Ease My Way - Jennifer's Story
Jennifer is used to being the captain of her own ship.
One of the first female graduates of the United States Coast Guard Academy, Jennifer’s Coast Guard career was one of leadership and service. Her final commission was as Captain of a shipped named Dauntless. A great name for a ship. A fitting name for the Captain as well.
Jennifer grew up as the daughter of a Southern gentleman and his lady, during a time when women were supposed to be second in command. “In spite of the time, and despite their culture, my parents always encouraged me to become all I could be. I guess you could say I was ahead of my time in some ways. I was in the second Coast Guard Academy class that included women. But it was where I belonged, and my parents supported me. They were proud of me.”
So when Jennifer’s parents needed her, there was no question that she would be there for them. Her mother suffered a stroke, necessitating a move to assisted living. “Though Mama was in the memory unit and Daddy had a regular room, he would be sure to greet her every morning, and kiss her goodnight every evening. The staff used to joke that he was wearing out the carpet traveling between their two rooms. They were completely devoted to one another for 65 years.”
Jennifer’s dad died of pneumonia in August of 2016. Her mother entered hospice care the following November and died in August of 2017. Jennifer spent that year traveling back and forth between her home in California and her parents’ home in Massachusetts. “It was a tough time, but I knew I only had once chance at doing this right. I wasn’t there when Daddy died. I was determined to be there when Mama did.”
Both Jennifer’s parents had hospice care during their final days, and the organization that cared for them let her know there was grief support available to her. “When I came home after Mama died, I realized I had never really grieved my dad’s death, and now I had two parents to grieve. It really hit me hard. I am a very strong person, but I suddenly felt like I was coming apart. I felt like I had a body, but there was nothing inside. I knew I needed something.” Jennifer took a chance and called Hospice of Petaluma, hoping that the grief support she’d been offered in Massachusetts would be available to her here.
“I was offered eight weeks of individual counseling, and though I wasn’t sure if it would help me, I needed something to grab on to. The time I spent with Hospice here really brought me back to myself. I remember telling my counselor how much I missed talking to Daddy. She told me I could still talk to him. That would never have occurred to me. But now, when I commute into San Francisco early in the morning, as the sun is coming up, I remember that this would have been the time when we would have talked on the phone. And so I talk to him. And it comforts me.”
“I also have learned that wherever I am, that’s alright. Working with Hospice has made me comfortable in my own skin again and reminded me that my life will go on and that I’ll be ok. I support Hospice as much as I can—I want others to have access to these services as well.”
Ever the woman of the sea, Jennifer also holds the poem “Gone from My Sight” close to her heart. “I know they’re there, Mama and Daddy—just over the horizon. I hold on to that and I move forward.”