by Kassidy Taylor
In 2016, Jenessa Rae Zurek and her husband, Paul, crossed the finish line of a half marathon holding hands. Moments later, Jenessa was faced with an unexpected and unexplainable tragedy. She suddenly lost her best friend and husband of nine years, her high school sweetheart—and the father of their two young boys.
In addition to dealing with her own grief, Jenessa spent countless hours scouring libraries and the internet for children’s books to help her 3- and 5-year-old sons cope with their profound loss.
“Many of the books I found dealt with losing a pet,” Jenessa said. “The ones about the loss of a parent were either too abstract for children to understand, or too direct. They weren’t presented in a way that the kids would have an easy time understanding.”
Jenessa kept a journal beside her bed, jotting down lyrics and phrases that came to her in the middle of the night when she was having trouble sleeping. Little did she know, she was writing her own story for their boys—with what she believes was her husband’s guidance.
“I’d wake up at 3 a.m. and write sentences down,” Jenessa said. “All of a sudden, within two days, I had exactly what I needed to come up with my book.”
Told from her late husband’s point of view, “My Love Follows You Wherever You Go” combines painted imagery and rhyming text to introduce children to the idea of loss and spirituality. While the story weaves her family’s memories and their own photographs into the book, Jenessa said she wanted to present it in a way that relates to anyone who is grieving.
“In this day and age with so many people losing loved ones in different ways, I wanted to help give the proper words to children and young adults to help them realize that our loved ones never truly leave us, even though we may not be able to see them right now,” Jenessa said. “Most importantly, I knew it would be published for our sons. Long after I’m gone, they would still have a priceless gift of what I believe are the words of both their father and I.”
Jenessa’s husband, Paul, worked in the medical field and was grateful for any opportunity to help people. She believes those 3 a.m. wake-up calls to write were an extension of Paul’s eagerness to make a difference.
“He always said, ‘I want to make a difference in this world and give back to people.’ And in some way I feel like he’s using me as a messenger,” Jenessa said. “While it doesn’t take away my pain, it does make me feel better to know this book may help other families struggling in similar ways.”
A disability counselor with a Master of Education and a concentration in counseling, Jenessa’s work has always centered on helping people—and she hopes her story will do the same.
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