Jen’s Eulogy Part I: Her Testimony

This is the eulogy I delivered this morning at my sister’s funeral.

Growing up with Jen is something that defies description. Knowing Jen. How do you describe anyone that shapes the very being of the people around her? The closest I can get is to use the phrase “force of nature.” Once, we had a Hansbrough sisters get together around halloween and our costume theme was “forces of nature.” Erica dressed up like a volcano; Jes was a tsunami and I was Mike Ditka. (Yes, I had a mustache.) Jen showed up without a costume and said that she was a force of nature. We all know that it was a cop out, but it was true.

But I think a more accurate description of Jen is a “force of God.” When you say “nature” it kind of implies an unexplainable coming together of things. But it was no accident that made Jen the way she was – God perfectly designed her to be that way. As a science teacher it is my job to see God’s hand in creation and I have no greater evidence of his design than in my sister Jen. Not only was she a wonder of creation – beautiful, super intelligent and freakishly strong like some sort of superhero, but all of those qualities that made her difficult to deal with as a teenager served God’s purpose too. Her stubbornness, rebelliousness, contrariness, ornery-ness – all of these things kept her alive far longer than doctors expected. Her know-it-all-ness was what kept those doctors treating her the way she needed to be treated because no one knew what Jen needed better than Jen. (And there is no surprise that she was usually right.)

More than that, God gave her many characteristics that allowed her to take her story and share it with the world. There are lots of stubborn strong people in our family, but not many of us have the ability Jen had to reach other people. Her heart was so huge. She would talk to anyone and then remember intimate details of their lives so that if she saw them again, she would ask all those questions that make people feel important. She was never afraid to say hello to someone she recognized and she went out of her way to find you if she knew you were in the same building as her. Sometimes she would visit if she was in the same geographical area. She was queen of random gifts and she often showed up with lunch just when you needed it the most. She was the first to volunteer to help with something and she had a knack for knowing just what you need.

When I came home from having my first baby, I was experiencing new baby crazies and she showed up with my mom and a pot of matzo ball soup. Exactly what I needed. She provides the perfect foil to Jes’ weirdness, which is exactly the ballast that Jes needs to understand herself in this world. Whenever Jimbo needed a place to stay, Jen was the first to offer him with a clean warm place to sleep. She acted as a second momma to Rico, often reprimanding him more harshly than our parents would because she knew he needed to hear it. She cared for Jack like one of her own children, often including him in family vacations and celebrations. Jen showed Joe that superheroes do exist, which is something he has been searching for his whole life. She loved being Aunta Nina and her nephew and nieces felt it. She knitted a million things for them, spoiled them and completely covered them with her love. As my Bo said when he found out she had died, “But who is going to love us?”

Jen has a talent for changing lives. She made my parents parents. She made my grandparents grandparents. She made my parents grandparents. She introduced all of us to No Anchovies. She brought Chris into our family and gave us a brother we all love and admire. She showed us girls how to be a mommy. She showed Alex and Will how to play hard and all of us how to be strong and trust in The Lord. Jen excelled at every job God gave her to do: wife, mommy, sister, aunt, friend.

God designed Jen the way He did because he knew she would need all these characteristics. She moved and changed everyone she met because God designed her to. She glorifies God in her very being and even in her death. She is undeniably a force of God.


Dear Jen

Dear Jen,

It still hasn’t quite hit me yet that you’re gone. Late at night and early in the morning it seems more real, but I can’t quite wrap my head around it. How do I function without you telling me what to do? How will I make friends if I don’t have you to introduce me? How do I define myself if I don’t have the option to say that you’re my sister? How do I figure out what social events to attend if you’re not here to force me to go with you?

I think we all feel a little bit disoriented. Jes isn’t sure how to gauge her weirdness without you to stand as her standard for normal. Rico doesn’t know who is going to give it to him straight anymore. In a moment of sadness, Bogus asked me “But who is going to love me?” and Maggie is missing out on having an aunt who could teach her about makeup and girly things. The whole family feels this gaping hole that you filled with your laughter, your presence, your goofy faces, your gifts, your bigger-than-life self.

You were always reaching out to others – fighting against the natural tendency of Hansbroughs to be antisocial and quiet. You were always giving of yourself in a million ways. And not only to the family, but pretty much to everyone you met. There is not a single person who has met you that hasn’t been changed by you for the better. There are even people who have never met you and are changed by your story. People who continue to be changed by you even now.

It used to bother me when I would go places with you, but you just had to talk to everyone you saw. You were always the last one to leave church and the first one to show up to a party. I would go with you to Hopkins to get a ten minute procedure done and I would be there for four hours saying hi to every nurse, tech and doctor you ever had. Many of them would greet me with “You must be Katie!” like they knew me already. Your heart is so big that you had to share it with everyone you met. I wish I could do that.

I really don’t know life without you. You were seven years old when I was born and we shared a room until I was eleven and you moved out. We shared so much more than a room. You would regale me with stories of your day at school and I was convinced that there was nothing better in life than to be just like you. Sure, I fought and argued with you but that was what you taught me – to have an opinion and stand up for it at all costs. I waited for opportunities to tell people when they were wrong and put them in their place because those were my favorite stories. How silly we both were when we were young.

My freshman year of college, you were diagnosed with leukemia and I was faced with the possibility that you were not invincible. I was with you for your very first aspiration biopsy (way back when Chris didn’t like needles!) and I was blown away by how strong you were in the face of physical pain. Not only were you a mental giant, but you were so physically strong. Another reason I wanted to be just like you.

That same day, I remember asking you why this had to happen to you and you responded, “Why not me? If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else. I wouldn’t wish this on someone else. I got this.” In the past few years, I have lost a brother, a child and now you, my sister, and through it all, I remind myself of that moment at Hopkins. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else, but I have been shaped into a strong enough person to handle this. And God used you in many ways to make me into this person.

I am sorry that I took you for granted. That I did not spend every possible moment with you. That I didn’t visit you at the hospital more. I am sorry I wasn’t always very respectful or kind or generous to you. I am sorry I took so much without giving more in return. I am sorry I can’t hug you any more and I am sorry I missed opportunities to tell you about how awesome you are. I am sorry I depended on you for so much so often and didn’t give you half as much of myself. I am sorry that I ever judged you harshly or got angry at you for anything. I am sorry I wasn’t the sister that you were. I am sorry that it was always up to you to make us get together.

I remember last November, before Luna died, you texted me that my “moonlight” was blinding, referring to my desire to reflect Christ the way the moon reflects the sun. I told you I was only following your example and you said we would create a “superbeam reflection” together. My NiƱa, if I become half the woman you are, I will have achieved more than is realistically possible. God made you into the incredibly strong, stubborn, rebellious, generous, loving, creative, intelligent person you are because he designed you for your journey here. And the whole time you were fighting this disease, you reflected Christ so much that everyone who met you saw that you were different and wanted what you had. I fully admit that my contribution to this superbeam of ours is some tiny percentage, but I am honored to share it with you anyway. Help me live up to my end of the bargain here and keep this superbeam shining.

There is so much I could say. So much I should say. So much I want to say. And I haven’t even addressed half of what you’ve taught me. You are so much more than anyone even knows or understands, Jen. And you are so much more than any of us ever deserved. I thank God every day for sharing you with us. Please punch/hug/lick Jakey for me and take care of my Luna and all of Sica’s heaven babies until we get up there with you. Watch over us here on Earth the way you did when you were here. Keep me humble. Teach me. Hug me from time to time.

I love you more than chocolate and peanut butter. I love you more than your double-crusted wonder pizza. I love you more than new socks. I love you more than I can ever understand. Can’t wait to see you again. We miss you.


Running on my Treadmill

Someone asked me once why I prefer to use a treadmill over running outside. (Notice I didn’t say “run” on the treadmill.) Sure, when you run outside, you get to watch the changing landscape, and the treadmill keeps you locked in one spot. And outside, the distance you’ve traveled actually feels like a distance whereas the distance on a treadmill just feels like the passage of time.

But the reason I use a treadmill is because I can’t trust myself to keep pushing through the rough spots. On a treadmill, I have to make a firm decision to slow down because I have to push a button to do that and it beeps at me in an annoying, judgmental way. Without that treadmill determining how fast I’m “running” I would run as slow as I possibly could while still looking like I am running. I would avoid those hilly or difficult paths and go for the flattest, simplest, easiest runs possible.

Now, I know that the benefits of exercise would probably be felt sooner and that I would get to my goal fitness level/weight/condition sooner if I had the discipline to push myself without a treadmill telling me what to do. But I know myself, and I don’t have that ability right now. For me, I get in shape faster when I use a treadmill because it forces me to burn calories in ways I never would choose in the midst of my sweaty, exercise-induced exhaustion.

In many ways I feel like my life is this way. If it were left to me, I would never choose to push myself. I would never choose to go through the difficult events in my life. I would have kept Jake alive. I would have kept Luna and would be anxiously awaiting her arrival even now.

I certainly would not choose to give my sister leukemia either. I have watched my sister battle leukemia for over 11 years now and her strength and faith have grown me in immeasurable ways. These are things I never would have learned if it was up to me to choose the path of my life. I would have skipped that path if I approached it on my “run.” I would certain be skipping this most recent hospital stay which feels so different and so serious.

Good thing God is my treadmill. I made the choice to step on that treadmill and allow Him to make decisions for me. It’s much easier to say that you’ll choose to do the difficult thing before you get there. To push those buttons picking a challenging program before you have started. Before you are sweaty and exhausted. Before you start doubting your ability to finish.

There are definitely days when I am positive that I can’t finish and I want to push that button to slow down my treadmill. This weekend feels this way. My feet are dragging. Sweat is getting in my eyes and my heart feels like it is going to burst out of my chest. Maybe I am over-reaching with this metaphor?

The weekend started with some rough news regarding Jen. Anyone who knows Jen knows why the docs won’t give us a timeframe. She is stubborn to a fault and if we try to tell her how much time she has, she will do anything to prove us wrong. We visited her at JHOP on Friday night and she slept most of the time we were there. She has wasted away to a fraction of her physical self and when she opens her eyes, I see a pain there I haven’t seen before. But I did get to see a glimpse of the typical Jen when someone asked her if she needed a nurse and she scoffed, “psh….NO.”

And as a kind of morbid bookend to my weekend, Monday is Luna’s due date. I am not really sure how I am going to feel on that day, but I have certainly been on edge all week leading up to it. There is this surreal feeling as though I have forgotten something or left someone somewhere. Instead of preparing sub plans for my maternity leave, I am lesson planning for the rest of the year. Instead of waiting to feel contractions, I am waiting to hear news about my sister. Instead of feeling excited anticipation, I feel grumpy, antisocial and impatient. Instead of being excited about going to the hospital to deliver a baby, I am hoping I don’t get the call to go to the hospital to be with my sister.

Maybe I would be a little more prepared to handle this if I hadn’t spent the last week going double-time and trying to keep up with everything while Patrick was out of commission with his back problems. Maybe I would be better prepared to handle this stuff with Luna if Jen was healthy and home with us.

But I am not pushing the button to slow down on this treadmill. God has chosen this “run” for me for a reason and He will be glorified through me; otherwise, all of these things would have happened for no reason. I chose a life that would shape me into the woman God wants me to be, and if this is what it takes to get there, then so be it. It is never easy to get our body to look the way we want it to, imagine how much harder it must be to shape a soul.

Father God, I trust you with my life. I hand it over to you completely and I know you will do what is best. Give me the strength to climb these hills and the determination to keep running. Be with Chris and Al and Will and comfort their aching hearts. Create in me a heart full of compassion for others who have experienced loss in their lifetime. Show me the way to use what you have allowed to happen to me to bring you glory and honor, for you are the only one worthy of our praise. Thank you for the time I had with Jake and the joy that Luna brought into my life and for the incredible relationship I have with Jen. I have learned so much from these people – these precious jewels – in my life and I continue to learn from them all. I pray I can be as selfless as Jake, as wise as Luna, as strong as Jen and as faithful as Chris when you need me to be. In all things, Lord, your will be done. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.