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March 11, 2005

Trying to make sense of the senseless

Flowers. Just because.

One of my attorneys, Jennifer, stopped by my desk on Wednesday afternoon to comment on the bright arrangement of spring flowers my husband had sent me.

"Special ocassion?"

"No. Just because he likes to be unpredictably romantic."

Jennifer laughed, a bright sound that always got everyone around her laughing too. She looked at my co-worker, Karoline, and cocked an eyebrow "We just gotta do the Internet thing."

Bright, intelligent, beautiful and 33, Jennifer was still single. It didn't stress her much but a couple of months back she realized that she just wasn't meeting anyone. Her career as a deputy DA was something she was fiercely dedicated to, and as one of those giving souls she always had some charity or event on the horizon she was organizing or participating in. Last Monday she sent us all an email about the cardiac care unit her non-profit group had adopted and that she was going to raise funds for. Add to that she had just reached the one year mark on her new home (which she worried about during our bad rains) and we never missed an opportunity to kid her about not yet having a house-warming party like she had thrown for her first house three years ago. Karoline and Jennifer's sister roomed with Jennifer and the three gals had decided they were going to dedicate March to meeting and dating new people. Jennifer and her sister had questioned me closely about Internet dating because that is how I met Eric (whom they both know and admire).

I kept hearing Jennifer's laugh all afternoon yesterday even though she wasn't at the office. Even though she had died in a car crash on her way into work.

In Groundhog Day the premise is having Bill Murray trapped into living the same day over and over again until he gets it right. Yet, we all do live each day as if tomorrow will be just the same and we take a measure of comfort in that. You get up, shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, pour coffee in your commuter mug, get to work, go home from work, dinner, bed and do it all over again the next day. If you're lucky, you work with neat people who are friends as well as colleagues.

People like Jennifer. No one was beneath her radar. She had none of the "class" distinction between attorneys and non-attorneys that some exhibit. She talked to everyone, from court security to clerks to attorneys with the same warm care and friendliness.

Thursday morning the earth shifted on its axis. Jennifer was rarely late for work and always called when she was going to be late. But in the hustle and bustle of the morning it was a mere wondering, not alarm.

Not yet.

It was if someone had dimmed the lights in the office even as the sunlight streamed into the windows. We started gathering in groups near the reception area.

"Have you heard?" "Jennifer's been in a car crash." "What happened?" "Don't know." "How bad?" "Who can we call?" "I heard she was airlifted out." "I heard there was a fatality." "No!" "We don't know for sure."

We all tried pulling what strings for information we could. My liason for the agency that was on scene started phoning her office. I called my daughter who works EMT services in the area to see if she was on shift or if she had heard the call. Someone else called the hospital. Information was fragmentary, contradictory, missing.

It wasn't numbness I was feeling, but pressure -- as if I was an empty container with only vacuum inside and the whole of the atmosphere pressing inexorably on me.

Finality came at 11. Word passing like lightening through the office, the sounds of sobs as heralds of her passing.

Her office is still there, with files waiting on her desk, a sweater flung across her chair. Shouldn't she be walking in the door? Shouldn't she just be?

Jennifer was a woman of many small favors. She knew the pressure I was under when I was assigned to clean up someone else's malfeasance. A few weeks ago I get to work and there's a card and a plant for me. In the card she remarks about our friendship and encourages me and asks "let me know if I can help." The card is in my desk and I took it out to read again ... and weep.

But I want to HELP HER, and I can't. There won't be any more lunches or parties or girltalk. I don't get to be her friend with dating stories and tips. She was doing nothing more than what she had done uncounted days before.

Living. Just because.

This morning the office is one of the walking wounded. No one really wanting to go into her office to get files and cover her calendar. That means she's never coming back. Ever.

And the cards started coming. A plant. And an arrangement from the same local florist that sent the flowers to me that Jennifer so admired on Wednesday.

All white flowers. This time for Jennifer.

Just because.

Posted by Darleen at March 11, 2005 12:38 PM


Wow. I don't know if the words of a complete and utter stranger could mean anything to you at this point, but maybe it will help to know that through your words some of the light that was Jennifer remains in the world. To be so well remembered is a gift that knows no bounds.

Posted by: Platypus at March 11, 2005 07:00 PM

Darleen....my deepest, deepest sympathies for your loss, and my heart goes out for the families affected by the death of your friend. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Bruce at March 11, 2005 10:00 PM

Ugh. Darleen...I am so sorry. Your passion and admiration for your friend were so apparent in your post I felt myself tearing up at your loss. At our loss. Why is it always the great people that are lost suddenly like that? My love to you and especially her dear husband. My love, my love, my love over and over again to you.

Posted by: Mieke at March 12, 2005 06:07 PM

I am sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. May the Holy Spirit provide you with the strength to endure and the wisdom to comprehend the meaning of this in His grand plan. Treasure the good memories, learn from them, and grow.

Posted by: Right Wing Nut Job at March 13, 2005 08:17 AM

Darlene: This was a great piece. It summed up the essence of Jen. I worked two offices down the hall from her, and spoke to her every day...and expected to speak to her every day *after* that! One just doesn't expect a 33 year old in the prime of her life to DIE. I'm still in shock. She was a terrific person, beautiful inside and out. I'm glad that I got to spend a week with her last year driving to a seminar. It's the only time we really got to 'talk'. She left no husband or children, but had parents and a sister who adored her and whom she adored. I didn't know she had considered Internet dating. The things you learn about someone....when they're gone.

Posted by: Karen at March 21, 2005 10:28 PM