To be so young and yet to have made such a splash and so many ripples of love.
[I didn’t want to leave Jolene’s story at the addendum from the previous post… because, although we know the end of her cancer story and that she is resting in paradise—as her brother puts it, or causing chaos among all the angels—as one of her friends posted on her Facebook wall . . . Jolene’s story is far from over. Her SCAR portraits, her memory, her mama, all those of us who love her, and Flat Jolene, continue kicking cancer’s ass and taking names, fighting like our girl Jolene. In other words, she made some ripples down here while she was with us. I like to think it makes her twirl with delight to watch all those ripples of love she created making the universe feel like it’s a small world after all. While we can only sit here star-gazing—and surely Jolene is on the tip of the archer’s bow as he aims for that damn crab—Jolene is. still. making waves. But you, savvy reader, I know you already knew that, because you have caught a glimpse of our lovely Jolene. Plus, I figure you caught the “Part I” in the title of the previous post, and therefore caught on that there was going to be a sequel. So without further ado, here is Part II, written by Jolene’s (and my) dear friend Mary Carpenter. Thank you, Mary. You make pretty ripples too.]
The Gifts We Leave Behind
Guest post by Mary Carpenter
If we are wise, we live a life that fills not only us, but those with whom we share it a trunk full of memories. Sometimes we are not wise, though. Sometimes we are frightened and we hide from the pain, uncertainty, fear, and loss. We crouch in the darkened corner believing that we cannot bear one more trauma in our lives. And then, light peeks through the curtains and tiptoes over to that corner and taps us on the shoulder. It beckons us to draw the curtains open and embrace the sun that warms us . . . the clouds that make us dream . . . the rain that nourishes us . . . the wind that bends us . . . and live the life that awaits us.
Jolene did just that. She flung back the curtains and opened wide the window that brought her into my life and the lives of many others. She left not just a trunk filled with memories, but a garden filled with gifts for those she left behind.
Jolene (on the right) next to her lifelong friend Star
Jolene began planting the seeds in her garden as a child. Perhaps then she wasn’t mindful of the seeds she was planting. She was just being herself… genuine, kind, considerate, loving, and funny. All of those attributes continued nourishing her garden as she and it grew and blossomed. Then the storms began to blow through Jolene’s life and she learned to bend with them gracefully instead of break. Those storms scattered more seeds throughout Jolene’s garden as the dew dripped from her petals and she was courageous enough to share them with us.
When the blades of the gardening sheers cut her stem, she found solace in a garden of flowers who had met the same storm called Phyllodes. Together, they nourished one another and strengthened each other’s roots. They, along with many other flowers who had been caught up in the cancer storm cultivated the soil of friendship in the garden.
Jolene surrounded friends and family
In the last few years of Jolene’s life, she was awed by the gratitude of these flowers not realizing it was they whose soil was most enriched by all she taught them with her honesty and appreciation for even the minutiae of life.
Her wit and charm endeared even the weeds to her, but she would not succumb to their negative forces. She continued reaching for the sky and striving to make something beautiful out of the storm that became a hurricane; sometimes subsiding, but never completely diminishing. She opened wide her leaves and petals to share the remnants of the storms’ damages with the world as part of The Scar Project. She wanted the spotlight of the world to shine down on this garden and see that not one ribbon grew in the garden. It was a garden where only flowers grew who had been changed by the blades of the gardening sheers and sometimes even pesticides that would cause petals to shed from the stamen. In this section of the garden, every flower was merely a seedling and Jolene was one of the youngest to sprout here. In her own words, she felt it was the place where her voice would still be heard after she was gone.
Jolene’s first SCAR portrait
“The SCAR Project was something very emotional for me. It helped me
embrace my scars and realize that they are something beautiful and they
are forever a part of me. I also see it as something to leave this world after
I’m gone. Something for my family to look at and never forget the fight that
I fought for my life.”
In the middle of her hurricane, Jolene still dreamed and talked about the things she wanted to do and the places she wanted to go. Some were as simple as wanting to gather in a garden in Florida with some of her favorite flowers and whip off her fake petals once more while singing Red Neck Woman at a karaoke bar, but Jolene’s stem and leaves were too battered by the storm to make the trek, so a paper flower named Flat Jolene was born to travel the world to the places Jolene dreamed of going, but couldn’t.
She started her journey in Florida and now has gone to places all over the world on adventures that continue to be shared with Jolene’s family, friends, and many fans. She stood in for Jolene on a cold October weekend in 2011 for the opening of The Scar Project Exhibition in New York City.
It was the weekend Jolene died, but Flat Jolene continued living for her. She skated at Rockefeller Center, rode up the elevator in Tiffany’s, went to a Broadway show, and stood somberly at the 9/11 Memorial with the other flowers. Throughout it all, weeping dew knowing that the original blossom, Jolene, had been plucked from the garden and laid to rest.
Although Jolene’s life was short, her garden was enormous and will continue to grow. Her roots remain in the soil surrounding the flowers she has touched and nourished with her love of life. The gifts she left behind are not just the material ones like the beautiful ceramics she painted with joy and love for dear friends in the Petroglyph Ceramic garden. They are the flowers she gathered together who can support one another through more storms or dance together in celebration . . . the ability to appreciate the little things . . . “Oh the joys of Hospice living . . . today is sponge bath day! WOOHOO! count your blessings! yes, even taking a shower is a blessing so be sure to wash behind ur ears people!” . . . the understanding that just because a flower sometimes wilts doesn’t mean it is giving up . . . it is taking a moment of quiet reflection . . . the knowledge that another flower has faced a similar storm . . . the ability to choose how one dies and to gracefully, yet honestly live while dying.
The greatest gift Jolene may have left behind, though, is a community of flowers who are a loving family for her Mama Bear Denise. From the flowers of childhood and high school that routinely check in on Denise and nourish her soil to the Phyllodes and cancer bouquet that blossom love for her, Denise is always surrounded by a devoted garden. This was reflected most profoundly at the recent Scar Project Kick-Off event for Los Angeles. It was a weeklong adventure that began and ended with a road trip taken by Joules Evans, Flat Jolene, and Mama Bear Denise. The Scar Project sisters and community embraced Denise and shared much dew to water the garden. They gave her an opportunity to be Jolene’s voice and see the impact her beautiful blossom had made when she opened her petals and leaves to the world. They allowed her to become a part of not only the garden Jolene left behind, but the blossom Jolene considered her legacy. She left behind a part of her she knew still needed her Mama Bear Denise to bloom.
If we are wise, we throw back the curtains and open the window when the light beckons us from that darkened corner like Jolene did. We weclome ourselves into the garden first and begin nourishing our lives with the knowledge that the gifts we leave behind are created in the gardens of our living and even in our dying as it is a part of living in the garden of life.