Jen loved to tell stories. She wrote, drew, acted and sang them. And while there was the occasional deviation to encourage her pepper plants to grow, nearly every story was the same.

Mother and daughter are happy together. Mother gets overwhelmed with responsibility. Daughter asks her to stay. Mother leaves daughter all alone.

The plot is heartbreaking. And the dialogue, more so.

As adults, we shy away from her story. We use hushed tones and big sunglasses. Excuses are made. Or made up. Uncomfortable, we hide her truth.

Or we consume it. Hungry for all the ugly details. Anxious to know what isn’t ours to hear or tell. We love the drama with its distance from our own stories and pain. We gasp and gab over her life like a tabloid.

Whether with whispers or gawks, we pretend. I pretend. Acting as if Jen can’t hear or doesn’t know.

But she doesn’t pretend. She knows. And tells her story every day. She doesn’t even change the ending. She sings it with bravery and intonation and a beautiful voice.

And I’m left speechless. Is hope for another ending gone? I squirm thinking of leaving it there. To not have a bow tied at the end with a happily ever after.

I’m learning real stories don’t always end with a prince and a sunset. But they are still worthy of the telling. With a strong voice and unflinching honesty, just as Jen would have.