Reflections upon the Death of Jennifer
It was the briefest of encounters
Jen and I met on 1st January 1999. We rented an apartment together in
February of that year. We introduced each other to our parents in April. We
shared grief at the death of my father in August. Jen proudly hosted
thanksgiving in November. I proposed to Jen on 1st January 2000 on the
Golden Gate bridge. Unbeknownst to the world, and before we had knowledge of
cancer, we married at City Hall on May 9th. We shared a romantic trip to Italy
in June. Then cancer
My head is still reeling from the brevity and depth of our encounter.
I want to share several disconnected thoughts related to Jen, and creating segues between them all proved too challenging in the time available, so I'll prefix each thought a title, and leave a short pause between them.
What is this disease called Cancer?
In June last year, shortly after Jen was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue, I heard an NPR article discussing a recently published book on the nature of cancer. I turned the radio off, but then couldn't resist turning it back on.
The book was "Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy" by Mel Greaves.
"Nothing can scare us quite as much as cancer. This disease, striking
sometimes sensibly, sometimes arbitrarily, inspires despair and hopelessness to
the same extent that its cure eludes us. It turns out that we can profitably
think about cancer as a tool in the struggle for survival and
I've thought about that a lot over the past six months. Nothing detracts from the unbearable suffering that Jen endured. But I don't have to think of cancer as either a vicious by-product of the toxic world we live in, nor as a demonic visitation foisted upon the innocent. I find it comforting to think of it as a necessary facet of the way we are constructed: evolutionary beings with an in-built propensity for change at the cellular level.
They Gathered in Grief, and it was reminiscent of a Wedding
I have a bittersweet sense that in some way, this time of Jen's death has been a version of what we wanted for our wedding. Many people we love have congregated, and are meeting each other - some of them have heard about each other, and will immediately gel. Some bonds will be forming over this brief time that will endure for many years. Jen would be delighted about that. So am I.
Jen & Karl met exactly when they were ready for each other
Jen was many different things to many different people, and I've been hearing exciting tales of Jen over recent days. Much of the wild, enthusiastic, exuberant spirit I recognize. But there is a part of her that others don't talk about. She said about me shortly after we met that she was glad to have met someone who knew who he was, and what he wanted. I felt the same about her: When I met Jen she was ready to build a lifelong relationship, create a warm, open home that people wanted to be in with us, and have her own family.
Don't leave thinking Jen's irreverent style had disappeared
Jen definitely possessed a kleptomaniac streak. On one occasion we went out with a large group to a very chi-chi sushi joint in the city. It was ultra-modern, industrial chic styling, and very, very expensive. And the chopsticks were cool, hollow rods of stainless steel. Jen liked them. Jen liked them a lot. Jen liked them so much that four of them slipped from her fingers and became lodged between her ample breasts. Luckily, no-one spotted this brazen theft.
Later, as we waited outside for a cab, she shocked me by reaching into her dress and gleefully producing her ill-gotten booty.
The cool dude standing outside the restaurant casually smoking a cigarette seemed to find it very amusing. I caught his eye, and he pulled back his coat revealing the uniform of a waiter ....
An offer of hope, whatever you religious beliefs or non-beliefs
I hesitate to include the next section because today is about Jen. However, I hope you will take this as an affirmation of the continuity of life, whatever your religious beliefs or non-beliefs.
This is not the first time in my life that I've experienced the out-of-time death of a partner. Fifteen years ago my sweetheart Sally was killed in a bicycle accident in Oxford at the age of twenty four. I tell you this not to twist the anguish chords still tighter, but to offer you all hope. Hope that in small and large ways, we all live on in the people we touch.
When Jen and I traded stories of people we had loved, there was one girl whom she asked about time and time again: Jen felt a peculiar connection with Sally, and on one of our visits to England she specifically asked if she could come with me to see Sally's parents, with whom I've maintained a continuous correspondence since 1985.
Jen took to copying my playful verbal habit of slightly mispronouncing words
to emphasize and leverage any possible smutty content they might have:
"secretary" becomes "secrete-ary", canal becomes
"see-anal", "I'm off to the office" becomes "off to the
orofice". She was delighted when she found out that really she was copying
Sally. Jen was also delighted when she found that my love of collecting bits of
driftwood and pebbles from the sea shore was a homage to Sally
I can actively assert that fifteen years on, Sally is still very much a part of my inner being. And I confidently predict that Jen will be a part of me, will carry on influencing me, will inspire me, until I, too, leave this mortal coil.
Finally, enjoy this day too: it is part of life.
As I re-read my words, I feel the need to acknowledge Jen more. Although Jen came to realize that my British reticence didn't always mean that I wasn't feeling things, I do have a habit of stepping back outside of life, and observing it from the outside. I loved her; she knew that. And she has taught me to live inside life more, and really experience it. And tell people about it. And don't worry about repeating it. I'll miss you Jen, with all my heart.
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