(CINCINNATI) — 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 as a dying wish for the sole graduate’s mother. She died the next day.
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 high school.
“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 ABC News.
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 ABC News.
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,” Becca 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 graduate.
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 illness.”
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 are trying to make that happen.”
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