The following remarks were spoken to family and friends following the death of Wendy Jenkinson Weisman.
I’m Wendy’s father.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My Wendy, our Wendy, your Wendy is dead. There’s a tremendous amount of things I could tell you about Wendy; her love of her friends and family, her loyalty, her beauty, her sunny disposition, her many talents, her intellect, all the things she’s done and accomplished in her life, but today I just want to focus on her incredible bravery.
Lou Gehrig in the 1920s and 30s set several major league records and was known as the Iron Horse for his durability. He played for the New York Yankees until his career was cut short by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Over a 15-season span between 1925 and 1939, he played in 2,130 consecutive games. The streak ended when Gehrig became disabled with ALS that claimed his life two years later. His streak, long believed to be one of baseball’s few unbreakable records, stood for 56 years until finally broken by Cal Ripken Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles in 1995.
When Lou Gehrig retired, he came out of the dugout at Yankee Stadium for the last time and addressed his fans. He said:
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
He died two years later.
We all knew when Wendy was diagnosed how little chance there would be for even a few more years of a good life. But shedding a few tears, she was determined to approach the unknown with confidence and good cheer.
Like Lou Gehrig, Wendy had a streak that will be hard to break, but her streak was for bravery. She faced this horrible disease knowing that the odds were heavily stacked against her. She endured two brain surgeries to remove parts of the tumor. She underwent two more surgeries to place drains to remove pressure on her brain. She completed six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy last summer. She suffered a stroke and fought to regain the ability to walk and speak clearly again. She finished another month of radiation in May. Through all this, I never heard her complain. She faced it all with equanimity, with determination not to succumb, and with love for her children.
Wendy is our Iron Horse.
And Wendy’s own unbroken streak of bravery continues to live through Marguerite and Wyatt who have faced what no children should ever face.
Wyatt, you will be the starting goaltender for the Bruins (or perhaps the Rangers), or maybe you will be a world famous astronomer, but whatever you do, I know you will do it partly because of all the love and encouragement given to you because of your mother.
Marguerite, you will be the first hip-hop dancer to win So You Think You Can Dance, or perhaps you will be a psychotherapist helping others find their way through life. Whatever you do, you will do it with the help of your mother’s love and inspiration and love for her friends and family.
Wyatt and Marguerite, although you’ve lost your incredible mother (and no one can really replace her), you’re going to have a lot of other women giving you the love, the support and the wisdom only a woman can give. There will be Patty and Nicole and a host of friends. There will be Grammy, and of course, Jennifer and Ali, who will always be there for you. They will be there for you to talk to; they will be there to give you advice; and they will be there to cry with you.
When my friend Joey Kinstlinger died, I read part of this poem by John Donne. Never did I think I would be in a situation where I would need to read it again for someone I love so much.
No man is an island. entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
Wendy’s death diminishes us all.
I’d like to take a moment and thank Scheryl Kram, Wendy’s visiting nurse, for her loving care. Doctors Tracy Batchelor and William Curry at MGH fought to extend Wendy’s life and should be saluted for their struggle against this fatal disease: one day they will triumph. Jessica O’Connor, Donna Rhodes, and Melissa Mahoney, worked tirelessly with Wendy to help her walk again, talk again, and to dress and feed herself. Thank you, Dr. Lamm and countless others at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Cape Cod Rehabilitation Hospital, and at Mass General. You all played a part in trying to make Wendy’s life as long and as comfortable as possible. We will always be in your debt. And thank you Patrick and your family and friends for taking such good care of our daughter.
And no one could have truer friends than Patty Wallace and Nicole Cabot, Kiera Chassman, Laura Stewart, and Laura Bauman — friends to the end.
There is so much more that I would like to tell you about Wendy, about her strength and achievements, about her love and devotion to Wyatt and Marguerite, about how proud Suzy and I were of her from the time she was born. There is so much that others can tell you. Right now our emotions and grief and suffering are still raw while we all struggle to come to terms with this. The enormity of this is still sinking in, but Suzy and I along with Jen and Ali and her friends, plan to put together a celebratory event on August 23 when we can all remember Wendy with joy, with stories and remembrances, with music, and of course with good food and drink.
I’d like to close by paraphrasing Lou Gehrig.
Friends, Wendy got a bad break. We all got a bad break. Yet Wendy was one of the luckiest girls on the face of the earth and we’re the luckiest people on the face of the earth to have known her and shared her journey. When one has a wife and children and grandchildren, and friends like you who have been towers of strength and more support and courage than you ever dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know. So we all might have been given a bad break, but we’ve got an awful lot to live for.
Our brave, beautiful Wendy Leilani. We had you for forty-five years and for that we shall always be grateful. We love you and will never forget you.
We shall not see your like again.