A Legacy of 100 Suns
Sometimes, if you're lucky, you meet someone who personifies the very essence of light. These rare gems shine so brightly, they radiate you with a warmth that is impossible not to love. And like a star, they continue to shine in our lives even after they're gone.
Jeni was an infectious, physically delicate, beautiful in-and-out 28 year old. When we met, she had already travelled the world, graduated from university, began a lucrative career in events and had no shortage of loving family and friends.
We started as colleagues and she quickly adopted me as a new bestie. I can't deny that the adoption process was all her, that we didn’t mutually adopt each other, because Jeni’s open affection entirely eclipsed my more traditionally British caution around strangers. But if Jeni liked you, she loved you.
We worked opposite each other every day, had sleepovers, drank too much together, laughed until we felt sick and traded secrets. Even though we hadn't been friends for long in comparison to others, she felt like family. We bickered and disagreed sometimes, as you do when you work with someone every day, but the love was tangible and I knew she would be in my life forever.
Jeni's inclusive energy didn't stop at me either. An awesome group of work friends formed and nights out, drinking games (mango), and luncheons became a golden chapter of our lives and careers. It was one of those chapters that are so good, you know at the time that it can't last forever.
Then, one unassuming Friday in September, on the peak of the changing season, Jeni hugged me goodbye in the carpark, exchanged insults (she was an epic fan of the C-word) and that was the last time I saw her. The news came from my boss on Monday morning. I went straight home and cried solidly for a week.
Jeni was born with a rare condition that placed her in and out of Great Ormond Street for much of her childhood. She had to regulate her health with a careful diet, but I hadn't realised it could take her away without warning. I knew she had become seriously ill after travelling, but that was a while before we met and to me she was the picture of health.
The idea that this incredible light had been taken away from us all was jarring. She was one of those kind through-and-through individuals that you automatically assume would live a long fruitful life because, well, no other reason than she deserved to.
It felt like there had been some dreadful misunderstanding and she'd soon reappear. I pored over our last conversations, obsessing over should-haves and could-haves. I couldn't face her empty desk and the mass of emails and meeting reminders with her name attached; her lip balm, her coffee mug, the insults we left each other on post-it notes.
Her funeral was beautiful. Friends and family poured in with poetry and music. The sun beamed continuously throughout, and knowing Jeni, you would expect nothing less. It was one of those nippy September days when everything glistens in the wind and light, like today. On route, I tried to capture the light through my car window. I took one hundred photographs; one hundred suns for Jeni.
After her funeral, I packed up her desk and sent her belongings back to her family, reminiscing over every object as I placed it in a box. Then all that was left was memories. This was an entirely new type of grief for me. Jeni was part of my daily routine; facing each other for eight hours every day for almost two years. It wasn't long at all, but the impact was immense.
Jeni was pure light. Even though there was physically little of her, she dazzled everyone she met with her wit, kindness and fearless approach to life. The fact that someone I'd known so fleetingly could have such an enormous impact taught me a valuable lesson that I've never forgotten.
We take the power of warmth and kindness for granted. Most of us don't choose to radiate others, let alone strangers, as a part of our daily routine. But actually, offering out your warmth in abundance, with no hidden agenda, is something we can all afford to do to a limitless degree.
It costs nothing but can make someone's day, remind them that they matter and reassure them that they are noticed. It's about connectivity, and it's a powerful human energy that we all have the capacity to spread. It takes a smile, an openness towards the unknown, and an extra level of tolerance, patience, forgiveness and conscientiousness than we might not be used to conveying.
Jeni chose to live the way she did because she appreciated the value of every day. She was not interested in petty dramas, selfish endeavours or time wasters. She kept her eyes and heart open to those who met her sincerity. Her healthy approach to others formed deep connections in short spaces of time and brought people together, quite often over her acclaimed "Jenerator" punch recipe.
Jeni shone as brightly as one hundred suns, and light that powerful travels impossible distances to remain in our view long after it stops burning. We can all choose to shine this brightly and be this legacy if we wish. In her honour, I try to everyday.
If you would like to donate to the Great Ormond's Street charity that raises money to care for children with critical illnesses, please visit their designated page here.