This article first appeared on Seamheads.com on March 2, 2009, a little more than three years after my sister’s tragic death, and will be re-posted here every year on this day, her birthday, with slight modifications.
My sister would have been 42 today. But for the senseless act of a coward who took her life on Valentine’s Day 2006, I would have called her to wish her a happy birthday and probably stopped by her house later this evening to give her a hug. In fact, her phone numbers still reside in the contact list on my cell phone even though they’ve long been disconnected; I can’t bring myself to delete them because that would mean one less piece of her to hold on to. And every once in a while I surf down to her name and number to remind myself how fragile and fleeting life can be.
This is the first time since she was killed that I’ve been able to talk about it openly and, though this is supposed to be a place where people go to embrace baseball and its glorious history, I couldn’t think of a safer place for me to share my story and my sister’s legacy. And frankly it’s time to get it all out.
I was working when the call came. My sister Rosemarie received a call from Jenn’s co-workers, who had disturbing news; Jennifer had missed her second straight day of work and no one had heard from her. They were worried. So was Rosemarie, who asked her husband John to call me and ask me if I would go to Jennifer’s house and make sure she was alright. I climbed into my car for a trip I expected would take forever; it was rush hour and the thought that something might be horribly wrong with my little sister made seconds feel like minutes and minutes like hours.
Rosemarie called me to let me know she was on her way to Jenn’s house as well and made me promise not to go into the house without her. I promised. I lied. Now, not only was I fighting traffic and my own fear of the unknown, but I was determined to get there before Rosemarie. I had no idea what I was going to find, but I had a feeling it was going to be terrible and life-altering, and had Rosemarie seen it before me, it would have lived with her for the rest of her life and whittled her down until there was nothing left. Jennifer wasn’t just Rosemarie’s sister, she was her best friend. I was damned if I was going to lose two sisters that day.
When I arrived, I found a few of Jenn’s friends and co-workers standing outside her house and looking into her windows. “Are you Jenn’s brother?” one of them asked. “Something’s not right; her purse is on the kitchen table and the television is on, but no one’s moving inside or answering the door when we knock.” I called the police and told them I wouldn’t wait for them and that I was going into the house to look for my sister. The first thing I found was Jenn’s husband lying in their bed with a bullet in his head, his hand still clutching the .38 revolver that ended his miserable existence. I’m not ashamed to admit that the first emotion I felt when finding his body was relief. The weight that had held my sister down for so long had finally been lifted, the pain he brought her went to Hell with him. She was finally free.
Little did I realize that he had freed her from her pain moments before when he shot her in the chest while she was taking a shower. He then turned the water off, put the dog in the backyard, wrote a suicide note, laid down in bed and pulled the trigger one last time. When I opened the bathroom door, I instinctively knew what I would find. The shower curtain was drawn. I was only 15 feet from the bath tub, but it was the longest walk of my life. I peeled the curtain back just far enough to know what I needed to know. Then I went into mild shock and staggered back to the front yard, muttering something about finding my sister and her husband and asking one of her friends to call the police again.
My sister’s death wasn’t the first I’d experienced in my life, but it was the most tragic. Almost 20 years before, my father died on the operating table while surgeons attempted to repair a heart that had been abused by years of stress, cigarette smoke, saturated fat, and alcohol. My father was a difficult man to get close to. He was part Andy Sipowicz, part Ralph Kramden, part Will Hunting, working as a janitor for most of his life even though he was often the smartest man in the room, waiting for life to stop beating him down, and establishing his presence with four-letter words that would make Sipowicz blush. He was exacting and critical, and slow with a compliment, but passionate about baseball. He taught me how to play the game and how to love it, but was left heartbroken by the Boston Red Sox and his son’s failure to make it to the big leagues as promised. There was a lot of unfulfilled promise in my father’s life. In the end, he became a modern-day Captain Ahab, chasing demons disguised as a white whale that eventually took his life.
I was 20 years old, Rosemarie was 19, and Jennifer was just old enough to drive. We all had our own relationships with my father. We all dealt with his passing the best we could. We cried a lot; we grew up a lot, maybe too fast. I was already married with a daughter and a son on the way. Rosemarie was only a few years from being married and having two kids of her own. Jennifer was still trying to find her own way in a life that was becoming more confusing than it had a right to be. But somewhere along the way, she developed a fantastic sense of humor, which served her well. She laughed more than most, had a smile that could light up a room, and adopted a positive outlook that had us all convinced that no matter how difficult things might be, we would all be okay. She longed to be a mother and when she found that having babies would be nearly impossible, she mothered us instead. She turned the passion she would have had for her children towards her family and friends, and we were all the better for it. No one who ever met my sister will ever forget her first impression nor her last. She impacted us all.
And that’s her legacy. She brought a family closer together; she rallied a community; she opened our eyes. Rosemarie and I were never close, but Jennifer’s death brought us together, and I can’t imagine a brother and sister being closer than we are now. My mother has always been a strong woman, but rarely outwardly so. But when my sister was killed, my mother found her voice and shouted to whomever would listen, “We, as women, and as a community, can no longer stand for this.” She established the Jennifer A. Lynch Committee and Fund in my hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts, dedicated to “promote awareness of domestic violence, link victims to appropriate services and aid in the creation of a prevention program.”
Her voice was heard. She was named Brookline’s Woman of the Year in 2007. Almost exactly a year later, a memorial “Garden of Remembrance” was dedicated in honor of my sister and other victims of domestic violence. There’s no telling the number of lives my mother has touched and possibly saved.
On March 5, 2009 the Jennifer A. Lynch Committee Against Domestic Violence presented the 3rd Annual Domestic Violence Forum at Newbury College in Brookline. Speaking at the event was former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci, District Attorney William Keating, and other lawyers, representatives, and doctors.
Their voices were heard, must have been heard, and my little sister, Jennifer, is smiling down on us all, and taking care of us. I couldn’t be prouder.
She would have been 42 today.
|In Loving Memory:|
|March 2, 1971 – February 14, 2006|