I have been so flooded with memories these last few weeks - memories that I treasure so deeply - of all of the wonderful times that Jennie and I shared. We met in college at the now seemingly impossibly young age of 19. I was a quiet, conservative Midwesterner, awed by the mystique of this sophisticated New Yorker. We lived as neighbors in our first apartments, and the world seemed to revolve around the seven of us roommates. We shared sacred Thursday night dinners, when we would cook big pots of pasta, and sit around the living room, drinking wine and relating the week's experiences. Jennie loved the warmth of those meals, and the feeling of closeness we all shared. During that time, I got my first taste of Jennie's exuberance and outrageousness. She brought a sense of fun and laughter and daring into my life that I had never before experienced.
So many of my memories of Jen revolve around food - one of our shared loves. It is no secret that Jennie loved celebrating her birthday, and would start reminding us all of it a month in advance. She always planned a party for herself, roping her parents into taking a group of us out for a big meal, in New York or Providence or Philadelphia. Through our twenties, we loved the lavishness of these celebrations where we would spend 4 or 5 hours filling our plates and being together to celebrate Jen. She loved sharing her parents with us during these times - she so admired them and their relationship - and wanted us all to feel surrounded by the bounty of their love and acceptance even if just for a few hours.
As we moved into the larger world, Jennie made sure that we stayed close. We grew up together in those years. We shared the sordid details of our new loves, and nursed each other through their inevitable, crushing endings. I became more guarded in making my heart vulnerable, but Jennie never did. She dove into life and love, with such abandon that it made me want to shield her from the hurt that would always cause her so much heartache later on. I admired her brave vulnerability, and was repeatedly amazed that she never thought to hold back.
Jennie never did anything without doing it the best that it could be done. She wanted to sculpt, so she traveled to Italy, and created beautifully intricate and moving pieces, mastering the construction and casting. She loved to work with her beautiful hands. The pride she felt when we attended the first public showing of her work was a joy to behold.
As with all great friendships, we had our ups and downs: times when we drove each other crazy, and when we couldn't agree. The toughest time was when I started seeing my now husband Robert. Up to that point, Jennie had been there to share all the most important moments in my life - attending my medical school graduation, meeting me in Philadelphia for my first job interview. When Robert came along, there was tension - how could this closest of friendships survive the invasion of this outsider? But we weathered it and grew closer for the time apart. And there was Jennie, leading the celebration at our wedding, and sharing the experience of our first child.
She became our son Elliot's godmother; a responsibility she took very seriously -and loved Elliot like her own. She made herself a constant presence in his life, speaking to him on the phone when all he could do was babble, and sending him beautiful gifts - a hand painted stool, a rocking chair, a Kiddush cup, a Menorah - that remain very concrete reminders of her importance in his life.
When Jennie met Karl, it was clear from the start that she finally had found the real love of her life. I knew that Karl was "the one" when Jennie, showing uncharacteristic restraint, said "yeah, I'm sure that we'll get married at some point, but there's really no hurry. I'm just so happy with the way things are." Jennie, who had always lived at warp speed was finally content, really enjoying each moment, confident in Karl's love and acceptance and constancy.
Our son Elliot is four now - and in early December we had the great fortune to make a trip to San Francisco with him and his baby brother, Jesse. Jennie was really suffering then - in retrospect so ill from the cancer ravaging her body - but she rallied to be with Elliot, and shared special time with him despite her fatigue. It frustrated her that because she was so weak, she couldn't be with him physically in the way that she wanted to be. But they shared really special moments that he will always remember. At one point, they were napping together, and Elliot asked Jen, "what happens to cats when they die?" They were seriously discussing this issue, when I inadvertently interrupted. Elliot looked up at me and said, "Mommy, go away - we're talking about cancer." She embraced his curiosity, with a candor and elegance that I cannot duplicate. When I had to break the sad news to Elliot that his Aunt Jennie has died, he got teary and said, "but she wasn't even a grown-up!" She related to him on a level that put her in another league, someone who understood and communicated with him unlike anyone else in his life.
I have gained so much from Jennie, both in life and in death. Jennie (and Karl's) most precious gift to me was allowing me to be with them through Jen's last day. As an oncologist, I saw the inevitable, though I didn't want to. Jennie and I cried together and shared our deepest thoughts about each other in those hours. She relinquished some of her cherished control to allow me to comfort her and care for her as a doctor and, more importantly, as a friend. I will carry her with me always - her beautiful, melodious voice, her evil laugh, her love of life at all extremes. She has made me a better mother, a better doctor, a better friend - and for that I will always be grateful.
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