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Pick The Day As You Would A Poppy.

Mother Field of Poppies Cicero

Pick the day as you would a poppy. — Cicero

In 2006, Jennifer Dawson, a 35-year-old wife and mother, died without warning from an undiagnosed heart condition. She was living in Brooklyn, New York at the time with her husband and children,  a son, 2 and a daughter, 8.

Dawson attended high school in Oklahoma City, but I never knew her. I read about her death in the obits section of The Oklahoman.  It was May 1, 2006, and I was sitting at my desk just trying to swim through the brutality of another monotonous day away from my kids. So goes many a life making a living.

Her obituary made me sad and curious. Why did a healthy young mother of two die so suddenly? I needed to cure my fear and rule out that such a sudden death could happen to me. I went online to find out more information. I discovered a link to Matt Zoller Seitz‘s blog. Seitz is Jennifer’s widower. He’d shared a few scant details about her death. Literally, she was alive one second and gone the next. She’d had a heart attack triggered by a heart defect that had gone undetected.

Jennifer Dawson’s story has stayed with me every day over the past several years. A week does not go by that I don’t think of her. We shared the same name and the same generation. When she died, my son was not even a year old. My oldest daughter was only eight. Since May 1, 2006, Jennifer Dawson’s death has informed my living, and although I never mentioned it (it seemed like an invasion), she was a big inspiration for the Jennifer Chronicles.

Sometimes, while boiling macaroni for chili or scooping out coffee or paying bills I imagine I am alive at the moment, but dead in the next. For this is how it went for Jennifer. The next day, I organize the filing cabinet. I make sure the birth certificates, Social Security cards, and savings bonds are in plain sight. I take out more life insurance. I search Craigslist for an antique hope chest for Juliette. I write in Bridgette’s baby book, which I didn’t write in when she was a baby. I hate myself for this. I hate myself for it a thousand times.

Have you ever noticed how men never hate themselves for not keeping up the baby books?

(Just a thought.)

For too long my life spilled over with obnoxious, self-centered, belligerent, and arrogant people. In little ways and sometimes big, they stole a hundred days or even years I can’t get back. Although I didn’t know her, Jennifer Dawson’s death challenged me to grab hold of the finer points in my life and preserve myself for the people who really matter.

So, I think of her when I push cold cereal on my kids instead of making them homemade waffles. I think of her in the drive-thru lane when I’m too tired or lazy to cook a big Sunday dinner. I think of her when I buy $20 boots instead of $200 boots so my daughter can have a Fjällräven Kånken backpack. I think of her all the time, and I always feel her pushing me toward sacrifice and celebration.

Kanken Backpacks

Jennifer, thank you, for that.

In 2010, Seitz wrote a piece for Salon in honor of what would have been Jennifer’s 40th birthday. Here is an excerpt from All The Things That Remind Me Of Her.

A song, a poem, a scene from a film triggers memories. You’re startled, moved, shaken. And you’re faced with two options: 1) engage with the work and the memories it calls up, or 2) retreat, postpone, avoid.

Option 2 is very attractive. You’re buying Tums and hand soap at the drugstore and a song comes on, a song you associate with somebody you loved — a shared reference point, an in-joke, an anthem, a confession — and suddenly you’re a mess, a wreck, useless, so you leave the store without buying anything. You’re watching a movie in a multiplex or in somebody’s living room and here comes a character that reminds you of somebody you miss — a parent, a sibling, a lover, a friend — and you excuse yourself for a while and go into another room or take a walk around the block, and when you’ve regained control, you go back. (‘Hey, where were you?’ ‘Nowhere. Just taking a break.’…”

Pick The Day As You Would A Poppy.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Nancy

    Jennifer Dawson is my sister. This is a beautiful piece that I only just now read because her husband found it.
    Thank you.

    • Jennifer

      Hi Nancy – Thank you for stopping by. Your sister’s story continues to inspire me. I hope her children are doing well. Much love, jennifer

  2. Matt Zoller Seitz

    This is Matt, Jennifer’s husband. I would like to talk to you about this lovely piece. How can I reach you?

    • Jennifer

      Hello, Matt. It’s great to hear from you. I still think about Jennifer all the time and remember the day I read her obituary like it was yesterday. The Jennifer Chronicles is now a blog on Patheos. You can reach me at jenx1967 [at] gmail [dot] com. I will also drop you a line.

  3. Local Adventurer (las vegas blog)

    i keep thinking more and more lately how life is so fragile and temporary.. we think it will last forever.. but soon enough it will be almost over. i know i need to constantly remind myself this so i can live each day to its fullest and not waste my time on those who have stolen the hundred days / years like you said.


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