Thursday, January 12, 2012

My sister: Jennifer Maria (Piening) Carr

On January 10th, 2012 we were notified that after a life of both joy and hard struggles, my loving sister Jennifer passed away.

There is just too much to say and too many emotions to feel and work through to write her obituary now.  Instead, I hope to help those of us who knew her gather and share all of the joy she brought each of us, so that we can celebrate her life.  PLEASE SHARE your story too...

For those of you that were close to her and live in Seattle, the funeral mass will be next Wednesday, January 18th.  Details to come.

"Jennifer's laugh is infectious. She laughs with her eyes, her smile, her voice, her eyes, her posture, her memories and experiences, and most of all her heart. When I think of her laugh, I smile. When I think of the times we laughed so hard that we cried, I cry now." - Mark
Link to Jennifer's Facebook memorial page...

Jennifer's Eulogy
St. Stephens Catholic Church
Renton, WA
January 18, 2012

Philippians 4:6-7
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1. Thanks to all of you who are here.  I'm sure in Jennifer's eyes our presence and meeting each other together today is not some master plan she had, but rather a Coincidence from a life Lived.  We all knew Jennifer, and if there is anything that was true, she loved to laugh.  So let's smile and laugh with her today and remember her giving nature to people, her gifts and talents, and her passion for Life.  

The response from those that knew her in her youth was overwhelming.  Many of those people aren't here today but are saying prayers from CA, TX and around the world.  Those close to her that are here include Mom and Dad, her husband Jason, Deron, their children and their extended families.  Her sister-in-law Lori, her Godmother Henny, her cousin Karin, all of you who reached out to us and were able to be here today.

If you don't know, Jennifer died because of liver failure.  It's an interesting irony, given that Jennifer was a Liver.  I mean, she didn't just "exist" on Earth - she Lived, Big.  In some ways she has had more life experiences than many of us will ever have.  She was passionate about everything she did, especially when she could do so for others.  And we got to see that in action.

Jennifer was born on February 11, 1974 to my parents Tony and Henny Piening in Anaheim, California.  Her early years bring back fantastic memories:
  • Camping in the trailer in the San Bernardino mountains, and watching her fish with my Dad
  • Hosting our family from Holland or saving and flying there every four years, so we could know and be close to our family there
  • Birthday parties, visits and sleepovers with our American family, the McCalls and the Koetsiers, including competitive board and card games that shaped our character.
  • Soccer weekends and softball games, and later drama and choir rehearsals and shows through high school
  • Beach parties at Bolsa Chica and big parties in the backyard with family and friends from school and life, including when she embarrassed me at my 21st birthday with a gift of banana hammock underwear in front of a what felt like a hundred people.  Yes, Jennifer, I admit it:  you got me.  
Jennifer was blessed with so many gifts: 

1. Her laughter, warmth and understanding.  She gave of herself.  She was trusting.  If you read the hundreds of messages our family has received across calls, visits, cards, email, text, Facebook and the guestbook, everyone that knew Jennifer mentions her HUGE smiles, big warm hysterical laughs, including those belly laughs that were so hard she would cry.  You can see her come alive in the photo collages.  Thanks to Claudia Koetsier for assembling them for us to remember Jennifer's wonderful smiles.

2. Jennifer was a wonderful Mother and Advocate, especially for autism for her kids and others afflicted, including Karin's daughter Valerie.  She was passionate about Cure Autism Now's Walk for Austim 5k - in fact, her Facebook profile picture is with Katelyn from that event.  Jennifer had a special bond with her kids, and shared a special handshake and saying with them that I'll leave to Jason to share with you later, only because I would butcher it.  Let's just say it was creative, just like Jennifer. 

3. Jennifer's musical and dramatic gifts were a blessing and a wonderful outlet for her spirit.  The shows she put on at home when she was little, high school choir and drama performances, signing Ave Maria in church, and karaoke.  We learned quickly that she had more talent than I did, which was awesome for her to remind me.  I am four years older than her, but she performed in Fiddler on the Roof at my high school during her 8th grade, which was a source of well-deserved pride for her. Jennifer, sorry I didn't tell you that more often to affirm you, but you knew it and you obviously know it now!

Jennifer had high standards for herself, and she put a lot of pressure on herself to try to Live up to them.  But let's be honest:  she was stubborn too.  She was going to do things her way, she wasn't going to depend on others and admit weakness, and she was convinced there was a new path ahead that would be better than the one she was on.  In fact, while she lived a life of joy and laughter during the ups, Jennifer was always seeking greater degrees of relief from pain, confusion and struggle as things became harder for her.  But Jennifer, even you have to admit some of these times were downright funny:

1. I remember as a kid the time Mom and Dad told her to clean her room.  Sure it was a total disaster area, but with an hour or so and a little help it would have been picked up.  I offered to help.  No way.  She shut the door, pulled everything off of her shelves and out of her closet and drawers, and decided to get "organized".  3 days later!...but man was it clean and polished.

2. Another time she decided she was "outta here", as in going to run away from home.  Of course she was like 10 years old, but she put some stuff in a bag like Bugs Bunny would in a cartoon, and decided to go live somewhere else.  Well, she made it to the elementary school parking lot behind our house.  I remember knowing she would have to come back, but as stubborn as she was I wondering if maybe she wouldn't.  That was Jennifer.  

3. Then there is the last time I saw Jennifer a year ago, with Marty, driving in Seattle.  She was sick then, and she was stubborn then too.  But man did we laugh that day in the car, telling stories and remembering the good times from our childhood.  Her laugh was free and light, and for a few moments I saw the Jennifer I always knew.  That was her spirit fighting for joy and freedom from pain.  

So to butcher and paraphrase Shakespeare's Marc Antony, we come to praise Jennifer, not just to bury her.  In her life, Jennifer deserved to have a defender and an advocate, and today she has one in death. God knows I tried to protect and defend her as she grew into adulthood to live her own life.  We all did.  But really, that's His job and not our burden.  And while she had faults, we all do.  We all are the same in our human suffering that comes from sin.  And in that Truth there is much each of us can learn from Jennifer.  So let's make sure she didn't die in vain, let's laugh about some stories of Jennifer's life, and take away some goodness for our souls in the process. Jennifer's LAUGHTER brought Light into the world, and for that she'll always be remembered:  as her Legacy, and in our hearts.  

Closing Quotes:
From Albert Einstein~
"Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life."

And my favorite Einstein quote:  "Coincidence is where God lives."

Closing Prayer:
That God embraces her in heaven, just as he embraces us on Earth.  That we feel his connection to us every day as we work to make Earth more like Heaven than Hell.  That we live every day to bring Light into the World instead of Darkness.  In a sense, that we "Pay It Forward" with everything we do.  And that we take comfort in knowing that she is with God, looking down on us and laughing about the times we shared together, and knowing that she will not be forgotten.