Box Tops

I’ll never clip another Box Top without thinking about Jennifer.  As she gave her report to the PTO that day, her confident demeanor and unbridled enthusiasm for Box Tops impressed me.  She told us in no-uncertain-terms that we had earned some $2000 collecting those ten-cent treasures last year, so she’d set this year’s goal at $3000.  I couldn’t help wondering, “Who is this passionate woman?” so I made it a point to get to know the Box-Tops boss. She was a devoted wife, a doting mom, a loving daughter, a retired nurse, a dedicated room mom, and one of our school’s best volunteers. She was also a cancer survivor. That explained her determination and verve for life. But Box Tops? How could someone in the fight of her life make time for and get so passionate about something so seemingly insignificant?
       It didn’t take long to figure out that Jennifer put her all into everything she did.  Even before her diagnosis, Jennifer lived every day as if it were her last. Once diagnosed, her incredible resilience made it seem as if she would live forever! Her light shined so brightly on the darkest of days and she stayed optimistic, even when the news from her doctors wasn’t good. Throughout her seven-year battle with cancer, there would be many, many days like that.
       Jennifer came to see me on one of those bad-news days. The cancer had returned with a vengeance. She wasn’t giving up, mind you, but she needed to think realistically.  That’s when she told me that this would probably be her last Christmas. But Jennifer didn’t want my pity or my tears. In fact, she told me how lucky she’d been to get seven great years from her initial diagnosis.  “Lucky?”  Did she really see herself as lucky? I wondered where she got that courage, that gratitude, that optimism, that faith?  It was clear that Jennifer was too busy living to worry about dying. She had a family to raise, class parties to organize, Box Tops to collect. 
       I saw Jennifer several times between that conversation and Christmas. While her health was rapidly deteriorating, her spirit was still very much alive. Despite the pain, she always replied “great!” when asked how she was doing.  She threw a wonderful holiday party for her little boy’s third-grade class.  She even brought me a gift. Seriously?  She was out shopping, her way of scoffing at that dreadful disease that was eating away at her.  Jennifer was determined not to allow this inconvenience called cancer to rob her of this precious time with her family and friends. My last visit with Jennifer was in mid-January. She was beaming with pride to see her son compete in his first Spelling Bee and fondly shared her own Bee memories with me. I laughed out loud when she told me how she initially refused to leave the stage after she misspelled her word because, with her tenacity, it didn’t surprise me. By early February, Jennifer’s condition worsened so drastically that she was hospitalized. Her last days were bittersweet as her family and friends celebrated her life while saying good-bye to her.
       I’m told that a few days before she passed away, Jennifer urgently needed to talk with a PTO committee member about - you guessed it - Box Tops. Even as she faced death, she was taking care of her obligations so that they could go on without her. Big, like her family, or small, like those Box Tops, Jennifer’s commitments were always her priority.  She approached everything she did with an unparalleled passion.  And, with a smile on her face and enthusiasm in her heart, she lived every day as if it were her last. Until it was. She epitomized living out loud. That’s Jennifer’s legacy. And that’s why I’ll never clip another Box Top without remembering Jennifer.


  1. Wow...I'm new to your blog and as I was browsing past posts I came across this one which brought tears to my eyes. May Jennifer be Box Topping in Heaven and may her legacy continue at your school. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Jennifer's little boy from the spelling bee is graduating from HS this year a National Merit Scholar . . . does that surprise any of us? And we just KNOW that she's in heaven cheering him on!!


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