Jaimie Senger: She loved with abandon
BAXTER - "When you're sick or dying, you have a different perspective on life," Jaimie Senger told the Brainerd Dispatch a year ago. "A lot of people were there for me, so I try to make other people's days, I guess. I try to give more. ... I hold doors, I try to do whatever I can. I try not to get cranky. I try to be happy. You want to enjoy life. You want to live."
On Tuesday, Jaimie died at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital after suffering complications from a stem cell transplant intended to cure her leukemia, the conclusion of a lengthy struggle. Since she was 14, Jaimie endured numerous hospital stays, excruciating pain and isolation from school, her family and her friends - circumstances anyone would expect to take their toll on a young person.
But not on Jaimie. Those who packed Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Baxter Saturday to celebrate the life of the vibrant 18-year-old said they'll never forget her everlasting hope, her ability to love with abandon and her steadfast faith - all in the face of tremendous hardship.
"While I am still in shock, I do take comfort in knowing she is no longer in pain and she is not going to be on this earth unable to live life to the fullest," her mother Carolyn Reller said in her eulogy.
Carolyn described her daughter's wishes, should her health problems lead to an untimely death. Jaimie did not want her life artificially prolonged if it were clear she would not recover. She wanted to donate her organs to help others. She asked to be cremated, so people would remember her in life and not in death. Jaimie gave specific instructions on where her ashes, which were contained in a blue purse of hers she loved, should be spread.
"She wanted to be spread around at different places that she loves," Carolyn said. "'Put a little bit of me by my tree. Put a little bit of me in the ocean. Put a little bit of me at Grandma Bev's house and our house.' She also verbally told me that she would like some scattered at Wood Lake, where Grandma Mary and Grandpa Dan had a cabin. She remembered such good times there when she was a little girl."
Jaimie also wrote, in capital letters, she wanted her life to be celebrated, not mourned. The memorial was filled with many of Jaimie's favorite things, including depictions of and a reading on dragonflies, Carolyn's reading of Jaimie's favorite childhood book, "Bear By Himself," a song translated into American Sign Language by her classmates and the words of some of the most beloved people in her life.
The love Jaimie so effortlessly gave to others was obvious in the love so many gave back to her Saturday, many wearing T-shirts in the teen's honor.
"Even in silence, compassion radiated from Jaimie's brilliant eyes, which made me feel invincible," said Chuck Cogger, a family friend, in his eulogy. "I have come to find, age isn't measured by years. It's true measurement comes from experience. Despite her battles, Jaimie's perseverance and strength empowers me to be a better person."
Pastor Erika Nilsen, who led the service, recalled a time when she drove Jaimie to a doctor's appointment in St. Cloud. The teen was excited to share one of her favorite lunch spots with her pastor, and the pair enjoyed a meal together before Jaimie's cancer maintenance treatment. Afterward, Erika said Jaimie felt very ill.
"At one point, she looked at me and she said, 'This stinks. I'm sorry I ruined our day,'" Erika said. "She was more worried about me in that moment than herself. But this is how she lived her life. She lived her life with faith, and with hope, and with love."
Despite heavy hearts for the death of a young woman, Jaimie's loved ones went on to the American Legion Post No. 255 in Brainerd, where they had the party she requested in her honor. Through both tears and laughter, the legacy of a young woman so full of life carried on in those who were touched by her story and her strength.
In the spirit of Jaimie's seemingly endless capacity to care for others, Carolyn, her husband Grant Reller and her son Jared are already planning how to pay forward all of the help and caring they've received along Jaimie's difficult road.
"Many are saying the 'Battle of Lady J' needs to continue," Carolyn said at the Legion.
The family said they are looking into creating a foundation in the young woman's honor, one that would assist other families enduring similar circumstances with gas cards, groceries or other shows of support.
Although the beautiful October day celebrating Jaimie's life was too late for the dragonflies, she would have loved the colorful autumn leaves she once enjoyed collecting.
"They are so vibrant and pretty," she said last year. "I could just stare at them for hours, they are just so pretty."
A look back at Jaimie's journey
Sept. 29, 2014 - Long journey: No more chemo for Brainerd teen: www.brainerddispatch.com/content/long-journey-no-more-chemo-brainerd-teen
May 7, 2015 - Just for Jaimie: BHS plans early surprise commencement for ailing senior: www.brainerddispatch.com/news/3739309-just-jaimie-bhs-plans-early-surpri...
Oct. 11, 2015 - The battle of 'Lady J': Jaimie Senger faces setback in cancer treatment: www.brainerddispatch.com/news/3857768-battle-lady-j-jaimie-senger-faces-...
Oct. 15, 2015 - Jaimie Senger, Brainerd teen facing leukemia, dies: www.brainerddispatch.com/news/3861199-jaimie-senger-brainerd-teen-facing...