14 December 2010

To Jeni: Another December Birthday

I have a December daughter, Rachel, born December 14, 1975. Thinking of the Virgin Mary, we gave her the middle name of Mary. She was a small sweet joy to our busy family with 4 older siblings, the eldest only 7 at her birth. The next year, also in December, her cousin Jeni was born. You may imagine that Rachel often got a little lost in the midst of so many other children for her mother and father to fuss over, but Rachel loved her family dearly and soon extended that love to her family beyond the immediate. We didn't live close to Jeni's family, but we saw each other at the yearly reunion and at other family gatherings. Rachel's cousin Jeni became her best friend. And with no older sisters, Jeni was willing to look up to and love her cousin Rachel too.

In high school, Jeni met with a serious car accident, one which broke her back and took her years in recovery. It left her with lingering pain that her cousin Rachel worried over. In college they became roommates, along with another cousin for a time. They laughed and played together and made memories enough for a lifetime. Then Rachel went to Australia on a mission. Jeni was bereft, but soon found solace in her new friend, soon to be husband. One of Rachel's first quests upon her return was to determine if the cousin seal of approval would be given to Jeni's new beau. It was.

College football, Rachel center
Reunions became the gathering time again. Jeni once soloed as a new mom on a reunion camping trip, but I misspeak. Jeni didn't have her supportive husband with her, but Rachel filled in and the cousins consoled and cavorted together to the fun of the whole group. Then came the reunion year in which Jeni was again called upon to suffer. Rachel's heart went to her dear cousin as she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for unseasonable breast cancer. Why did her Jeni have so much to bear? Our Rachel Mary pondered these things. Her decision that year was to forgo the main reunion and to travel instead to her cousin's home to reunite with her. By this time both cousins had two small children. Rachel left hers home with her husband and drove the miles alone in her car to visit Jeni. I received a laughing phone message from Rachel, with details of some of their fun together. Later Jeni gave me an even fuller report. Their reunion was a success. Their hearts were knit even tighter in the family love they shared.

Rachel's 21st birthday
The month was June. Both had just passed their June half-birthdays when Rachel finally got in her car and headed back home to her husband and two small daughters. She never made it that far alive. Another car accident broke Rachel's body and killed her instantly. Jeni mourned. Though she was still recovering from her recent chemotherapy, she made the trip to Rachel's funeral and bravely spoke to the gathering. We felt her love and support. Dear Jeni, who had endured so much, was now left behind to carry on. She has done so with courage and with flair.

Jeni and her sweet husband have taken on the task of comforting her aunt and uncle in their loss. They bring us their children to love. They named their newest baby for our daughter. They keep in touch. And Jeni has supported our extended family history committee in our book writing efforts. She and her husband are our star copy editors for the books we are producing. She has appointed herself the family storyteller, thinking always of the children. In each family newsletter article she remembers some common ancestor and retells some experience of the past as it relates to the present.

A new baby, a miracle baby in the face of her cancer treatment, was her gift this year. But with a blessing, sometimes a sorrow comes along to sweeten the good. So it has been with our Jeni. Her cancer has re-appeared, and after a horrendous surgery, she is again undergoing the dreaded chemotherapy. As always, Jeni is enduring all with her typical courage and generosity.  This time she has been able to share her experiences with others who may have similar trials and those who are grateful not to have those trials. She is facing her fears, doing her best to keep her children's life normal and sane and still reaching out to others. You would enjoy her blog, in which she focuses her considerable story-telling talent on her own life at present. Jeni, you are my hero. Thanks for your December birth and for your wonderful life.


  1. A beautiful piece, prayers for you, Jenn and your Rachel and all the family members who love you.

  2. You are an excellent writer, and an early bird. I also wrote a post about Rachel today. Love you!

  3. Jeni wrote about Rachel on her blog today. Check it out at This isn't My First Rodeo (http://thisisntmyfirstrodeo.blogspot.com/2010/12/happy-birthday.html).

  4. I added pictures later, Jen. Hope you saw them.

  5. What a beautiful tribute. My thoughts are with you on this day.

  6. I cannot even imagine the pain and grief. Thanks for sharing this story.