Sunday, December 19
It is hard for me to write this story, but I wanted to share with you a recent project that I have been working on for the last few months. This project really holds a special place in my heart.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with a wonderful 13-year- old girl named Jordan Barrett. Sadly, Jordan had recently lost her twin sister, Jensen, to cancer.
During Jensen’s battle with cancer, she chronicled a journal in which she made a list of 20 things that she wanted to see or do before she passed. One of the items on the list was to redecorate the room that she and Jordan shared together.
I was heartbroken when I heard the story, and wanted to help in anyway that I could. My first meeting with Jordan was very difficult. My heart went out to her - the thought of loosing not only her sister, but her twin. We talked about her room, and looked at ideas of beds and wall colors and new desks. Seeing the room for the first time, it was basically untouched, filled with two twin beds, desks and clothes left on the floor. It was like a moment frozen in time. I knew that, as wonderful as it would be to help makeover the space and give Jordan a new space that she and her sister had always dreamed of, it was going to be a hard challenge to not take away from the memories of the past. These thoughts were constantly on my mind throughout the process. We couldn't just replace everything in the room and forget the past. It was vital to incorporate the memories from the past and start to create new memories for the future.
There were certainly many tears while working on this project, not just for the family, but from me too. Each step along the way had its own layer of consideration. This was the room that the twins had been brought home together from the hospital. This was also the room where Jensen had been sick. These were the beds that they had slept in and the desks that they had worked at. Boxing up the memories for the room to be painted and new furniture to be installed, lead to the family discovering items that Jensen had left behind. Taking apart the twin beds for the new full sized bed to be installed felt like I was somehow breaking the twins apart.
Just last week, we installed the new room, with newly painted purple walls (Jensen’s favorite color) and all new furniture (thanks to PBTeen). Nothing made me happier than to see the joy in Jordan’s face with the re-design of the room. The room was fresh and new and exactly what she and Jensen had talked about. We filled picture frames with photos, moved in stuffed animals and many objects that were important to Jensen. It was vital to keep Jensen’s memory alive the space and the dreams that she had, but at the same time help Jordan move forward.
I was honored to be apart of such a touching transformation. The San Francisco Chronicle documented this process and I am happy to share this article with you.
A wish fulfilled: Teen gets a fresh start
Anh-Minh Le, Special to The Chronicle
Photos: John Sebastian Russo and Paul Chinn
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Shortly after her daughter Jensen died in August, Evelyn Barrett stumbled upon a journal that the 13-year-old had kept. In it, she chronicled her two-year battle with synovial sarcoma, a rare and incurable form of cancer that afflicts hundreds of young people every year.
She wrote about her chemotherapy treatments and many surgeries; about shuttling among hospitals in the Bay Area, Tennessee and Orange County - all via train or car because her lungs were too fragile for air travel. The accomplished piano player, who was also a competitive swimmer and tennis player before her illness, documented her experience as a junior bridesmaid in a cousin's summer wedding; a July trip to Alaska, where she participated in a sled-dog ride with an Iditarod race team; and other family vacations that offered a brief respite from reality.
"Her last entry was a list of 20 things she wanted to see or do before she passed," said Evelyn. One of the items was to redecorate the bedroom she shared with her twin sister, Jordan - to transform it from a little girl's room to a space better suited for a teenager.
"Jordan and Jensen shared a room since the day they came home from the hospital," recalled their mother. "They laughed, fought, cried, studied together, read together, yelled at each other like siblings often do, and learned how to get along with each other in their 10-by-12-foot room. Despite all of this activity, they loved sharing their room and were inseparable."
Evelyn and husband Greg's 9-year-old son, Blake, has his own room. And the family's Saratoga home does have a spare bedroom. But neither twin wanted it; they were roommates by choice.
In the weeks following Jensen's death, her side of the room remained untouched, "as if she was still there - unmade bed, papers on her desk, her clothes on the floor," said Evelyn, who saw a new purpose in completing the bedroom makeover on Jensen's list. "It would be great to give Jordan a fresh start and begin her healing process."
Through mutual friends, interior designer Grant K. Gibson heard about the Barretts and reached out to them to volunteer his services.
"I couldn't imagine what it would be like for a young girl to lose her sister and best friend. Jordan's had to deal with so much," he said. "My goal as a designer is to bring a smile to people's faces when I'm done working on a project. And I hope that I can do that for her."
During their initial meeting, to help provide a sense of her aesthetic, Jordan showed him some pages she had dog-eared in the latest PBteen catalog. Gibson knew that with the lingering medical and funeral bills, the budget was going to be tight. But he also knew that PBteen is headquartered in San Francisco. So he contacted the home furnishings retailer to inquire about merchandise donations.
With PBteen on board, the project officially got under way. "I'm excited to have a new room," said Jordan, who envisioned walls in shades of purple and furnishings in black and white. "Jensen and I had discussed what we wanted to do. Now I'll be able to incorporate some of the ideas that we talked about. I would love a place where I can relax, read, hang out with friends and do homework."
Earlier this month, the painters and furniture installers descended on Jordan's bedroom. Out went the seafoam green walls, pair of twin beds and two desks. In went a full-size bed; a storage tower that is the perfect spot for personal mementos, not to mention a set of "Twilight" books; a bookcase for more academic reading material; and a combination desk and hutch.
Graphic and textural accents - such as the PBteen Nouveau Floral bedding, a wire letter "J" and a lavender flokati rug - imbue a sense of fun.
"It will be easy for her to change the accessories in the room over the years," said Gibson. "Because you know with teenagers, one day it's in, the next it's out."
The room includes some holdovers, of course. A piece of Jordan's old desk, for example, was brought back in. "I started to write on it about a year ago," explained the eighth-grader. "Then when friends came over, they'd sign it." Gibson proposed retaining just the autographed panel of the desk and repurposing it as wall art. It now rests on top of her new desk, behind a trophy that Jordan and Jensen won in a doubles tennis competition.
"It was important for me to keep objects that remind me of Jensen," said Jordan. Among those objects are lots of photographs and Jensen's beloved stuffed animals - like a monkey, Elliot the Elephant and a caterpillar that Jensen received as a newborn.
Caterpillars are a subtle, recurring theme in the room. There's a colorful ceramic caterpillar from a paint-it-yourself studio. Jensen started it, and Jordan finished it last month. A plastic caterpillar holds a small collection of medallions and pendants that were given to Jensen while she was undergoing cancer treatments. "We just found this when we were clearing out the room," said Evelyn. "I had no idea she had saved all of these."
On the day that the finished room was revealed, Jordan invited her friend Camille Tabari to share in the excitement. "I know it was hard to change," said the fellow 13-year-old, "but it looks a lot better now."
Added Jordan: "It looks different from what I thought it was going to, but it's so much better than what I imagined!" In addition to the purple, black and white palette, Gibson introduced pink into the room - a pleasant surprise to Jordan, whose second favorite color is pink.
Her father, Greg, noted that "it's a good step in moving forward. She's growing up and entering the next stage. It's important to keep your memories, but don't let them hold you back."
And now the Barretts can cross this item off of Jensen's list. "This is what she wanted," said Evelyn. "I feel like she's smiling down on us saying, 'Good job, guys.' "