The first time we met, it was love-at-first-sight for me. A petite, blonde with gorgeous blue eyes, she seemed almost perfectly beautiful. I am certain she had some flaws, but I couldn’t see them. I had never felt the emotions I was feeling right then. Her presence added a dimension to my understanding of love that you cannot understand unless you are a Dad. I thought it only fitting that she had an “angel kiss” birthmark on her eyelid. Footprints and thumb prints were taken. I couldn’t buy enough of her first picture. I knew everyone would want one. My life had changed forever! How amazing!
Unfortunately, it seemed that her feelings for me weren’t mutual. When I tried to put my arms around her, she wailed in full voice. I thought this first meeting would go so much better. Bonnie finally got her to calm down and the journey for the three of us (later four) began. The first lesson that Jennie taught me was about forgiveness. She seemed to know when Bonnie and I had just fallen asleep, because she would scream bloody-murder. She taught me about patience by not sleeping through the night for the first year. In spite of those small bumps in the road, I looked forward to a life of teaching my daughter everything she needed to know.
Looking back, I realize that Jennie taught me far more than I taught her. From the time she was four, J.D. began to teach me the real meaning of life. I got to see God through the innocent eyes of a child. It was humbling to realize that a small child had a better handle on life than I did, but for me, that was true. Jen kept bringing me back to things that mattered in almost every conversation. My priority list became much smaller. Living a day-at-a-time became a necessity. Talking about Jesus was just as natural for JenJen as breathing. She had her moments, as all children do, but the majority of our talks were from a level of maturity beyond her years.
Although Robbie taught me more about not being prejudiced than Jennie, Punky had her moments on that topic as well. She brought an African American girl home to play one day after school. Nothing was said until after her friend was gone. Jen said, “Did you notice any thing different about my friend?” Hoping we hadn’t noticed, she informed us, “My friend is black.” As she got older, she often found herself befriending people at school who didn’t fit in. With her “cancer kids,” she saw beyond their bald heads and pale bodies. She saw their hearts and knew their pain first hand. She saw them as who they are rather than how they looked. More than one parent told us that our daughter “was an angel.” She expressed her grief by writing a poem for each funeral of a child that had passed.
I have to admit, I got used to everything being okay. The experiences with cancer were a thing of the past. We would never face it again. I loved sharing the story of the miracle we had seen. Those two years of treatment were filled with amazing moments where we experienced beauty from ashes. From this point forward, there was nothing to worry about. Like every other child, Jennifer would find “Mr. Right,” marry and in spite of the medical odds would have a family of her own.
Little did I know, the deepest lessons Jennifer Dawn taught me were at the last. What really matters in life? The list is very short. The silly list of things that don’t matter fell away. I could care less about the head count and offering totals. Loving God and loving others was all that really mattered to her. She probably witnessed to more people in the two weeks she was in Jane Phillips than most Christians do in a life-time. Loving unconditionally and focusing on others is usually impossible when you are so sick, but her main concern was for Bonnie, Robb, me, her family and friends. She taught me lessons that I use often in my work as a Hospice Chaplain. Things like: “God is good…all the time…even when I don’t understand” and “always think of me in the present tense.”
I find comfort in knowing that Jennie took over as the Guardian Angel for our family. I learned from her that when the time comes to lose someone, talk to them from the heart. She was with me when I walked my Dad home. I have to believe she was doing cartwheels when Robb married Sarah and Jen got to add four new family members to her role of responsibility. I now see the impact she had on Robb’s life. Their time living in the same house in Yukon brought a bond that every parent wants. It wasn’t one-sided either. Robb helped Jennie as much as she helped him. I know that JenRN is as proud of Robbie as we are. Sarah, Lydia, Alliyah and Miriam have brought Robb’s depth of character out in ways that amaze me.
It has been seven years now since we celebrated a birthday with Jennie. The pain in my heart is a little less intense. I still find my voice breaking at times when I mention her name. If you are going to love deeply, you have to be risk hurting deeply. Although I would give anything to have one more day with my daughter, I am sure Jennie is comfortable in her new role. I can feel her presence when I visit with people who are hurting. I am sure I have even given her some reasons to life, like when I visited with a family in their home for 45 minutes and then realized I was in the wrong home. She is beaming when she sees Robb and his family as they enter a new chapter every day.
Happy Birthday, Jen! The lessons you have and are teaching me will impact my life until I see you again. It was too short, but you packed your life with things I needed to know. I will always be grateful. Glad we have the best Guardian Angel there is!