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Firsts and Lasts and In Betweens: I Miss You, Jeni Flock

Truth be told, it was Jeni who made the first move.

Before I drew a wider circle, Jeni reached out to me. I didn’t know at the time the extent to which she was a boisterous extravert, a curious humanitarian, a mushy marshmallow heart linked to a wickedly smart and witty mind. But I was soon to find out.

She sent me a private message on an adult adoptee forum we were both members of. That message meant so much that I saved the email alert sent by the forum’s platform. Dated February 18 2010:

hmmmmmmm. not sure if you’ll take this in the way it’s intended….

i like you.  io REALLY do not want to like you, but i do.  that is all i have to offer right now.

oh….that, and i like your blog very much.


That was the first contact between Jeni and me.

The In Betweens

Once I drew that wider circle in Jeni’s adopted city of Atlanta, Jeni and I became fast friends. We’d talk on the phone about her latest conversation with the nail lady or share with me a chapter of the memoir she was writing (she was especially proud of this passage about forgiveness) or when she was in the depths of despair about the double rejection of her birth mom (Jeni once posted that Sallie said she wanted to be notified of her daughter’s death by email — what kind of person assumes she’ll outlive her daughter?).

lori holden, jeni flock

Jeni came to stay with my family on a business trip later that year. Along with her service dog, Gracie, we took my kids to a festival in the town square and at one point Jeni and I were able to duck into a tavern for a quick drink on a hot day — a salty dog for her and a mojito for me.

We could not stop laughing hysterically about the line, “An angry adoptee and an evil adoptoraptor walk into a bar….”

Oh, gawd, how I loved her laugh, her big, raucous laugh that vibrated through her entire being and was infectious to all around.

Ever generous, Jeni brought me a designer purse that visit, which I happened to be using at the time of her death last week. Being a practical sort, I don’t subscribe to many fashion rules, but I do know that this purse is a fall-winter accessory. I can’t imagine transferring my stuff into something more springy now. Ever (but I’m sure eventually I will).

big moose community church pillow

That winter, Jeni returned to Big Moose in upstate NY, near where she grew up. Jeni sent me a pillow made at a balsam bee at her church there. I wish it were possible to digitize the pillow’s balsam fragrance so I could share it with you. Smells like earthy love (not a euphemism!).

Jeni was not one to brag about her considerable accomplishments (except for one — she was going on 5 years smoke-free, and she did love to let us know the number of days via Facebook status). I found out about many of Jeni’s talents accidentally. She was a Japanese interpreter, having learned the language in school (I lived in Japan and lemme tell ya — hat’s off to her). While growing up Jeni was an accomplished ice skater and ballerina (if you are Friends with her on Facebook, check out this and this, but first prepare to pick up your jaw from the floor). She later was an impressive golfer, as you can see by the header she chose for her blog. And —  news to me this past week — Jeni was once a popular disc jockey!

I was really looking forward to reading that memoir she was working on. Jeni was a woman of greatness — great love, great loss, great breadth and depth of experience, great passion.

Speaking of passion, Jeni loved Gracie and all animals fiercely, and she was on a personal mission to teach the law regarding service animals to anyone who gave her a hard time about Gracie  (looking at you, taxi drivers and car-rental clerks). She campaigned relentlessly to open access to original birth records for all adoptees. She was known all over Facebook for reminding people small ways each of us can help the homeless (“Donation idea: when donating canned food, try to offer pop top cans. Not all homeless people have can openers.”). Jeni served as volunteer chef for awhile at a men’s shelter.

Jeni was a consummate connector. I don’t have enough fingers to count all the Facebook friends I have because of Jeni said to each of us, “You two are both awesome and you should know each other!”

Jeni and my daughter Tessa struck up a friendship. I have not yet told Tessa that her email penpal has died (but I will).

The Last

Our last interaction of significance was when Jeni declared she would cheer for the Broncos in the Super Bowl. “You were my reason for picking the broncos!!!” — she told me. I filled her in that we’d recently gotten a dog, and showed her a picture of Dexter in a Broncos shirt. She was so happy for us, especially for Tessa, whom she knew had been lobbying for a dog ever since Gracie visited us.

Jeni died March 18 or 19. I’m not sure which. If she were alive this morning, she’d tell us all via social media, “No texting in church.”

Oh, Jeni, what a bunch of happy memories you’ve left me with. I wish we’d made more. I didn’t know that would be our last conversation — that’s the trouble with lasts.

Jeni leaves a simple legacy: Be kind. Carry that thought with you today. For my friend, Jeni.

Some of us are sitting shiva for Jeni on March 27. Join if you’d like. And a fund has been set up to donate to Jeni’s causes: adoptee rights, an animal shelter, and a food bank.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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25 Responses

  1. She sounds like a remarkable person. It distresses me so much when I learn of birthparents who don’t want to know their children. I can’t fathom it. I’m a birth/first mom, by the way. Very sorry you lost your friend and that the adoption reform community lost a wonderful advocate.

    Also by the way: I will be following your blog.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss — but I would bet with what you wrote about Jeni, it is more about what you have gained from this friendship and what “we” will learn from you through her and “your” words. She sounds like an amazing person – and she is right – “no texting in church – as a matter of fact, just turn the phone OFF.”

    Thanks for sharing — I always love your posts.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your remarkable friend. She sounds like she was an extraordinary person to know, both in print and in person.

  4. Lori, your friend sounds like such a warm, joyous person. Even my anti-spam word to type in this comment is “joy.” I’m sorry for your loss, and praying for your friend’s family.

  5. Oh Lori, my heart goes out to you as you remember your dear friend. She sounded like a very special person. Sending lots of love to you and her family as you remember her fondly. xo

  6. I’m truly sorry for the loss of your friend. I lost a friend this week as well. She battled cancer like a warrior with humor and grace three times and won only to lose her to a heart attack. I can hear her say They Walk Among Us with a smirk in her voice whenever I see someone is filled with hateful ignorance. But what she knew and proved by her existence and your friend’s as well is that extraordinary loving life changing people walk among us as well. Those who know them, treasure them always and honor them with your love and life.

  7. This is so powerful, pure, and beautiful. Oh my heart smiles that there are such wonderful people and friendships in this world. My heart is so heavy for you that you didn’t get more time together. I will go be kind and think of you and Jeni. Something tells me you have just wrote the first addendum of her memoirs and you certainly have expanded the circle she grew by reaching out to you. So much love to you as you sit shiva and in all the days to come….

  8. So sorry for your loss, Lori. I read her “forgiveness” post and was very moved by it. How sad that we will no longer be graced by her wise and witty thoughts and words. Sent my own letter of forgiveness last week, so this all very much resonates with my soul. Love that.

  9. Those who knew Jeni, and you probably knew her better than I did, know that she wants us to carry on–full of fire and spit–not to mention a few well chosen profanities–in her honor. If anyone ever deserved to go to “glory”, it was Jeni. I will certainly, truly miss her. And I wonder, now that she is dead, is she still adopted? Truth be known, if there is “different” or “special” treatment for adoptees in Heaven, she is certainly cussing up a storm about that!

    My heart also goes out to Gracie, her service dog. I remember Jeni writing often about how Gracie got upset when other people trampled “her” territory by doing things for Jeni. And I fondly remember Jeni posting gorgeous pictures of Gracie playing in surf or snow (like a regular dog) with titles such as “this hooker lives large.” Jeni also fought for Gracie’s rights to do her job, the job she obviously did with the dedication of only those who love deeply.

    Jeni was special. She loved others and showed it. But, y’know what? She loved herself too…and that meant she was dedicated to open records for herself and other adoptees.

  10. I’m so sorry for your loss. Jeni sounds like she was quite a character. And was it prophetic? Did her birth mother outlive her? That would be both odd and extremely sad.

  11. I often wondered why someone as outspoken as Jeni befriended me on Facebook. I wasn’t bold enough to ask her why. I am so glad that she did as I grew to know a beautiful soul. I miss her texts from church saying “no texting in church” and so much more. I wished that she and I met in person. Through her posts on Facebook, she helped me see a much bigger world around me. She helped open up my eyes to adoptees’ rights and to the homeless lack of access to a can opener so donate can food with pull top lids.

    Thank you for writing this post for your friend, Jeni. I imagine it must have been hard.

  12. Oh, Lori. What a beautiful tribute to your friend, and to someone who seems like a remarkable woman in so many ways. The world is better for her graceful–if too short–presence in it. Sending you so much love.

  13. What a huge loss for the world that this woman is no longer in it. And the only blessing is this incredible mark she’s left behind. I’m so sorry, sweetie.

  14. I just keep looking at that pillow…Jeni was staying with me at the time she made those for everyone. She was Godmother to my children..and we have enough history to write a book. 🙁

  15. This is a lovely tribute to somebody who sounds like she was an incredibly lovely person. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  16. Oh, Lori, I am behind in my blog reading and late to express my condolences here on the loss of you beloved friend. So much wrong with a world where the best among us leave us too soon. Sending comforting thoughts to you and all who knew and loved Jeni Flock.

  17. As far as I know/can recall, I don’t think Jeni and I ever connected through you or blogging. But she sounds like a pretty amazing woman. I am so sorry for your loss and for all those who’s lives are bittersweet now that she has died. I clicked over to her blog and found her last post ironic and telling. I love that you commented on it too. It seems she was more than worth it and I am glad you had the time and relationship that you did wither. Thank you for sharing her with us. Sending you love, thoughts and prayers as you mourn the loss of your friend.

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