(ABC News)–Like a typical graduation ceremony, the graduation march played, the
graduate wore a cap and gown and all of the school officials were
present. But this ceremony took place in an Ohio hospital room in
January as a dying wish for the sole graduate's mother. She died the
Jennifer Linnabary's last wish after a four-year battle with mantle cell
lymphoma, a rare blood cancer, was to see her son Ben graduate from
“We knew that my mom wasn't doing well at all and the last thing she
wanted to see before she passed away was my brother graduating,”
Linnabary's daughter Becca Asimus told ABCNews.com.
Family friends made some phone calls on Saturday and within a matter of
hours all of the necessary school officials had assembled at Linnabary's
bedside along with some family and friends for an official Colerain
High School graduation.
“It was important because we realized that this was important to the
mother and to the family and so to make this whole situation they had to
deal with as easy for them as possible, it was just something that we
had to do,” Northwest Local School District Superintendent Rick
Glatfelter told ABCNews.com.
As the music played, Ben Linnabary, 18, proudly stood by his mother's
bed and was presented his diploma by school and district authorities.
“I graduated, Mom,” an emotional Linnabary said, looking at his mother as she lay in her hospital bed.
“This really does mean so much from all of you,” he said, turning to the
people who had put the ceremony together in a matter of hours. “Thank
you so much.”
Linnabary threw his orange cap in the air as loved ones cried a bittersweet mixture of joy and sadness.
“It was unbelievable, just the fact that even though she may not have
been [able] to open her eyes and see it, I know she could sense what was
going on and that meant so much to my brother,” Asimus said.
Jennifer Linnabary, 52, did not think that she was going to make it long
enough to see Asimus, 21, get married last summer, but when she made it
to that milestone, the last thing she wanted was to see her son
Linnabary helped start Project SEARCH, a program at Cincinnati
Children's Hospital Medical Center that trains developmentally disabled
people to help them get jobs. The program model has been duplicated all
over the country.
She was diagnosed with blood cancer in the spring of 2009 and was in
remission by that summer, but the illness returned the next year. She
fought it for four years as her immune system weakened and she struggled
with heart and kidney failure, Asimus said.
“She just grew so much from that, not just physically but emotionally
and spiritually,” her daughter said. “She just became such a strong
woman and she had a lot of trials that she had to face through this
Asimus said her mother loved the outdoors and wanted to be outside as much as possible, even as she got sicker.
“She was very selfless and thought of me and my brother and my dad above
her sickness,” Asimus said. “She was such a caring person, a second mom
to all of our friends. She never let her illness get her down.”
A service on Thursday will be held to celebrate Linnabary.
“She didn't want it to be called a funeral,” Asimus said. “She wanted it
to be called a celebration of life. She said she didn't want anything
sad to happen.”
Now, the family will work to turn one of Linnabary's unachieved dreams
into a reality–she wanted to create a version of the Make-a-Wish
charity for adults.
“She really wanted to start that and try and get the word out that it
would be awesome to have this for adults too,” Asimus said. “Me and my
family and trying to make that happen.”
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