Jennifer’s Journey: Traveling to Make Memories

Surfing on Jennifer's JourneyJennifer’s Journey is, in my opinion, a passionate work of art, showcasing dazzling  adventures for women all over the world. Like every work of art, Jennifer’s Journey comes with powerful inspiration: my late sister, Jen.

The years I spent with Jen were too few. I was thirteen years-old when she was born. Being an only girl with two brothers, I was thrilled to have a little sister. I dressed her up like a doll and paraded her downtown in the stroller. We were an odd couple to behold, I’m sure, as I looked more like a teenage mom than an older sister. I loved taking Jen with me, and she adored coming along. I even brought her to her first rock concert at age three, never thinking she would be able to tell our mom about it. But Jen was a very smart and articulate little kid, unfortunately for me. She may have been too young remember the concert, but it certainly earned me a memorable tongue-lashing.

I left our hometown in Massachusetts when Jen was six. I remember her big, blue eyes welling up with tears as she realized that her big sister was leaving, and there would be no more sisterly adventures. She was just beginning elementary school and I was off to a life of travel and exploration. We were in two very different stages in life, but I promised her that I would keep in touch and I did my best to do so. Over the next decade, our relationship was punctuated with letters, phone calls and occasional visits, though I suspect they did not come as often as she wanted. I adored her letters about visits from the Easter bunny or favorite new toys, and my stories about the adventures of my 20s thrilled her.

Left behind with two older brothers, Jen missed me. As she grew older, our similarities grew increasingly apparent, despite the age gap. She was athletic just like me, and she loved to cut loose. In my 20s, I regretted that we weren’t closer in age, since I knew she would have enjoyed accompanying me on my travels. I have a memories of us, years later as adults, singing loudly on chair-lifts one winter during a family vacation, and once running around in the rain in our underwear during a summer thunder shower. She was fun and spontaneous, my little sister and my dear friend. Jen would’ve been my perfect travel companion.

But we never became travel partners. Jen became a devoted mom in Cape Cod, while I became a dedicated businesswoman in California. Our lives on opposite coasts kept us busy. After her third child was born, Jen had precious little time to talk on the phone. I missed hearing from her, and I realized how she must have felt as a kid, waiting to hear from her distant big sister. When we did get to talk, we often discussed our dream of traveling together someday, just the two of us, having time to talk, explore and relax with each other. We spoke with certainty that someday, when her kids were grown and I wasn’t so busy, we would go. We never thought for a moment that it wouldn’t happen.

It didn’t.

In 2004, Jen was diagnosed with cancer and she spent three long years battling the disease, all the while continuing her busy life as a wife, mom, and athlete. Eventually though, it became clear that her life was coming to a close. I went to see her in the last days before she passed. When I arrived, she told me she had dreamed that I didn’t make it home before she died. “I’m here for you,” I told told her, “And I won’t leave you.”

In those last days, she spoke about many subjects with great clarity. She especially wanted to leave behind communications for her children, words they were not yet old enough to understand. I took notes diligently, but we only managed to complete a single letter to her only daughter. Jen was simply running out of time, and she realized she would miss out on a lot. She was distressed that she wouldn’t see her kids grow up, and she also lamented our lost opportunity to travel together. We’d never made the time to go. “Tell me about the places you’ve been,” she requested. And I did, adding details I knew she alone would appreciate. “We would have had fun,” Jen said. That was one of the last things she said to me.

I am lucky to have been there when my sister entered life, when she left it, and for many beautiful moments in between. Though we didn’t ever travel together, I was there for all her major metamorphoses. I think of it this way, as “metamorphoses,” because it feels true, and because Jen would like it. She asked that her favorite song, She’s a Butterfly, be played at funeral. And so, the butterfly became Jen’s icon, her sign.

After Jen died, I started noticing butterflies, lots of them. As I grieved for my little sister, butterflies seemed to flood into my life in the form of free mailing labels, overheard conversations, the unnoticed lining of a new jacket, and images on television, not to mention all the living butterflies that seemed to seek me out. Suddenly, they were everywhere. My favorite butterfly was the one that flew into my windshield as I drove 45 mph. I pulled over to remove it. I expected that it had died with the impact, but it flew away, as if nothing had happened.

I understand the butterflies as signs from Jen, continually reminding me that that life is a series of metamorphoses, a complex voyage. I think of Jen’s death as a transformation then, not an end, and her butterflies tell me that life is truly a journey.

Jen’s death taught me to pay attention to butterflies; her life taught me that we need to live our dreams today, not tomorrow. And so, to my beautiful and precious little sister, I promise Jennifer’s Journey continues.

—Bev Sanders

Jennifer’s Journey was created by Bev Sanders, founder of Manifesta Corporation. Bev began the company in 1997 when she designed and founded the highly successful Las Olas Surf Camp for Women. Las Olas, now considered “The World’s Premier Surf Safari for Women,” has introduced guests to the sport and lifestyle of surfing. Bev went on to start Artista Creative Safaris and Las Verdes Golf Safaris in
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Jennifer’s Journey compliments Manifesta’s goal to offer women vacations that combine fun, relaxation and new experiences, while fostering friendships, confidence, and self-esteem. With the mantra “we make girls out of women,” Manifesta is committed to helping women reach their full potential