Fundraiser Host Spotlight- Meet Grandparent Jean Sibley

Fundraiser Host Spotlight- Meet Grandparent Jean Sibley

We are thankful for our many families, friends and supporters who want to raise awareness and funds in memory of a beloved child by hosting a fundraiser to benefit the SUDC Foundation. In this edition of SUDC Insights, we would like to share our recent conversation we had with Jean Sibley, a SUDC grandparent who hosts Reading for Magnolia, an annual event held in memory of her granddaughter, Magnolia.

Stacy: Jean, can you tell us a bit about Magnolia?

Jean: Magnolia Helene Sibley-Wilson entered our lives on the night of her older sister’s 4th birthday, which delighted us all, until it didn’t. Her death just before her 2nd birthday (and her sister’s 6th) has made that birthday difficult for all of us. Magnolia came to us encased in a caul which, in medieval times, signaled a “special destiny” – something we will never know. The best way to describe Magnolia is “pure joy” – she exuded joy in her daily activities and in her relationships with her family and the world. I can’t think of her without smiling. She spent summers in Denver, loving the freedom of a backyard with her beloved sandbox – she would stand at the stairs to the outside, with shoes in hand, saying “outsie” over and over until someone would take her out. I was fortunate, as a grandparent, to have much time with her – she and her family spend one month each summer in Denver, as well as the Christmas holidays, and I travel to New York in the spring and fall to spend time with the family. Wow, there is so much more I could say about Magnolia, but space is limited!

Stacy: What inspired you to host an event featuring reading as a fundraiser to benefit the SUDC Foundation in memory of Magnolia?

Jean: Because Magnolia loved being read to, and was beginning to develop her own reading life, her parents asked friends and family to honor her by reading on the anniversary of her death – reading in groups, alone, or to children. Jim and I read alone the first year and found it terribly lonely. The second year we invited a group of our friends and Kendra’s friends in Denver to join us in the library of our church to read together, to speak Magnolia’s name, share stories and just be together to mark this difficult day. At the same time, I decided to add the opportunity for people to learn about SUDC and to make a donation in Magnolia’s memory. SUDC has been such a lifeline for our family, as well as for hundreds of other families around the world – I just wanted to share this organization with others.

When Magnolia died, her parents launched a memorial drive at the New York Public Library to purchase books for the Bronx library branches. Memorials poured in and the library was able to place over 100 books at each Bronx branch, an amazing tribute to such a little girl. This, together with Magnolia’s love of reading, was the inspiration for Kendra and Sasha to ask us all to read on the anniversary of her death.

Stacy: Can you tell us about the details involved in planning Reading for Magnolia?

Jean: Planning for Reading for Magnolia is very low-key. We send an e-mail message out to a group of friends, as well as posting notices at the church, since Kendra grew up in the church and still has many friends there. I keep all of my SUDC materials together from year to year, as well as the pictures we spread around the room, the special books we read, and the quilts we take to “cozy up” the room. Friends provide cookies for our “milk and cookies” bedtime treats. The church has been very gracious in allowing us to use the library for this event, and the librarian puts out appropriate books pertaining to grief, the death of a child, etc. Each year, many of the same people show up to read together – and each year, a few new folks join us. It is not a large event, and we do not raise a large amount of money – but it is what we can do.

Stacy: What are your favorite memories from the event?

Jean: My favorite memories from these years continue to be watching families cuddled up in quilts, kids in pjs, enjoying milk and cookies, reading their favorite books, or sharing with other kids and adults. Our older adults bring their favorite childhood books and tell stories – there is always a table of grandparents! The warmth and caring that abounds in that room make the day bearable for us, and we are all surrounded by love. We end each event by reading two books that Magnolia and I read almost every time I put her to bed: Kevin Henkes’ A Good Day; and Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance. We oink and cluck and dance with each other, mooing along with the cows! Then we sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, blow kisses to Magnolia, and hug each other before going out into the cold January night, taking that warmth with us.

Stacy: What advice do you have for other SUDC grandparents that may be thinking of planning an event in memory of their grandchild?

Jean: I think the only advice I can think to give other grandparents who might consider doing something special to commemorate their grandchild would be to “just do it”. It doesn’t have to be a major event – I love to read about the big events sponsored by many families, but I don’t have the energy to organize anything that monumental – and I suspect many grandparents are in the same boat. It is just enough to gather close friends and family to share memories and to remember our beloved grands.

Stacy: Thank you so much. Are you planning to hold this event again? Is there anything you would do differently? What would you do the same?

Jean: We will continue Reading for Magnolia as long as people continue to attend the event, and each year we are encouraged to do it again the following year. I don’t think I would do anything differently in terms of planning or the execution of the event. However, I wish I could find a better way to present SUDC information.  I have found that it is difficult to talk about SUDC with parents/grandparents – it seems they do not want to get too close to this knowledge. I understand this, because until I became one of “those” grandparents, I didn’t want to look too closely at childhood death either – could it be catching? My daughter, Kendra, has said many times that she finds some comfort in the randomness of Magnolia’s death – but the flip side is that the randomness means it could happen again at any time. I believe this is the sticking point for some who have not experienced this tragedy – and who do not want to be too close to it. So many people are stunned to realize that SIDS is not the end of childhood ‘unexplained’ death – and I can see the fear in their faces that it could happen to their own children/grandchildren.

Stacy: Talking about death is hard, and talking about even the existence of SUDC is difficult. The Foundation is always looking for new ways to improve our awareness efforts and that includes sharing the information in the most accurate and productive way. We know that awareness will help us find other families to help and advocate for crucial research to one day end SUDC. Doing an event is one way that helps raise this critical awareness. How did the SUDC Foundation support you when you were planning Reading for Magnolia?

Jean: The SUDC Foundation has been extremely supportive over the years that I have held this event. I have received great materials to assist me – and last year when I discovered I did not have enough brochures, you overnighted more to me! That was unexpected and VERY much appreciated. I can’t say enough good things about the great work the Foundation does, and the comfort they bring our family and the many others who have joined this club that no one wants to belong to.

Thank you for this opportunity to remember again all the things that made her life so special, and the ways in which she continues to enrich our lives.

Stacy: Thank you so much for all you are doing to help SUDC and for sharing your story and experience so we can share it with others.  

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