Single mom's sudden loss leaves legacy of love

VIRGINIA BLACK
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- On March 27, Jeanine Wicker updated her Facebook profile photo with a snapshot of herself suffused with the light of sun glare through her car windows.

Two days later, the 39-year-old was found dead.

Even as her family waits for autopsy results -- which they know might not provide satisfactory answers -- those who loved Jeanine and those who know her 16-year-old son, Elijah, are stepping up to support the young man she fiercely protected.

Jeanine's death came shortly before Elijah and his Clay High School bandmates were about to embark on a long-awaited spring break trip to perform at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Jeanine's father, Thomas Record of Berrien Springs, and the rest of the family decided to postpone funeral services to allow Elijah to make the trip.

Clay students, teachers and parents raised more than $600 the following week for Elijah to take as spending money and as a start of a college fund for the junior.

"He is the kind of student every teacher wants in their class," Clay Principal Mansour Eid wrote in an email last week. "We hope that he had fun in Florida, and that he finds comfort in the thought that Clay will be here to support him during this time of grief."

A rescuer

Record said last week his daughter had had three grand mal seizures, the first about three years ago, for which she had received treatment but that had never been explained. Jeanine had been seizure-free for more than a year but had not long ago changed insurance companies when she changed jobs, and she had stopped taking one of the medications.

"I'm at a loss with it right now," he said. "It was totally unexpected."

Jeanine was quoted in the 2012 Sassy magazine, in an article about aging, talking about what led to her seizures and how she had not been managing stress well.

"I was pushing myself hard," she was quoted as saying, learning a lesson about taking care of herself. "No one was forcing me to work hard or work long hours."

Jeanine was born in New York, raised in Florida, was a U.S. Navy veteran and was divorced from Elijah's father. She was most recently working at Bangs Salon in South Bend.

At her funeral service last week at the Kroc Center's Community Center on Western Avenue, where she and Elijah attended church, many former co-workers spoke of her passion as an event planner there as it was preparing to open in early 2012. They also described her dedication to helping people there, as a massage therapist and as a life coach, which she eventually wanted to do full time.

Speaker after speaker, many of them breaking down in tears, spoke of their friend's devotion to others, her fearlessness and her willingness to change.

"She was a rescuer," said Courtney Dye, a Mishawaka friend with whom Jeanine and Elijah lived off and on over the years. "If somebody needed help, she was there. Her heart was humongous."

'A mother who loves you'

Jeanine had moved out of Dye's home in September but had left behind a folder of important papers. Included in those, Dye said, was a document that indicated that if anything should happen to her, Jeanine wanted her friend to raise her son.

Dye's son, Quinn, and Elijah are best friends. Record said he and Dye will work together to raise the young man.

As much as Jeanine's heart was a focus of her memorial service, so, too, was her devotion to her son.

"I'm a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is person," Jeanine told The Tribune in a 2008 article about Dickinson Intermediate Center becoming a fine arts magnet academy, encouraging parents to become involved. "We're all here because we care about the future of our students in this community."

Elijah's band director at Clay, Gary Kurtis, referred to Jeanine's involvement and the fact Elijah will be forced to grow up more quickly now.

"All of our hearts go out to him," he wrote in an email about Elijah last week, "and he should take some comfort in knowing that the hundred-person-strong Clay High School Band is there for him now and in the future."

Record is as proud of his grandson as he is of his daughter, who he called an easy child to raise.

"She laid a tremendous foundation with him and developed a fine, sensitive, tremendous person in that boy," he said, "just like she was."

Jeanine wrote this on her Facebook page on March 6, 2012: "Watching my boy march around getting ready for school this morning and realizing in just a few short years he'll be off to college. Some things in life are soooo bittersweet. While I'm happy to have him growing up and flying successfully, I sure miss when he would climb up in my lap and snuggle. He's amazing and I'm a proud mama!"

One man who approached the microphone at Jeanine's service, balancing a toddler in one arm and speaking directly to the grieving teenager in the front row, drew applause.

"You remember her, her smell, her smile, her touch," said Kintae Lark, a barber and youth pastor who said he met Jeanine about four years ago. "And when it gets hard -- and it will get hard -- and when you cry -- and you will cry -- you remember that you have a mother who loves you."

VBlack@SBTinfo.com

574-235-6321

This is a favorite photo of Elijah Wicker's because his mother, Jeanine, "always said this was the difference between us: I was always smiling and she was serious," he said at her memorial service last week. His mother recently died unexpectedly. (Photo provided)

An online site has been set up to help with Elijah Wicker's college costs. Go to www.gofundme.com/804rr8. Or send a donation to Elijah's College Fund c/o Thomas Record, 9887 U.S. 31 S., Berrien Springs, MI 49103