Sunday, June 3, 2012

About This Blog & About Jenna

My name is Amanda.  On April 28th, 2012, I lost my little sister.  She was 22.  I was a month and a half shy of 25.  It happened very suddenly, very unexpectedly, and it has changed my life.

I'll be going into my sister and my relationship as this blog progresses, but here's the Sparknotes: Jenna and I were very close when I lost her.  Of course, when we were growing up we couldn't stand each other.  We were two very different people.  She was popular and athletic, I was artistic and awkward.  We were always sisters, but we really became friends the summer after I graduated high school when my family took a cruise.  Cut off from our respective worlds, she and I looked back on this trip as the time we actually got to know each other.  And from there, I was gifted a relationship unlike any I have ever known or likely will ever know again.  Consequently, the feeling this loss has inflicted on me can be described in very much the same way.

A big part of healing is getting your thoughts out.  I can easily do that with a journal, but many people seem very interested in sharing in my journey.  And if this can help the people who loved my sister, then that's enough motivation for me to get off my lazy disorganized ass and force me to post as consistently as possible.  For people who don't know, Jenna loved pigs.  They were her favorite animal.  That's where the name came from.

Jenna on her Veterinary Guatemala trip

So what do I want from this blog?  A number of things I suppose.  Maybe it'll just be easier if I list them.

In my blog, I want to share:

  • Personal journal entries about my healing process
  • Philosophical Essays/Ramblings/Tangents about life and what may come after it
  • General reflections
  • My progress completing the things on Jenna's bucket list - Jenna had a bucket list (I will publish it later and link it).  I want to make sure that if she can't do these things, I will.  Except the bungee jumping.  Maybe.  My survival is now clearly very essential to my family's sanity so I'm still seriously torn on that.

That part will be for me.  For Jenna, I want to share in this blog:

  • My memories about Jenna
  • Pictures of Jenna - She had the absolute BEST faces.
  • Dreams I Have About Her
  • Any artwork, poetry, or other creative pieces inspired by her
  • Songs she loved or that reflect my current state of mind
  • OTHER PEOPLE'S memories, dreams, artwork/poetry/creative pieces, thoughts in general about Jenna - This part is really important to me.  Just like how I hope my memories will make other people feel like they're making new ones for themselves, that's what other people's stories and memories do for me.  Hearing new stories and sides about my sister give me something that replaying my own memories just can't do.  

Okay I'm gonna go nerd on you for a second: You know how you LOVE a show, but then it's cancelled?  You watch the reruns over and over, and even though you love them, it just makes you miss the show.  Then suddenly, you come across this AMAZING fanfiction that's written so well, it's like you're getting all new episodes!  ... Okay I'm sure most of you are blinking at your screen with confusion right now, but for those of you who know what the hell I'm talking about, that's a very accurate analogy!

My point is, I would love for friends of Jenna to send me stories on facebook.  E-mail me pictures!  SEND ME STUFF.  I will post them here and we will share them together.  It will also be great for me when I don't feel like posting something I wrote myself.


Well there you go.  I finally got this thing up and running.  I hope this helps...


About Jenna (Part 1)

There are a couple types of people who might follow this blog: Complete strangers, people who know me, people who are close to me, people who knew my sister, people who were close to my sister, and family.

All of these people have different levels of knowing Jenna.  Some of my closest friends only knew her by how much I talked about her, and some people are following this simply because they care about me.  Some strangers might be drawn in simply because they too have suffered a loss.  Some people knew Jenna in a way I never did.  And I'm realizing the best way for this blog to serve its purpose is for everyone to know her on an even plane.

I think I'm going to start backwards and work my way forwards.  So I'll start with her obituary.  That gives you a basic idea of the kind of person Jenna was.  We'll build from there.
"Jenna Marie Roark, age 22, beloved and beautiful daughter and sister, died unexpectedly on Saturday, April 28, 2012. 
Jenna was born on Sept. 29, 1989, in Madison to David and Lynne. She attended Queen of Peace Elementary School, which was highlighted by the camaraderie of her soccer, basketball, and volleyball teammates. This continued into Edgewood High School with her love of being on the Varsity Tennis Team and the friendships that grew during this time. She eventually found her passion at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire majoring in biology with the intention of pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. 
Her love for animals was evident all through childhood helping her mom with their menagerie of pets. She especially loved all her kitties and even brought their dog, Fred, up to Eau Claire for sleepovers. Last summer she was an intern at Spring Harbor Veterinary Clinic, and in January spent two weeks in Guatemala working with local veterinarians caring for animals, which made her even more passionate about becoming a veterinarian. 
Most recently she had begun a new job at Ruffin It Resort, a doggie day care in Madison.
An avid sports fan and athlete, one of Jenna’s greatest joys was attending Packers games with her dad. Watching college basketball during March Madness and reminiscing about the year they attended the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas was also a family ritual. Jenna’s job was to check her dad’s bracket to make sure he didn’t change it during the tournament. 
Her sister Amanda was one of her best friends. The ease and humor of their relationship was a constant source of entertainment for her parents and friends. Being together was always the best part of their many family vacations over the years. They loved each other very much. 
Jenna will always be remembered as a lover of pigs, a hater of spiders, a champion of mini golf with her family, and the future fiancee of Aaron Rodgers and/or Peeta Mellark. Her beautiful blue eyes, engaging smile and enthusiasm for life will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her. 
Our lives will never be the same. We will never forget her love and presence that made us feel happy. We will always love her and always be a family of four."
Family of four
My mom wrote most of that.  I helped with the structure and wrote a bit in the middle.

Anyway, I guess I'll also post the eulogy I did for her.  That covers her relationship with me pretty extensively.  It also talks about her a bit more below the surface and her relationship with my parents.  But before you begin reading/watching, I should preface.  I do mention briefly that Jenna's death was originally thought to be a suicide, but upon further investigation, it turned out (to everyone's relief) that it was actually an accident.  I haven't decided if I will elaborate more than that on this blog.  I'm usually very open about the circumstances surrounding her death because I don't like people to make assumptions, and (as I will state) getting the story straight would have been VERY important to her, but talking about something so personal on the internet feels... unseemly.  I dunno.  Like I said, I haven't decided yet.  If I do decide to explain, it will probably be a separate post.

Right now I want you to get to know the person - Not the ending.

Note: The beginning of the video is cut off, but the abridged transcript is below.  Thank you Ben Scharpf for filming.  The lighting is not important:)

"Hi. I’m Amanda. I’m Jenna’s sister. It’s always been my job to write the speeches in the family. Jenna’s was to tack her name on at the end and say “Yeah!” So… I hope I can talk about Jenna today in a way that will make her proud. Writing this was so hard because I found myself going on so many tangents and wanting to share a million stories. I could honestly talk for hours about what my sister loved, what drove her crazy and what she meant to me personally. But we only have so much time.

Jenna was… Joy. She was more than just a cliché animal lover. I always thought that was such a beautifully subtle part of her personality. I really wish I had talked to her more about it because it’s hard to articulate. She loved pigs. And she loved dogs and cats, but it wasn’t just blindly. She didn’t just love the idea of them. She just loved every animal she met instantly. And that I think, made it more personal. She grew into it. And it was reflected in the way she loved our animals. She played with them and even teased them, but they loved her back for the time she spent and the appreciation she had for their individual characters.  It reminded me of the way she loved the people she cared about and the way they loved her—Because Jenna didn’t just love the idea of people. In fact, Jenna had a HUGE issue with strangers. I will never forget how she would always ever so inconspicuously wait for someone to go in ahead of her at a game or a movie. Yeah it’s funny until you find your long legs stuck in the middle on a airplane every time we had to share a row with an extra person. Once Jenna got to know you though, she was yours. And you were hers. You couldn’t help yourself.

I think one of the biggest draws about Jenna was how much she loved to play. I know for sure that’s what bonded her with our pets and unlocked her passion for animals. She didn’t just take care of them. She was always the one who played with them. Because that was just her. From her Angry Birds to Words with Friends… Those were just two of some of the COUNTLESS apps she had on her iPod. My parents used to flip a coin when we were little to figure out who had to sit with her on the airplane. I was always wrapped up in a book or my Gameboy. She would always want to play Chinese Checkers or I Spy. One of her biggest catchphrases I will always remember from her childhood is “Play with me…” And when she got older it never changed. She was always getting us to play cards or texting me to make my move on Words with Friends. One of my favorite last memories is how during her Spring break, we spent an hour on the phone after our actual conversation had finished just playing Words with Friends and Draw Something back and forth. At one point, my mom actually asked Jenna if she was still on the phone because she hadn’t said anything for a full ten minutes. She simply replied, “Oh yeah. We’re just playing”.

That was sort of our relationship in a nutshell I guess. Maybe. How can I describe my relationship with my sister? We’ve always been such opposites at first glance. Well we grew up hating each other. I resented her because she was always so athletic and popular and she th ought I was weird and way too emotionally intense. Which I am. Things improved when I was in high school. We would occasionally shut the office door, blast NSYNC and dance it out to “I Need Love”. When we really started to reconnect was when we took a cruise to the Mediterranean the summer after I graduated. Cut off from our other lives, we made a group of friends together on the first night. And spent every day with them and each other since. It was those late Coca-Cola fueled nights that really bonded us (which by the way is how I’m convinced she developed her acid reflux – We had these stickers for free Cokes and she down like seven a day to hang out with our friends all night and tour Greece the next day – Pretty sure that’s what wore away the stomach lining). It was all down hill from there. When I was in school, Jenna and I really became friends. We both went through some crazy things as young ladies tend to do and found that talking to each other offered a unique perspective and more importantly, an understanding, that we just couldn’t get anywhere else. We were sisters. And I really knew we were friends when Jenna passed up going out one particular night of the summer to stay in and watch Boston Legal with me. I felt so friggin cool. I still can’t even articulate how wonderful it was to have our relationship evolve. When I think about how we are now, just being in a room with her was soothing. It took away pain. It was considered an evening of bonding just existing in the same space watching Animal Planet, Remember the Titans, any of the Harry Potter movies, or Armageddon for the fifty millionth time (pretty sure she watched Armageddon three times in one day once – The movie never failed to make her cry). We could entertain ourselves on long car rides just by taking pictures of ourselves while listening to the radio or splitting a headset and rocking out silently while our parents pretended to ignore us. I will never be able to listen to Mama Mia or the Goldfinger 99 Red Balloons without thinking of her. We could say things to each other that nobody could. Our flaws became hilarious. Our banter was flat out entertainment. She was the only one who could call me on my crap without me taking it personally. I feel like that wasn’t just with me though. That was just her. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. She was honest and did not suffer fools. She told me more than once that patience like that was my department. I think that’s my favorite part about our relationship. We were so different in our public interests, the way we handled other people, and the way we felt about hugging each other (I LOVED to force her to hug me and make her uncomfortable), but there was this underlying similarity in the way we viewed life and what made us laugh. I hear that’s called having a sister.

I’m so glad we landed on this idea of always being a family of four because I don’t know what I would do without her just in my family dynamic. She was so much better at knowing when to keep her mouth shut and helping my parents without complaining. She always had my mom’s ability to just grit her teeth and get the job done without any side comments. I was never so lucky. I always really respected that about both of them and I think that’s what made my mom and Jenna really understand each other. That, and the memory of my sister’s faces making my mom laugh so hard she cried. Jenna always made the BEST faces. It’s why I’m so glad that she also inherited my mother’s passion for documenting life through pictures – Even though to be a camera of Jenna Roark’s meant certain DOOM. I have no idea how many cameras that girl lost, broke, or had stolen. Pretty sure one exploded into a fireball once. I may be making that up but I’m going to choose to imagine that. She shared a lot of my mother’s creative talents too. I was always considered the artist to her athlete in the family, but she had such an eye for aesthetics. It’s what made her have such great taste in clothes, how she was able to turn out amazing scrapbooks at the drop of a hat, and how she started cultivating her flair for interior design.

While my sister loved my mom and their emotional personalities often comically resembled each other, she was always a daddy’s girl. Everyone who ever knew her knew how much she loved her dad. And it wasn’t just because they bonded over sports. There was just something special there. She was always so self sufficient but I could tell my dad’s unconditional devotion to both of us made her feel so safe. I really loved watching the two of them because there was something so special in the way he would always pick on her and banter with her. It was just one more thing on the list of many that reminded me of how lucky I am to have the family I did. Do.

This… Isn’t fair. In fact, pardon my French Lord, but it sucks. Hard. Some of you already know but details have recently been discovered that prove once and for all that this was just a freak accident.  I’m not going to go into details up here because that’s not what this eulogy is about and word is spreading. On the downside, it makes this loss so much more… well, stupid. But I’m so grateful that this information now actually adds up and makes sense now because number one, everyone knew something wasn’t right about that, and now things finally make sense. And number two, Jenna would be SO ANGRY if people thought that she took her own life. Because that is one of the biggest things that not only connected us as sisters, but reflected our upbringing the most. Quit is not in our vocabulary. We may stumble and we may fail, but we always get back up and keep going.  And I think that’s because thanks to our parents, we were never afraid to fail. Failures were just things that happened. They were not the end all be all of anything. We took things as they came and thought about what we were going to do next. That’s how we rolled. Things never got too hard for us because we knew that no matter how it played out, it would be okay. That’s how I know that this isn’t the end for her either. Do you think that a little thing like death will keep Jenna Marie Roark from living? No way. Jenna Roark laid the groundwork in life to not just shine, but blaze in the hearts of countless people until the end of time. She has so many footholds on this plane that it will be impossible for her to ever truly leave us. And I will never give up on her because I know she never gave up on herself.

I miss you so much Jenna. It’s going to be hard for us to keep a clear picture when tears make everything so blurry, but that’s why we have each other. To help us remember to see. And hear. And feel. And keep loving. And I know if she was here, she would wrap this up with an, “Everything she said… I totally agree with”. What can I say?

The girl taught me everything I know."
When I finished we all actually sang together, but I can't do that moment justice in writing.  There's video footage that I'm hoping to add to this section once I get it.  It was raining outside when I was giving the eulogy.  And when the singing stopped, the rain stopped.  It was an extraordinary moment.

So that about covers the basics I guess.  Hopefully you'll get to know her almost as well as I do very soon.

Get ready...


  1. I love this, Amanda. This is how we keep Jenna with us. <3

  2. This is amazing Amanda. I am really happy to be with your family tonight but wish you were here.

  3. What you're doing for your sister and her memory is extremely beautiful. I never got the chance to meet Jenna, but I knew a lot of her friends from High School. Your words bring comfort to others that have also lost someone important and I just want you to know that I appreciate your dedication to her. Not everyone gets lucky enough to have a sister, especially such a loving one like you, as I'm sure Jenna was as well.

  4. I've never met you, but I wanted to let you know that this is an extremely touching blog.

    1. Thank you! Did you know Jenna? How did you find this blog? I'm just curious.

  5. I want to say I came across your blog from Pinterest. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and one of the pins brought me here. I am very touched after reading through a bit of this. I am from Wisconsin and your sister is not much older than my daughter. I'm glad to hear it was an accident, tragic as that is. I will be praying for you and your family. Losing anyone we love is hard but to lose someone that is your sister and best friend I can only imagine what that is like. I hope you are doing ok.
    I have also dealt with grief and what you wrote made me cry but also helped me to figure out what I will be saying this July when we spread my daddy's ashes on his birthday. I know I can talk about the good times and it will be ok.
    Thank you,