms, wanting to stay for hours feeding them pellets we bought, a quarter for a handful from a candy machine. He spoke about her love of dogs and cats as a little girl. I pictured her rubbing her face into the fur of our Shih Tzu’s and later our three cats, especially Micky, the docile Maine Coon. After she had lost her hair to cancer she used to love to feel his furry belly on her scalp. I remembered how, when she was learning to read, she would sit with our Pomeranian Elliot next to her in the large armchair and read to him. He sat patiently listening with what looked like an enormous grin on his orange face. Alan spoke about the summer Jesi did voluntary work at a local kennel, cleaning the cages and make sure the dogs had fresh water and bedding and helping socialize them in the play yard. I remembered how the kennel owners had been so impressed with her they told us she worked harder than some of their paid staff who were years older than her. (Jesi would only have been 14 years old then.) After that summer, Alan explained, Jesi was employed by a local veterinary clinic as a kennel hand. A job the owners of the boarding kennel recommended her for. There, each weekend she took care of the dogs and cats who were kenneled while their owners were on vacation. I remembered sitting in my car one foggy Sunday morning waiting as Jesi, the last to leave, diligently emptied the trash into the dumpster in the car park. She was only fifteen but because of her maturity and responsibility to her commitments, she earned the position. She very soon became a valued member of the veterinary staff so much so that when the vet heard that we were starting a memorial in her honor, they asked to become involved.

As Alan spoke, I looked around at the audience waiting for his cue. I was to read the letter which Dr J at the veterinary clinic had written, also to be presented to Eleanor. I stared out into the darkened room, nervous and unable to think of anything I might say to lead into reading the letter. I found myself talking to Jesi. Jesi, please let me know if there is anything you want me to say, I thought. When I learnt in toward the microphone I first supported Alan’s speech and then talked about Jesi’s dedication to her work and her goal of becoming a vet. “And I have no doubt she would have too!” I added. As I heard my voice conveyed through the auditorium by the PA system, the amplified sound vibrating through the air, I saw a vision of Jesi’s spirit riding on a spirit pony across the dark space above the heads of the audience. Even as I spoke about the loss of our daughter, full of light and love and laughter; her “gentle happy spirit” as Dr J described her in the letter I was about to read, I knew in my heart that she was free, serving the animals who had passed over, taking care of them in the spirit world as she had always wanted to in this life.

Knowing this and celebrating her with this memorial scholarship so that in makes it a tiny bit easier for Eleanor and others recipients in the years to come to pursue their dreams, allows Jesi to live on and help others, something she always wanted to do.

Posted in Loving and Caring about Animals, Memorial Scholarship | Tagged , , | 4 Comments