By Mo Guernon
June 3, 2021
Two years ago on this very date a breathtakingly shimmering star mysteriously appeared in the heavens, unbeknownst to astronomers.
It is (unofficially) called Seannafair, Gaelic for Jen, also meaning “white wave”. The star is a diamond, the rarest in the universe, whose glitter outshines its comparatively commonplace celestial companions.
Nightly this heavenly light continues to dazzle as a guide to individuals. It is a pilot, leading people on the proper path to principled living.
Seannafair is distinctive in our galaxy because its substance is dust. Precious, once animated dust from Earth.
Jen McCann-Black, whose soul slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God* on June 3, 2019, loved the song “Over the Rainbow” and its buoyant lyrics:
“Someday I’ll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
You’ll find me.”
That is indeed where we find her now whenever we admire the constellations of heavenly radiances from remote worlds.
Jen was a resplendent woman during her fleeting existence among us. It’s no wonder then that she found a prominent and permanent place in the firmament when she left the rest of us behind for a loftier home.
Shortly before her passing, she gave birth to a son, Michael, with whom she was well pleased. He was the luminary of her existence, her greatest pride, her unbounded joy, the anesthetic to her anguish, her hope for a future. Jen’s suffering seemed to vanish when she held him in her arms, her smile always radiating pure joy.
Michael is as adorable a child as ever lived. His perceptible sweetness of temperament is an inheritance from both his parents. At his paternal grandparents’ home in Washington state where he and his father, Matt, now live, he appears exuberant in the pictures adorning Matt’s Christmas cards. Bathed in the love of his father and grandparents, his world seems idyllic.
In photos the blonde-haired boy displays the jubilant smile of his mother. He seems to squeal with delight as he cuddles with a puppy. Sporting a green John Deere cap, he looks with wonder into the eyes of a chicken he holds near his face. Michael looks supremely happy.
Heartbreakingly, that carefree existence is ephemeral, subject to the vagaries of time. All too soon Michael will realize that there is a cavernous void in his life: the absence of his mother whom he never knew. He will, however, get to know her through photos and videos as well as the sharing of enduring and endearing memories of family, friends, colleagues, and even her students. An inadequate substitute for sharing precious moments with her, but an indispensable blessing nevertheless.
Michael will learn that to those of us who were privileged to know her, Jen was an inspiration. There was a gallant quality about her. Nobility was, in fact, her essence, manifested daily in her love and compassion for others.
Jen need not be idealized in death. A woman of faith, she was passionate about serving those in need. Following her graduation from St. Anselm College, she devoted a year as a Jesuit volunteer. She had a special zeal for combating Alzheimer’s, a disease that had afflicted her grandmother. But her activism on behalf of worthy causes was expansive.
Teaching was at the core of Jen’s good works. What Chaucer wrote applied to her, “Gladly would (s)he learn and gladly would (s)he teach.” She was a natural. Jen quickly earned the respect of her students whom she treasured. Though she was academically demanding, her students loved and admired her. She developed minds, excited imaginations, kindled intellectual curiosity, and instilled compassion in teenagers raised in an environment of self-indulgence.
As to be expected, family was paramount to Jen. She talked often and fondly of her family in Hanover, Massachusetts. She married well. Matt is a genuine gentleman, kind and dignified. Easy to like. He has the disposition of a devoted father, a faithful friend, a treasured family member. And he conspicuously takes great joy in Michael. He also shares Jen’s courage which he summoned under the most trying of circumstances when eulogizing his wife at her funeral Mass in tender, eloquent words that captured her spirit and touched the hearts of those in attendance.
There is no need to idealize Jen’s life. She was a white wave whose strength of character allowed her to accomplish much that was valiant in her fleeting time among us. Her life was consequential, a model of what we all should attempt to emulate.
Towards the end, Jen suffered much and she did so stoically. She confronted death valiantly and with the grace that characterized her life. She showed us how to live, and, ultimately, she showed us how to die.
In her final hours I envisage Jen contemplating these lines from Robert Herrick’s poem, ‘Eternity’:
“Behold I go,
Where I do know
Infinity to dwell.
Where never moon shall sway
Whenever Michael stares with wonder at the vastness of the night sky sprinkled with the luminescence of billions of galaxies afar, one distinctive, dazzling star – Seannafair — will always wink at him with maternal love, offer him encouragement, solace, praise, and guidance throughout his life.
Thanks to Jen in her reincarnation as Seannafair, Michael will learn that even on the darkest night there is light.
*Paraphrase of “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee