This was first posted in September of 2009, shortly after the passing of Jennifer Tinker, my student. On this anniversary of her passing, this seems a good time to remember her beautiful life. Here’s the original post:
When I walked into Jennifer’s hospital room, I was initially surprised at the number of people present. The pediatric intensive care unit doesn’t usually allow more than a few visitors at a time. The hospital staff was letting us say goodbye.
Peggy and I hugged. There are no words for a mother at a time like this. Then we both turned to Jennifer. She was unconscious, breathing like my father had breathed during his last twenty four hours. I noted the display of her vitals, grim confirmation of the obvious. Family members were present that I had not yet met. Introductions were made, and I sat down with silent prayers of support for a family in indescribable pain.
Conversations would start and stop. Grandma softly sang hymns while stroking Jenny’s face. Big sister Sarah leaned from her chair and partly lay across Jennifer. (Maybe, if she could just hold tightly enough…) Jennifer would occasionally open her eyes, look around briefly, then go back to sleep. I was told that she had roused earlier in the day, alert enough to demand the remote control for the TV. Hey, Tom and Jerry rocks.
Jennifer was born with a rare genetic disorder which resulted in a host of problems, including legal blindness, skeletal anomalies, learning difficulties and pulmonary hypertension, a fatal disorder of the heart and lungs. She attended public school for a time, but became too frail to continue. Our school district contacted me and asked if I would be interested in teaching Jennifer in her home. After meeting with Jennifer and her mother, I gladly accepted the position.
Jennifer’s house was modest. She had three sisters still living at home, and they all shared one bedroom. There was no father. Peggy, fiercely devoted to her children, seemed undaunted by her many challenges, drawing strength from extended family, church, and her Lord. Jennifer was surrounded in love by a family that had truly learned to treasure what’s important in this life.
I quickly grew accustomed to her oxygen tank and was even able to avoid stepping on the tubing that accompanied Jennifer everywhere she went. After a little more time, I nearly stopped seeing them altogether. Jennifer was just … Jennifer. Fourteen years old when I met her, she only weighed about sixty pounds, but she had a big attitude. She was assertive, even stubborn, and her family and I would have it no other way.
Sweet Pea, one of two tiny canine family members, merely tolerated my presence, but she and Jennifer adored one another. When Jennifer was feeling worse than usual, Sweet Pea would hop into her lap, seeming to comfort both of them. In turn, Jennifer took excellent care of her dogs, leaping to their defense when I threatened one or both of the creatures with barbecue sauce.
Jennifer and I worked out of a small room Peggy had set up for that purpose. This room was Jennifer’s domain, and she took great pride in her school work and in keeping her materials organized. It never ceased to amaze and sometimes shame me that Jennifer accepted her many limitations without complaint. She was determined to find the good in all situations and never missed an opportunity to laugh. Once, we read through The Three Billy Goats Gruff. When I asked what the troll had in mind for the goats, Jennifer gleefully replied, “He wants to eat them!” She licked her lips. Then she giggled. Oh, that giggle… It filled the room and made you laugh right along.
Jennifer was generous. Sometimes I arrived at her home to find a brownie or some other example of her growing culinary skills waiting for me. When my son had surgery, she sent him a homemade get-well card. This required Jennifer to hold her face about three inches from the paper while she worked on the greeting. She certainly wasn’t going to let a small annoyance like legal blindness stop her from encouraging another.
Jennifer’s life was worth living, and she lived it well. I’ve heard some say she is “resting in peace,” but I see her running for the first time. Running, running, running… into her Father’s arms.
Jennifer Monique Tinker
January 10, 1994-September 17, 2009
After Jennifer’s passing, Harmonicminer of these parts composed a choral composition in memory of her. Here’s a link and a description. With some luck, we’ll be able to post a recording soon.