On the evening of April 5th, 2022, my sister made her journey from this life to the next. My heart is heavy and full of grief. Still. Writing this has been cathartic. I’ve started and stopped many times over the past few months. Often weeping. It’s my attempt to honour her memory and ease the pain.
I remember when we were young children we disliked each other and fought a lot. I don’t really remember much about why. She was three years younger than me and I may have been jealous of the attention she got as the youngest, or maybe it was a symptom of all boys hating girls at that age. I think Jenny secretly delighted in getting her older brother into trouble and I can distinctly remember a few times when she cleverly included herself in escapades with my friends with the threat she’d arrange for some story that would get me grounded if I didn’t let her tag along.
Really though, these early years were probably the typical brother & sister rivalry and pale with how close we got as we got even a bit older.
I ended up being fairly protective of my younger sister. I remember when she started school and I gave her instructions to let me know if any kid bugged her and I’d take care of it. Truth be told, that sounds tougher than it actually was (me being one of the shortest kids in school) – in fact, Jenny held her own on the school ground and didn’t have any trouble at all making friends.
In our teen years, Jenny was my confidante. She was absolutely the best listener and whenever I had school/girl/friend troubles – Jenny would patiently tilt her head my way. Sometimes she wouldn’t necessarily say anything, she was just there.
Over the years we were fortunate to share a lot of the same interests. We both loved to read, we both grew up loving the outdoors, we both had a creative streak expressed through music and writing, and acting – hello elementary school Wizard of Oz, she played Dorothy and I was the munchkin king lol. Both Jenny and I took piano lessons, participated in music festivals and sang in choirs. Although, she definitely had a way better voice than me!
We both shared a strong faith. While we had formative years growing up in my parent’s church, it wasn’t until our teen years when we joined a youth group that we really grew deeper in our faith and relationship with Jesus. We developed a pretty incredible group of friends during those years that had a deep impact on our life. It was also during this time that we started playing music together, I on the piano, she singing.
We both loved sports. In fact, some of my most distinct memories are the times we’d be at the arena together – Jenny for figure skating lessons, and me for power skating or hockey practices. I’d go to her figure skating competitions, or ringette games, while she’d come to my hockey games. Then there was soccer in the summer.
I’ll never forget the call I got from my Mom and Dad one night from the Owen Sound hospital when they told me to come to meet them there. I had been out with friends and Jenny was at one of her figure skating lessons. A coach had noticed that one of Jen’s legs was really swollen and suggested they go to the hospital after to check it out. A scan at the hospital had revealed a mass in her leg and when I arrived my parents explained Jenny was being taken to Toronto Sick kids for more tests.
It was there, at 15 years of age, she was diagnosed with having a rare (for her age) Desmoid tumour. It was an aggressive variation and although non-cancerous, needed to be treated and operated on because she was at risk of losing her leg and other organs getting impacted. Thus began Jenny’s first encounter with tumours, this one lasting through two years of equally aggressive treatment including surgery and chemotherapy. The Chemo almost killed her but she was strong, survived, and was eventually declared tumour free.
Though her time in the hospital and treatment for the tumour negatively impacted her life, Jenny finished high school with great marks and attended the University of Guelph receiving her Bachelor of Applied Science (with honours major in Child Studies). Shortly after beginning University, the Desmoid tumour returned. The angst and grief of this diagnosis was all too real, especially when she was just at her last checkup to make sure things were okay. However, and fortunately, for the next round of treatment there was an experimental type of chemo she was able to take that had less aggressive side-effects and worked incredibly well at killing that tumour. After about a year, she was once again in remission.
After graduating, she started her 23-year career working with the Children’s Aid Society of Owen Sound and in her early years there continued her education receiving her Bachelors and then Masters in Social Work. While one might think this was mere academics, Jenny pursued this because it mattered to her that she was grounded well in what she did.
Jenny deeply cared about the work she was doing at the Children’s Aid. It was more than a job or a career, she felt she had a calling to not only protect and help the kids that came into their orbit but also work where and as much as possible to help the families impacted as well. It was hard, emotionally exhausting, and at times frustrating. One interesting thing that surfaced in the last year as Jenny battled her final bout with cancer, was that not only did she have an indelible impact on those families, and kids, but she also was a confidant, friend, mentor, and support to an incredible amount of her peers and colleagues.
That was Jenny. Genuinely and sincerely working to better the world around her and make everyone she interacted with feel valued and significant.
It was pretty cool that Jenny ended up marrying my best friend Chris. We even all bought and lived together in a house in Hanover when I was pastoring there. It was an incredible opportunity to pool our incomes together to break into owning a home and even more awesome for my first two kids to have “deedee” (Auntie) and “dohdoh” (Uncle) (as my daughter Karissa referred to them) around.
Due to the scars from the surgeries and treatments Jenny had with her tumours, she was told that it was very unlikely (and dangerous) for her to have children. Needless to say, Jenny defied that diagnosis with her and Chris bringing three incredible kids into the world – Aidan, Connor and Anna. These little miracles were the world to Jenny and Chris and she loved them deeply.
I hate using the past tense talking about my sister. Hate it. The biggest challenge of grief is when your present is now your past. When the person you love is both near and far. Familiarly near in memory, and yet so painfully far in presence.
In the intervening years, so much happened – as it usually does. Our families grew, I began a new career, and we each moved around to different houses. Though our time together decreased, we made the most of the time we had. So many memories were created in sharing birthday celebrations among our families, back and forth for various holidays during the years, and of course – our annual family trips to the cottage.
Going through the pictures now, remembering the stories attached to each one. Wishing we had one more big trip together.
Even though there were times we thought Jenny had seen the last of her tumours, variations of cancer kept surfacing over the years. She was especially susceptible to melanoma and had several bouts where she had to have cancerous growths removed. Even though there was this vague awareness that Jenny was high risk for cancer returning, it was so easy to think it would never be as serious as when she was a kid.
It would never get that bad.
Jenny herself lived life fully. She didn’t run away from challenges, but faced them head-on, strong in her faith, and often a source of strength and joy for those around her. That’s not to say she never wept or got frustrated or angry with those challenges. She let those moments come as they inevitably do. Incredibly though, she had this ability to pass through those moments stronger. Probably because she learned to embrace her reality, release her anxiety, and enjoy what she could.
Her joy was in seeing others’ joy.
While cancer is what eventually stole my sister’s body from this world. It didn’t take her life. Jenny’s legacy is the impact of her life on all of us.
Her faith fueled her joy, strength, and courage in everything that she did and lifted up everyone she encountered. A promise that this world is just a temporary stop-over, the best is yet to come.
Her perseverance, and investment in the things that mattered. Not worrying about the things that didn’t.
Her preparation lifted the burden of so many people who weren’t always prepared or even knew what to prepare for. Jenny often blazed a trail that lifted the capability and possibility of everyone around her.
Her love and attention meant you walked out of your moments with her feeling better.
I miss you, Jen.