Lauren's Story


 

             After suffering the crippling, devastating, and unexpected loss of my husband, Justin, on October 10, 2014, pretty much every day was spent in dreary clothing- sweatpants, mostly. I was depressed, isolated, and was absolutely terrified of the future. Hiding from the world and putting on masks was my M.O., hoping that no one could see through to how deeply the pain was affecting me...not even my own mother, although mothers just know, instinctually.

            The funeral services concluded on October 18, 2014, the day of my 33rd birthday. The decision to resign from my long-term substitute teaching position came a few days later. I’m not a quitter, but, as teachers do, we put the children’s needs before our own. The support I received from Holland Middle School, after only working there for a few months, was unbelievable and I am forever grateful...

            This was the first time in 18 years I was unemployed. This was also the first time I ever lived alone. Many firsts were occurring all at once.

            It is very difficult to explain the emptiness and helplessness I felt…like someone had ripped out all of my insides and left me with nothing but a shell. Going about life like I did before was not an option. How could it be? Everything was gone. Life was one big black cloud.

            As the months went on, things didn’t seem to get much better. I felt alone, even in the presence of my dearest friends and family.

 Since October, 2014:

 I’ve been loved by many.

I’ve been supported by many.

I’ve been disappointed by many.

            Going through trying times without Justin to comfort and protect me: to share life’s burdens with, hit like a ton of bricks, daily. He was my inspiration and drive. I loved when he would walk through the front door with a huge smile on his face when dinner was made, house was clean, I brought him a gift, etc. I slowly realized that there is no one left to inspire me, but ME. For the first time ever, I did for myself. I learned to use the word, “No” really well.   As painful as it was, the time came to be my own advocate, as taking advantage of a widow seems to be a right of passage for some.

           Looking back, about 3-4 months after the loss of Justin, I started to eye up the sewing machine I begged him for in the summer of 2014. I’ll never forget the Saturday he put it all together. The table took up a good amount of our small living room and not one complaint was ever made. He knew I wanted so badly to learn to sew, like my grandmother, Mama Jean.     

           I began to come up with some pretty grandiose ideas. I wanted to start my own clothing brand named, “Giovina” (Mama Jean’s official name). That was also supposed to be our future daughter’s name, which made it all the more special.

           Justin LOVED the idea. He would bring it up more than I. We even drew up a beautiful logo, with a halo and angel wings surrounding the name. His dream was for me to be able to live my dreams and do whatever makes me happy. As the school year began, there was zero time for that “silly” dream of mine.   Needless to say, “Giovina” never came to fruition in any way.

 

Back to winter 2015:

            Something came over me that winter. I was sitting around, helpless. I felt so lost and insecure for the first time in my life. You know what pushed me? 3 images in my head…

  • The image of Mama Jean and how she handled heartache and pain in her life.

  • The image of Justin when he was asked, “What’s your favorite characteristic about your future wife?” at our pre-Cana class in Metuchen, NJ back in 2011.

  • The image of the future “me” if I didn’t make some changes, fast.

            How did Mama Jean handle heartache and pain? She sewed. Drank Coffee. Cleaned. Shared sad and happy stories to the point of tears. Took pride in her children and grandchildren’s accomplishments.

            What did Justin reply when asked that question? “She is self-sufficient. I will never have to worry about her if anything happens to me.” (You could imagine my reaction to THAT!)

             Once in that mindset, Miss Lauren got to work. She started to sew, drink ridiculous amounts of coffee, clean, purge and organize. I was having a hard time remembering things, so I drove to Staples and purchased the largest whiteboard calendar in stock, hung it in the kitchen, and wrote down every detail…daily activities that once came second nature to me…”Eat Breakfast. Brush Teeth, Walk the Dog, etc…” I did not get much accomplished in that period of time, but I was trying, and that’s all that mattered.

             My sewing projects were quite interesting and silly, to say the least, and occurred at nighttime, which was the worst part of the day for me. Picture this: “The Ultimate Shower Cap” with detachable fleece lining: I was 100% convinced that I was on to something, here…sharing pictures with friends and family 24/7- FULLY immersed in it. God bless my friends. I’m sure it was a good laugh, at least!   After three failed attempts at it, and about 50 hours of my life lost, I gave up. Let’s just say the caps didn’t even perform the basic need of keeping hair from getting wet. Oh, well. They looked cute, and kept my mind busy.

              Second project was a really cute leather flower. It was adorable. I remember telling my friend, Sal, that I want to make and sell them on Etsy. His first response was, “ How long did it take you to make THAT one?”   Once I realized it worked out to about 50 cents an hour, I moved on.

              Third project: A dress. Holy Cow, I made a summer dress. No pattern, no clue what I was doing. I remember showing my mother. Expecting her to crack a joke, she said, “Lauren- that’s actually really good! You have it- you have what your grandmother and great-grandmother had.”, as she checked the seams. I watched my grandmother for hours create everything under the sun…my prom gown, communion dress, coats, pants for me to wear to dance class, hems, Barbie clothes, hammocks for our albino pet ferret named, “Lucky”, and my favorite- scrunchies with her leftover fabric, to name a few.   I remember threading needles, trying to be like her, listening to all kinds of explanations of patterns, the importance of darts, and how it’s considered an original sin to make a garment where the pattern (i.e. stripes) on the fabric doesn’t line up at the seams.

              Keep in mind one thing. I am NOT a seamstress. I don’t even feel comfortable about my knowledge of the physical act of sewing.  That dress, however, DID give me confidence to do SOMETHING and showed there is potential…along with passion. 

              Drafting an idea to incorporate Mama Jean and Justin, together, was my next goal. I often said the reason I was able to love my husband so much was a result of he and my grandmother having the same heart. Hmmm.

 Background on Mama Jean:

              When my parents were divorced, I was two years old. Being a single parent with two children, my mother could not afford a place on her own on one salary. My grandparents encouraged my mother, brother and I to live with them in their row home on Westview Ave. I grew up in a town called, Upper Darby, PA, located on the outskirts of West Philadelphia. I would not change my childhood for a thing. We did not have much, materially, but we were rich in the things that really mattered: constantly surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles, a million kids on the street to play with, a park at the top of the street to play sports every day…it was great. Both sets of grandparents played a huge role in our lives. I am forever grateful for that.

              Mama Jean was my best friend since the moment I was brought into this world. She was my teacher, my cheerleader, genuine, kind, fun, youthful, giving, and amazingly talented. As mentioned earlier, her gift of example is the top reason I made it through… All that she touched was as close to perfection as you can get. Mama Jean took pride in her work as if it was an extension of her being. I love that about her now (not so much back then when I had to stand still for long periods of time).

              I remember the week before Mama Jean passed. Justin said, “Love, I’m going to see her. I don’t have a good feling.” I’m so glad they were able to have their moment together that Sunday, as they had a special bond. I loved watching my husband and grandmother together. Mama Jean would be in tears laughing at his jokes, and never wanted him to leave.  

 Concept:

              In late Winter/early Spring, 2015, I solidified the idea to use Justin and Mama Jean’s signatures as my logo. It came about after my friend, Tara, gifted me a bracelet in Justin’s adorable handwriting from his luggage tag. Sketching product ideas was my next challenge. I knew I wanted something comfortable, yet cute, but also unique and cheerful.

             The following weeks, I brainstormed 24/7. I didn’t tell a soul what I wanted to do, as I was fearful and scared of negativity that would sway my decision.

My internal dialogue went something like this:

 “What did Justin love?” “Socks. Polka dot socks.”

 “What did Mama Jean love the most?” “Her grandchildren, hands down.”

 “Ah, I got it! Polka dot socks for children!”   “No way.”

 Many attempts were made, similar to the one above.

               I realized that I had to include some of my interests, too. In search of a common theme, I continued to write down attributes for the three of us. Once that was accomplished, physical attributes were assigned to each common characteristic.

 RELAXING: Loungewear/Pajamas

 LAUGHTER/HAPPINESS: Polka Dots are a happy print.

(bonus that Justin loved them)

 KINDNESS: Helping Others (Donate to charity)

 INNOCENCE: Ruffles on the bum (like the ruffles you see on little girl pajamas-reminder of childhood spent with Mama Jean-our close bond)

 GENUINE: Physical heart is to be sewn on the sleeve.

 (Coming up with the idea, itself, was a piece of cake, compared to the actual process of making the pajamas come to life.  After more than a year and many lessons, it's finally happening!)

                I was super excited to share my pajama plan with everyone. Told some friends and family about it… most were ecstatic, more so at the fact they saw life in me again. Did I get negative responses? Oh yes, you better believe it. I still do. Some think that it’s “just a phase”.

 

What some people don’t realize is this…

 

            I lost my best friend, my security, my life partner, my future. What I DO have left is my husband’s voice, encouraging me to do whatever makes me happy.  Our love will never die, nor will the memories.

           There is nothing in this world that frightens me, now. No more living for other people, time to live for Lauren.  We get only one life.  As Mama Jean always said, "We are only passing through this world. We have to enjoy it as much as we can."

           Justin was an exceptional, hard-working, honest man who was just getting started. Full of life and excitement, he brought nothing but happiness and joy to everyone in his presence.

            How else could I live the rest of my days other than honoring two of the most influential, loving, giving souls I was blessed to have in my life?

           

Justin Jean’s mission is to inspire you to live a life of authenticity, integrity, and passion. Our pajamas will provide comfort when you need it most, reinstate the innocence we so easily lose in adulthood, and provide you the confidence to live the happiest, most fulfilling life, imaginable.

 I cannot wait to #rocktheruffles with you!

 

Thank you for allowing me to share my story.

All my love, 

Lauren