Daughter, volunteer, activist. Born on April 26, 1987, in Toronto; died on June 12, 2015, in Toronto, in a fall after a seizure, aged 28.
Jennifer adored Peter Pan. Her favourite photograph was one of herself as a young girl, hugging a Peter Pan statue in a London park. As a feminist, Jenn loved to see brilliant young women playing Peter Pan in movies. As we mourn her death, we get some comfort from knowing that, like Peter Pan, Jenn will never grow old.
Jenn beat impossible odds, more than most people face in their lives. She overcame a life-threatening brain injury when she was 12 and had to spend a month in Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, most of it in a coma. To recover, she had to relearn her whole life, even her own name and the name of her tabby cat, Pepper. The doctors said she would have to go to a special institution for the mentally challenged. She proved them wrong. After two months, she went back to Branksome Hall girls' school and excelled. She earned a B.A. honours degree in political science and French at the University of Guelph. Until her death, she suffered seizures and auras and had to depend on heavy daily doses of medication.
Some of us look at things as they are and ask, Why? Jenn dreamed of things that never were and asked, Why not?
Her great passions were volunteering at Sick Kids and supporting politicians who want to improve our lives. She was an ardent protagonist for ending human trafficking. She mastered the Internet and was active on Facebook on women's issues. When Jenn saw street children begging downtown, she would point out that many of them were aboriginals. She showed enormous courage battling depression. At school and in university, she campaigned to banish the terms "handicapped" and "disabled," arguing that the proper term is "people with special needs."
Jenn's hero was Nelson Mandela, whom she met twice in Toronto. When she was introduced to him, he asked if she were related to Anthony Heard, who was arrested by the apartheid regime and lost his job as editor-in-chief of the Cape Times for daring to interview Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress. "Yes, Madiba, he's my uncle," 11-year-old Jenn answered. "Your uncle Tony is a very brave man," Mr. Mandela said. "But he's not nearly as brave as you," she replied. When Mr. Mandela was made an honorary citizen of Canada in 2001, Jenn raised serious money for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
Jenn was a child of nature, a true pantheist. She surfed with dolphins and snorkelled with turtles in Kauai, Hawaii. She spent hours on beaches there helping to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals. She was fearless skiing expert trails at Whistler, B.C., on small snowblades, and paddling her canoe through rapids near our cottage on Bark Lake, Que., where you drink the lake water and have no electricity. We could never keep up with Jenn, in the water, or snow, just as we could never master the Internet.
Peter Pan said, "To die would be an awfully big adventure." We believe that Jenn is already on her next adventure. She is not gone; her soul is destined for even bigger, better things. She is at peace and will never be hurt again. So when she was remembered, we did not call it a funeral. We called it a celebration of Jenn's beauty, her diligence, her gentle charm and sensitivity.
On the evening before she left us, she took a photograph of a rainbow and posted it on Facebook. We will always see Jenn in rainbows. And her soul will shine in their colours.
Raymond Heard is Jennifer's father.