Every morning for the past 616 days, when I open my closet a pink and grey striped sweatshirt is the first thing I see. The last day I wore it was Feb 11, 2014. It was the day I said goodbye to Jennifer. A day where I thought I could hold it together, but instead, sat on the storage room floor at work agonizing if I should go see her, go to say good-bye. Why did I have to say goodbye to my goddaughter, it’s as if we had just said hello…
I remember the phone call vividly on that Sunday night, Oct 28, 2007, it was the night that Libby became a Mom. I was so excited I remember jumping up and down in the middle of my living room… boy or girl. Girl!!! Jennifer Lynn Kranz. Hanging up the phone that night I sat on the couch and cried, not because they called me last (which actually became a tradition for each of the Kranz kids) but because I was so happy.
See, I’ve been there from the beginning. I remember the day I handed Tony a pocket watch from his future bride. I remember sitting on the beach while Libby quietly told me she had fertility issues. I’ve been there for every pregnancy, miscarriage, failed adoption and the one successful. What originally started as a strong friendship, turned into being an unofficial part of their family.
Finally, the day came where I got to meet Ms. JLK and I fell in love. I sat on that couch and just stared at her. I was too scared to stand and hold her, those pretty dark eyelashes, pink full lips, she looked like a little doll, I didn’t want to break her. (Side note, it took me until Nicholas to stand and hold a baby) She was perfect. Jennifer was the first kid I was around all the time, so I learned as I went, and Libby was always encouraging me.
And then one night, the question came I wasn’t expecting… Will You Be Jennifer’s Godmother? Of course I cried (why does Libby always make me cry?), and then we laughed, a Fairy Godmother…HER Fairy.
Life is Good- We lived at Sweet Tomatoes for the first couple years. It was “our” place. My K family and me. We would sit in the booth, feed Jennifer bread and frozen yogurt, only worried about if they had the fat free chocolate pudding.
We went to Disneyland, Mine and Jennifer’s first ride together was DUMBO. We wore matching pigtails and laughed as we moved up and down. Libby (pregnant with Jonathan at the time) and Tony trusted me to take her on there and keep her safe. I was so honored, and so scared! Looking back, I am so thankful for that day. It’s one of my favorite “pre-war” memories. What I wouldn’t give to be back on that ride, wind blowing in our pig-tails, both of us giggling, looking over at Libby and Tony’s big smiles.
Life was so great! Jonathan and Nicholas both came into this world, and I became Fairy to them too. My greatest joy at that point in my life was being Fairy to the Kranz family.
I got engaged in April of 2013, Libby was my second phone call from Paris. I felt bad waking up my best friend, who was 8 month pregnant, at 6 am but it had to be done. A month later, Charlotte was born. When Charlotte came out, first thing I said was “Yea, another flower girl!” Life was how it was supposed to be…I dared to say, it was perfect.
I asked Libby to be my matron of honor, and Jennifer my flower girl that summer. Libby was so surprised. Jennifer was shy at first about it, but then asked questions, and wanted to know a full timeline as to when this wedding was going to happen. I would go through each holiday that happened before the wedding, never thinking that cancer would be part of that equation. We set the date for April 2014, and it’s all any of us could talk about.
Meant to Be There: Oct 26, 2013- My friday started like any other one, calling Libby on the way to work. I had been on vacation the past 2 weeks and was eager to catch up. Libby told me she was scared and started crying. In the 12 years I had known Libby, I had maybe heard her cry twice, so that’s when I knew something was wrong. She told me it was no big deal, I said I don’t care, I’m coming to Gilroy.
You ever have that feeling that you are just meant to be some place at a certain time? I had that feeling, so I drove straight past work to Gilroy, little did I know I would be staying the night, because that was Jennifer’s first, of many trips to Stanford.
I hung out with Jonathan and Nicholas that night. We went to Red Robin and 3 different grocery stores trying to find Jennifer gluten free icing (I didn’t know at the time that most icing is gluten free!). That night I didn’t sleep. I laid in Tony and Libby’s bed, just wondering when this craziness would end. I had no idea, it was just beginning.
Her Birthday, Monday, Oct 28- Got a call from Aunt Heidi, doctor appointment “didn’t go well” and Libby wanted Jennifer to have a gluten free birthday party and knew Fairy could pull it off. Where the heck do I get a GF cake in 2 hours notice? So I made one. Had I known it would be one of her last birthday cakes, I would have made it better. I hope she liked it. I didn’t know much that night, it was a fog. I still didn’t know the word Cancer and Jennifer went in the same sentence. It was a tumor, there was still time. All I wanted was the Kranz’s to have fun, this was the beginning of 2 short years, we had to make it count. But it was just a tumor, surely there was something that could be figured out in the 2 years we had. I had visions of all of us with shaved heads and wearing bright yellow ribbons that represented cancer. I saw Libby cry that night, but it was different, it was a painful cry. I told her “I don’t want to make it worse by hugging you.” Her response, “It doesn’t get worse.” I think that was the moment, as we stood on the side of the house in the dark, Libby covered in tears gripping onto a sleeping Charlotte, I realized, life was forever changed.
More Bad News- I don’t remember the exact date I found out Jennifer might be “too sick” to attend my April wedding (let alone think she would be dead), but I know it was one of the worst days, and the most selfish days I had through this process. I know that may sound weird to some, but Libby being my maid of honor, Kranz kids being flower girls and ring bearers were what Lib and I talked about all the time, and it was finally coming true in April. I sat outside work on the steps and bawled.
I called my soon-to-be sister-in-law and asked her to move mountains and see what our options were. I then drove home to my fiance, the whole time agonizing about us changing a wedding that we’ve already sent out save the dates and people have booked flights for. I couldn’t have a wedding without Jennifer and the Kranz family. Thank goodness for my awesome sister-in-law, by the time I had driven the 30 minutes home, she had already called our venue about moving the wedding, found other venue options and put in a request to have my wedding dress rush shipped.
After talking with my fiance, we did the only thing that seemed logical to us, have two weddings. So we picked the first available date and started planning. I am so thankful for my family (Hannah, Abbey, Cornwall, Colgain and Lange’s) that helped make everything happen.
Radiation- Watermelon detangle spray and cold crisp morning air are the first things that come to mind when I think about radiation. The night before radiation Libby, Jennifer and Charlotte arrived at our house (we live 10 mins from Stanford). I was so excited to see them. It was then I started a mantra that I still hold onto, “Whatever is best for the Kranz’s, works for me.” This is the mantra that got me through it all, and I still repeat to myself to this day.
Maybe if I just put on a happy face, we could have fun through this process? I got up with them every morning for the first few weeks of radiation. Then I worked a few hours after they left, headed straight home when I knew they were done with radiation (thank goodness for a flexible work schedule), then dinner, and after Jennifer and Charlotte went to bed, Libby and I would stay up. We worked on Love4JLK, answered people’s emails, dreamed about the soon to be beach wedding… oddly we never talked about the future. Why didn’t we? I will never know.
That first week of radiation was fun, it was easy… picnics on the floor, dance parties to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga (whoopsie!!), dinner at gluten free restaurants. I reveled in the fun we were having, never thinking of the word cancer, never thinking “what if” never thinking that 2 years would become 3.5 months.
One of my favorite things we started doing was at night while Libby put Charlotte to bed, I asked Jennifer “What was the worst part of the day, what was the best part of the day and what are you thankful for.” She always had something to be thankful for. And radiation wasn’t always the worst part of her day. Jennifer would then make me answer the same questions! The best part of my day was always something we did together. I hope during that time she understood that I was being honest. I hope she felt the same way.
A Beach Wedding-On January 4, our families, a few friends who volunteered their time, the Kranz’s, Coco, Papa, Auntie and Greg got together on a beach and I got married to an amazing man. Yes, a beach in January! It was 80 degrees and beautiful! Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if heaven granted me/us that beautiful day so we would have those memories (and amazing photos) to get us through the next few weeks.
I thought it would be an emotionally hard day, but it ended up being so much fun! We all played on the beach together, running in the water (who cares if I have to wear the dress again right?!), we danced to all our favorite songs and then we ate smore after smore. Ok really, my Dad fed Jennifer way too many s’mores but, it didn’t matter. Everyone was so happy.
I am so thankful for my family, every single member of mine and my husband’s was there. They flew in from far away, knowing they would be back in April to do it all over again, but they did it for us, for me. I am so thankful for the Kranz family who gave me that day, Libby even gave a maid of honor speech, which I know wasn’t easy, but she did it, and that speech would keep me inspired and motivated for the following months.
The night before the wedding, we had a sleepover, another item on my “dream wedding” list. We sat up and had girl talk, and showed Libby all the shoes Jennifer and I had been shopping for earlier that day. It was perfect. But why was it our first sleepover? Jennifer had been asking for a sleepover for months, why didn’t I just say yes? I was always too busy or had something else planned. The memories I missed out on will always be one of my biggest “what if’s”. I try hard not to think about what I missed, I try not to think about what could have been. But damn, why didn’t I just say yes?
Our Last Day Together- The Gluten Free Expo. Libby, Jennifer and I (and Charlotte) started a tradition of going to the Gluten Free Expo. Last year Libby was very pregnant and had to sit a lot, so Jennifer and I ran booth to booth eating corn dogs and cookies! We even met a Gluten Free Princess! This year, Jennifer was in a wheelchair, didn’t want to eat much, and I pushed her around asking if she wanted anything. She wanted some lip gloss and these cream centered cookies. (I still look for them in every store I go in and have yet to find them) When we got to my house to drop me off, Jennifer was asleep. Libby and I talked for awhile, but I broke my rule that day. I left Jennifer and didn’t tell her I loved her, she was asleep, she needed rest to fight this cancer demon, me telling her I loved her wouldn’t make a difference today. Little did I know…
The 2nd Wedding- April 12, exactly 60 days after Jennifer died, we had our “other” wedding. I wanted to remember Jennifer in everything I did that day, but it just didn’t work. Instead I cried. I missed Libby. I missed Jennifer. I missed the boys (including Tony!) I wanted them so badly to be there physically. To be fair, Libby and I had discussed the Kranz family attendance, and we both agreed that it was better if they didn’t come. It was a mutual decision that, at that very moment, I wanted to take back. I was still surrounded by so many wonderful people, who all worked really hard to keep my spirits up, and for that I am thankful. Before I got in my dress, I took a moment in the bathroom with my necklace that Jennifer had given me. I said a little prayer to her, and I know she was there. I know she stayed with me that day, but I didn’t want her with me in spirit, I wanted HER THERE. Touching my dress, twirling around, laughing…I wanted her and Libby there.
I pulled it together and had a great first look and family photo session. I walked into the lobby and I immediately burst into the happiest and saddest tears, Tony, Libby and Charlotte were there. This. This is what kept me going. How did I deserve this moment? Libby and Tony were going through an indescribable amount of heartache, yet they come and see me, it’s like they knew what I needed without it even being said. That visit, gave me the release I needed to have fun that day. And I did.
During the reception, we had a Jennifer dance. Roar and Poker Face. Everyone decked out in pink necklaces. A bunch of people who didn’t know anything except that I love a little girl named Jennifer, all got out on the dance floor and danced, even my Husband. It was the only time that the dance floor was crowded all night, and I loved every minute of it.
Becoming a Mom- Finding out I was pregnant was scary for me. I don’t know what a “normal nervousness” would be for a first time pregnant mom, because I wasn’t in a normal state of mine. Jennifer’s death was still fresh (90ish days), my sadness was still very much a part of my everyday life. I felt guilty for bringing a new life into this world when I was still mourning one that had just left.
I like to think that Jennifer met Baby E, and she gave him a few pointers.
I think I parent a lot differently, knowing first hand that the future is uncertain. Do I care if E eats a little dirt or doesn’t have his hands washed after touching something gross, not so much. I stay disconnected from distractions while E is awake. My husband and I make a point to do family days twice a month. And I make a point everyday, even though my son may not understand now, to do “the best, the worst and thankful for.” We can never stop being thankful.
The Aftermath- I not only mourn Jennifer, I also mourn the friendship that I once had with Libby. Don’t get me wrong, Libby and I have a new friendship. One with old memories, our “old” ways that come back into play thankfully every now and then. But I still never know what to say a lot of the time. Can you imagine knowing someone for 13 years, staring at them, and you don’t know what to say.
Missing Jennifer is the “easy part” of this new normal.
I can try and control when I start remembering the smell of her hair, or the way she would make fun of me because I snort when I laugh. The hard part is learning a new friendship and, for me, trying to keep emotions in check. How does a friendship recover from the death of a child? I don’t know. I think we are still navigating it. (More on this in another blog coming soon)
Not only did Jennifer’s death affect me, it affected my family. My Dad and Mom keep a picture of Jennifer right next to all the family photos on the bookshelf. My Dad retired soon after my son was born, his reasoning, life was too short and he needed to go out and enjoy it. Jennifer’s picture is his daily reminder.
The pain of Jennifer dying never goes away, it just sits there as a dull ache until something triggers a release. My releases come at random, like when I drive by The Counter or Red Robin, or when I see something new that’s Gluten Free and want to call Libby.
A few months ago, I was standing in the kitchen and Nicolas turns up a song and yells, “this is my jam” which started an impromptu dance party in the kitchen… it was in that moment I realized, we had reached a new norm, we could still smile and have fun, but we would all be wishing there was one more person dancing with us…
to be continued …