Memorial Words, September 25, 2019
Good Afternoon, my name is Charles Atkins. I am Jennifer’s husband.
Today I wish to be frank with you; can I be frank with you?
On behalf of our family, I thank you all for coming here today to honor the life of Jennifer.
Jennifer Michelle Dubois Mahannah Atkins. Jennifer was the most capable and wonderful woman I have ever known. I was honored to be her husband for the past ten years and I am staggered by her sudden passing.
My pet name for her was “Smurfie,” because her eyes were smurf blue. And, as you know in cartoon lingo, Smurf means good. In Indiana, where she grew up, her name is pronounced Due Boise, but she preferred the French version that rolled off one’s lips in a romantic way, Jennifer DuBwa. So when I was kidding around with her as all married couples do, I used to call her Smurfie DuBois no-hyphen Atkins because she didn’t want DuBois stuck to my name, but to stand-alone. I loved that pride. She thought my pet name was cute and very silly. Jennifer loved silly. I still remember when she used to pin down her son Thomas and blow raspberries on his stomach or any open skin until Thomas was laughing and squirming so hard he almost cried.
I mentioned that Jennifer was capable, and that is no empty euphemism. She was a master chef who taught culinary arts at Parkland College, she was a master baker who was so good; she could have made Mahatma Gandhi break a fast for some of her angel’s food cake or peach cobbler. She was a fabulous sketch artist and oil painter, a brilliant poet although if I were to read some verses she wrote, it might make you blush! She was a musician with total recall – once she heard a song, she could recall it note-for-note. Her signing voice could charm the birds from the trees.
Jennifer was a master of beasts, so to speak, working with the ASPCA and the Champaign County Humane Society, nursing sick cats back to health. Critters of every type were naturally drawn to her. I saw her attract feral cats and hand feed feral cats in Georgia and Tennessee on one of her many road trips to Spring Hill, Florida, where her parents are retired.
If you needed your taxes done, Jennifer was as good as a CPA. She was a computer wiz, and understood electronics and modern technology. I actually felt like a complete idiot at times, as she was so much smarter and more capable than I was. When I sat at the computer with a problem, she would come over and say “MOVE.” She must have really loved me. As all I could do was write, and I honesty think, she did that better than me, as well.
Jennifer was incredibly versatile, capable, and deep. In fact, I can assure you she was the deepest spiritual savant you have ever met – not even knowing, that beneath the shy, silly, teacher, was a human being fully awakened to the world’s mythologies and spirituality. As a practicing Buddhist for the past 36 years, I’ve had occasion to receive training and meet the greatest so-called enlightened beings in the world. Jennifer, was the equal of any guru or realized being I have ever known. Didn’t know that, did you? She never let on that she was an awakened being because she just wanted to live quietly and enjoy life.
Perhaps my favorite memory of her happened about five years ago. Let me explain: a friend of mine from Chicago had fallen on hard times. That day, the brakes on my car failed, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to visit him to bring him some much needed provisions and encouragement. She rolled up her sleeves, jacked up my car, found the bad part, looked it up on-line, called Auto-Zone, got the part, and then fixed my brakes. She then began to put together a little basket of goodies for my pal, and realized we had no jam for sandwiches, so she went onto the porch and plucked crab apples from the tree, and made him jam – right on the spot! When I told my friend what she did, he said, “You hit the jackpot, man!”
Family was Jennifer’s heart and soul. The most important people in her life were her son Thomas, her parents, her sister Cynthia, her Grandma Porter, Sean Mahannah, and me. Her love for us was boundless. After the death of Jennifer’s biological father, Tom Dubois, Susan married Executive Chef, Marshall Huffman, who many of you know as the former director of the Parkland College culinary arts program. She told me countless times how much she loved, admired, and respected Marshall, calling him her “polished apple.” Over the ten years we were together, I witnessed a profound transformation and deepening of love and respect for Marshall as her father, and culinary mentor. She always felt that she could approach Marshall for advice, and told me on a number of occasions, that she loved him as much as her biological father, who was the most important human being in her life. It was through Marshall’s influence that Jennifer advanced her skills and became a master chef. Jennifer was not demonstrative so she may not have told him, but she sure told me on many occasions, she loved him that much.
Let it be known that teaching culinary arts and running the Parkland HPI club was the greatest thrill of her working life. She literally donated hundreds upon hundreds of hours of her time to develop that program, working with Thomas Bickel, and so many others. She burned up tanks of gas and bought supplies with her own money when necessary, to develop the HPI Club. Her example should now become the gold standard on how that club should work.
Some of you may not know that Jennifer was the weekend, night DJ for Oldies 92.5 in 1999-2000; a job that filled her with pride and great joy, but the radio job paled in comparison to the satisfaction she got out of teaching at Parkland College. I know she will be sorely missed. I must add that she loved her students as if they were her own kids. You guy’s are so lucky to have had her – but she thought she was the lucky one to have had you!
Everyone has an interesting relationship with their mother. Jennifer loved her mother, Susan Huffman so much, that Jennifer would sometimes cry herself to sleep when she didn’t think she lived up to her mom’s expectation – but I have never seen a love so enduring. Based on my observation over the past 10 years, I believe that the reason Jennifer was so capable, was directly due to the incredible influence and teaching of her mother. Their bond was deep and true, beautiful at times, adversarial at times, but it was a mother-daughter bond of fathomless love, respect, and inspiration.
Jennifer often told me how proud she was of her mother and what a lofty example of scholarship and success she had set. She confessed that her mother’s accomplishments were almost too much to measure up to, but by setting the bar so high for her; Jennifer told me that her mother’s example made her extremely proud. The one ironic twist of fate for Jennifer, the shy introvert, was becoming a teacher like her mother and father. They provided the ideal template for her new career, and no one was more surprised and happy than Jennifer was that she became a teacher.
Thomas, her son, was the center of her life. Since I had already raised a child, I kept telling her that you shouldn’t try to be your kids best friend, you need to be their parent, which often means strictness and discipline. Of course, she told me that she was going to be his best friend and his parent! That kind-of put me in my place. I have never seen such selfless devotion of a mother to a child. He was the most important person in her life, and based on the way Thomas has grown up, she did all the right things, with just the right amount of love and guidance.
In some respects, I may have known Jennifer best of all. The two greatest loves of her life were her first husband Sean and me, here two husbands. She made me feel like the luckiest man on earth. As you can see, there was a 23-year age difference between Jennifer and me. I’ve never quite figured out why she gave her heart to me, as I’m not rich or handsome. Regarding me, she liked the creative types, and someone who was big to make her feel secure. As best as I can figure out is that she loved me then became my wife, because she could have deep conversations with me, she instinctively knew that I truly loved her, and that I was secure and protective.
Not to take away from our great love, the greatest love of Jennifer’s life was the father of her son, my friend, Sean Mahannah. Their love will endure forever. Yes, Jennifer loved me deeply, but I think I loved her more.
Jennifer was a superb wife. She was a brilliant conversationalist with an off color, sometimes-silly sense of humor, as her student’s will attest. She preferred the company of men to women, because she thought men were more trustworthy and wouldn’t stab you in the back. Although she was extremely shy, and an introvert, whenever Jennifer spoke, people would take notice that someone of substance and character was speaking. I have known famous people, scholars, spiritual masters, artists, and captains of industry, in my unique capacity as a professional writer and author. In my 40 years as a writer, I have yet to meet any human being who could rival her, and for that reason, today should not be one of sadness – although her passing is truly tragic, it should be a celebration of life, for one of God’s finest creations. She was the most wonderful person I have ever known.
Just last week I wrote her a love poem – although intimate, I would like to share it with you:
Psalm of Smurfie
Golden goddess from above
Lips of fire
Soothing coo of the dove
How I love thee
My feline femme
Passion raging like the sea
Allure from which I cannot flee
Your True, Eternal Love, Chuckie Bear
If we are to make any sense out of this tragedy, it is that life is both fleeting and precious. In my last face-to-face meeting with Jennifer, she told me she loved me, and then kissed me. That is the memory I shall cherish to the end. It can also be said that life is eternal. Jennifer and I often talked about life and death, religion and spirituality, the mystic nature of the universe, and the powers of the mind. As one who is considered an authority in the study of consciousness, I can say with absolute confidence that Jennifer is not gone:
She is everywhere: Jennifer rides the wind like an elemental force. She can be experienced in the blooming of the flowers of the field. She is the pink-white blossoms of the cherry tree. She is the crest and spindrift of breaking gulf waves. She is the fertile soil of the woods. She is the enduring ember of your fire on a cold winter’s night. She is the quantum world and the dynamic energy of all life and consciousness at every moment. In short, Jennifer is everywhere there is love, light, and life.
During our conversations about religion, Jennifer often said that she didn’t care for religion (she was not a joiner), but she believed in the essence of the Holy Spirit, and was open to God. She loved Egyptian mythology, Native American culture, Jesus, Buddha, and the other sages that brought people hope, but she wasn’t impressed with organized religion. She believed that heaven is not elsewhere, but inherent in life at every moment. She believed in forgiveness and lived by the Golden Rule. Based on her beliefs, Jennifer is here – now – among us, feeling the love in our hearts, and probably wondering what all the fuss is about. I can almost hear her saying, “Go home, make a cheeseburger, have a beer, enjoy the afternoon.”
Today, I ask all of you to feel the joy and beauty of Jennifer’s boundless spirit as we celebrate her truly amazing life. I have never loved one as I do Jennifer. Together with Thomas, Sean, Cynthia, and her beloved parents, I thank you all for coming, and pray that you keep her in your heart always.