Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unfathomable Loss

More than once, my sister and I told the woman who married our brother that we got the best end of the deal. And for 33 years, we were reminded how fortunate we all were that she chose him and became part of our lives, too.

We spent nearly every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving together. We celebrated births and birthdays, First Communions and Confirmations, graduations and anniversaries, and showers and weddings (including my niece Kate's a year ago Saturday). And while there also were sad times shared over those three decades, we are blessed that so many of our interactions involved joyful occasions.

Neither my sister Judy nor I can recall even a single instance when our beloved sister-in-law said anything negative about another person. Jennifer Remick was a woman who personified grace and compassion in everything she did. Tall and thin, she was almost regal as she moved through life with a dignity I admired. Kind and thoughtful, she also was a woman of strong convictions that did not waver.

Jennifer possessed a delightful sense of humor and when I recall the occasions when she giggled so much that she could barely speak, I cannot help but smile. I also will never forget the Thanksgiving we played a truth vs. lies game and were all shocked to learn that the movie character she most would like to be was “Lara Craft, Tomb Raider,” partially because of the great outfits but mostly because of her adventures.
Jessica, Jen, Kate and Amy
Known alternately as Jennifer, Jen and sometimes Jenny, she loved flowers and her gardening skills were almost intimidating. She enjoyed long walks, and admired good books, music, movies, theater and art. And she adored her four children -- Jessica, Ben, Kate and Amy; the people they loved; her two beautiful grandchildren; and her large extended family. She had many close friends and was a woman of great faith. And she and Mike were truly partners in business and in life.

It still seems inconceivable that such a life could end at the age of 55 as a result of a bicycle ride on a paved path in a beautiful setting on a gorgeous September day just a week ago today.

Riding down a steep hill, she braked for an unknown reason and flew over the handlebars, suffering a traumatic brain injury and then a stroke. My brother swerved to avoid her and also went over the handlebars, resulting in a central chord syndrome injury that initially left him paralyzed at her feet. We don’t know how long they lay on that path, Jen unconscious and Mike crying out to her and unable to reach her, before they were found.

As he drifted in and out of consciousness, he was able to tell the stranger who found them where to find his cell phone and wallet. He stayed with them until she was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Mike was transported to a local hospital before also being airlifted there.

We joined other family members in rushing the two hours north but it was too late for Jen. The next day she was declared brain-dead and because she was an organ donor, her final gift will help many others.

I was privileged to be present when three members of the organ removal team visited my brother's hospital room afterward to thank him and the family for her lungs, kidneys, liver and skin tissue. They were so sensitive and compassionate, and wanted to see her photo to know more about Jen. They told us how they have a moment of silence in the operating room before surgery begins, how she was treated with love and respect, and how much of a contribution she and the family had made to others. In a few weeks, we will be advised where the organs went and if the transplants were successful.

So if you have not made the decision on whether to be an organ donor, please, please consider this. Although my brother faces an extremely long road ahead in recovering the use of his limbs, and he and his children continue to struggle to mend their hearts, knowing how much Jennifer’s life will continue to help others offers a bit of hope and much solace even in our great grief.

To learn more about becoming an organ donor, visit