Jennifer Watson is a Vernon counsellor who is hosting Quality Connections June 8

Jennifer Watson is a Vernon counsellor who is hosting Quality Connections June 8

Inspired by friendship

When Jennifer Watson lost several close friends in a short period of time, her life’s purpose took on a whole new meaning

Jennifer Watson

Special to The Morning Star

In mid April of 1993 I was at a funeral of a dear friend I had known since kindergarten. He had died in a car accident, which affected us all greatly.

At the time, some of us were still recovering from the news of a friend who had committed suicide just the month before. I remember standing in the living room at a friend’s who lived near the cemetery, where we were all to meet after the service. A very close friend and I were the first to arrive. We stood chatting about the service and the friends we had just lost. She said she couldn’t believe we had lost two friends in such a short period of time.  As I gazed out the window, I remember vividly saying to her, “It’s not over…and the next one is going to hit closer to home.”  There was silence, and I wondered if she could feel it, too.

Six months later, that same girlfriend, with whom I had stood and shared this moment, was murdered and her body left in a water-filled ditch on the side of the road in Kelowna. You have probably heard my friend’s name and story.  Her name is Jennifer Cusworth.

Jenn was an amazing person and friend, and although I could tell you many stories about hanging out with her, graduating from high school, and developing an unforgettable friendship, it was never about what we were doing but more about how I felt when I was with her.  Jenn was one of those people who made you feel important, heard, and cared about.  She had a wonderful warmth to her and a smile that could change your mood from down to up in an instant.  You could talk to her about anything, or at least I could.  I just felt safe with her, not judged, and free to be myself.

Just a couple years ago, 16 after her murder, a man was finally convicted. And although he is in the process of filing an appeal, his arrest and conviction stirred up some old, unhealed wounds in me while in the process feeling some level of closure.

I sat through the pre-trial and trial and was overwhelmed by my feelings of helplessness. The things I saw and heard in the court room I will never wish for friends and family who were unable to attend to ever hear or see. While watching, and hearing, the pain Jenn’s family and friends were going through, along with dealing with feelings of my own, I struggled for the right things to say and how to show the necessary support they needed.  All I could do was listen, share what information I could about what was going on (generally over text message across the miles), and be there as often as I could. These moments changed my life in so many ways.

Sometimes life hands you situations and it makes you step back and think to yourself “what on earth am I supposed to learn from this?” We go through sadness, confusion, anger and even some unexplained laughter at  the most painful times of our lives.

It was through this emotional rollercoaster of the trial that I decided my life needed more purpose, because if I learned anything from this, it was that life really is too short and can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. It has been since the trial that I have pursued an education and career in applied psychology and counselling and am opening my own private counselling practice, Querencia Counselling.

In combination of my life’s journey and Jenn’s story, I have decided to put on an event entitled Quality Connections, with all proceeds going to the Vernon Women’s Transition House (in Jenn’s name) to support women and children who have been subjected to violence in our community.

On June 8, I am inviting the public to come to the Powerhouse Theatre and listen to four amazing presentations by professional counsellors from our area: Claire Jantzen speaking on grief and loss;  Cheryl Steernberg on the Critical Tools for Working with Teens; the team from Axis Intervention Services Ltd. speaking on addiction and recovery, and Kristy Higgins on Igniting Intimacy in Your Relationship.

Tickets are $25 for the day, but feel free to come and go as you please.  For more details about the event and to get your tickets, please go to www.ticketseller.ca/698 or call 250-549-SHOW (7469).